I don't believe in Chelsea project anymore - now I'm 90 minutes from proving Todd Boehly wrong

Kepa Arrizabalaga and Antonio Rudiger at Chelsea
-Credit: (Image: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Regardless of who wins the Champions League on Saturday night there will be some reason for Chelsea to celebrate. Be it Carlo Ancelotti collecting another winners' medal in his sleep or Ian Maatsen being crowned a European king, the Blues have a horse in the race.

There are, in total, five figures of mainstream interest to Chelsea. Ancelotti and Maatsen are two, Thibaut Courtois, Antonio Rudiger, and Kepa Arrizabalaga are the final three. Although the relationship with Courtois remains fractured due to the nature of his exit, it is nevertheless impressive just how much of a titan he has become.

The feelings towards Kepa are also likely to be mixed. He was rarely a standout for Chelsea and still has another year on his initial contract from 2018 despite being first choice for only a small period of his time at the club. The £72million spent to sign him has gone largely unrewarded.

Kepa could still end up being a European champion for the second time in his career - he has also won the Europa League too - should Madrid do the totally expected and win at Wembley. Ancelotti would be lifting the trophy for the seventh time in his life in this scenario having been part of AC Milan teams conquering the continent during his playing days.

Each of these Chelsea-related characters have their own story to tell. Ancelotti was discarded by Roman Abramovich less than 12 months after completing the double. His failure to win the Champions League - losing in the last-16 to eventual winners Inter during his first season and the runners-up Manchester United during his second - was enough to see him waved out of the door.

Chelsea went on to win it for the first time in their history the year after but little of it was as scripted. The same could be said of Kepa and Rudiger's 2021 victory.

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The pair were both out of favour under Frank Lampard when he was sacked in January that year. Thomas Tuchel came in and six months later had masterminded one of the most balanced and defensively resilient sides to a glorious day in Porto. Kepa had a small role to play under the German head coach but he was less cast off than Lampard had left him.

Courtois won two Premier League titles, an FA Cup, and the Carabao Cup during time at Stamford Bridge following a loan at Atletico Madrid - where he lost the 2014 Champions League final to Real. He left a villain in 2018, paving the way for Kepa's arrival, but has gone on to demonstrate just why he was eager to go elsewhere.

Then there's Maatsen. An academy graduate given very little chance during his first year at the club under Mauricio Pochettino. He was sent out to Dortmund on loan to show his qualities after extending his contract with Chelsea. Now he's playing in the Champions League final and is available for transfer despite looking the perfect fit for Enzo Maresca.

He isn't yet sure if he will be staying or going in the coming months. "I still have a contract and after the summer we're going to decide where my future is going to be," he explained.

"I know I came here to Dortmund to prove myself that I can play on the highest level and the highest stage and that's what I'm doing now." His dad has been less unpartisan. “We are working on staying at the club [Dortmund]”, he told Dutch outlet Voetbal International earlier this year.

"The clubs have to fight it out among themselves. Ian is developing well here and things are not going well at Chelsea since they changed ownership.

"A lot at that club also revolves around money, which sometimes seems more important than the club’s interests. We have more options besides Chelsea and Dortmund, but Dortmund has proven to be a good restart. And look which guys come from there, [Jude] Bellingham, [Erling] Haaland."

The Dutchman isn't the only one seemingly keen to move permanently. When being announced as a loan signing by Madrid, Kepa said: "Will I stay after the loan? Hopefully. Today is the first day. We'll see. Hopefully with my performance I can make that happen."

He later opened up on why he wanted to move on. "I felt it was time for a change of scenery," he said. "I wanted to stay, but I felt that the project was not the right one."

Kepa continued: "Yes, it was very fast [move to Real Madrid]. It’s true that Pochettino wanted me to stay and he told me that I was going to play, that he trusted me, but I thought that a change would be good for me, I wanted a change.

"Thomas Tuchel called me. We were close to going to Munich." He added: "When Madrid calls you, everything changes. My signing was closed in just a few hours and a couple of calls."

It is Rudiger that stings most though. He was in no rush to leave the club in 2022 but the sanctions applied by the UK government left contract negotiations impossible as he entered his last six months. Madrid had been interested for a while before and used the opportunity to snap him up for free.

"I don’t like goodbyes," he wrote in the Players' Tribune that year. "But I will try to make this one special, from the heart." After some words about N'Golo Kante, Rudiger said, "The trophies that I have won here — they are nice, for sure. But what really made Chelsea a special place were the friendships.

"We were more than teammates. So many of these guys — NG [Kante], Kova [Mateo Kovacic], [Hakim] Ziyech, [Romelu] Lukaku — they are like my brothers. That’s very rare in football, honestly. And if there is one moment that sums everything up for me, it would be the scene in the toilets after we won the Champions League Final.

PORTO, PORTUGAL - MAY 29: Kurt Zouma (L) and Antonio Rudiger of Chelsea pose in the dressing room with the Champions League Trophy following their team's victory in the UEFA Champions League Final between Manchester City and Chelsea FC at Estadio do Dragao on May 29, 2021 in Porto, Portugal. (Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
Kurt Zouma and teammate Antonio Rudiger -Credit:(Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

"Obviously, that was a crazy season for me. I hate to say crazy, but what other word could I use? Not even six months before that final, I was on the floor, brother. At the time, I’d been dropped from the squad, and I couldn’t even get a reason why. We had a meeting one day, and the manager told me that we had a deep squad, and that he preferred others over me. Boom — that was it.

"After that, there were a lot of rumors. I was getting a lot of abuse on social media. It was the hardest time in my career, and I stayed silent because I did not want to cause issues for the club.

"Imagine — if you would have told me that within a few months, I would be starting in a Champions League Final against City?" Rudiger's reflections are honest and emotional. It was this personality on the field as well as off it that made him so popular at the club for 18 months before leaving.

"I leave this club with a heavy heart," he starts in a heartfelt conclusion. "It has meant everything to me. Even this season, with all the complications, has been enjoyable. Football is football. We are blessed to play a game for a living that we would play for free anyway."

He finishes: "Chelsea will always be in my heart. London will always be my home. I came here alone, and now I have a wife and two beautiful kids. I also have a new brother for life named Kova. I have an FA Cup, a Europa League and a Champions League medal. And of course, I have hundreds of memories that will stay with me forever."