A big fan of N'Golo Kante, Kusum Kaneriya is willing to join her grandson in watching Chelsea play even at 2 AM at night.
The seven minutes of added time in Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final between Manchester City and Chelsea witnessed its fair share of nervy moments. There were plenty of clearances and tackles made at the latter’s end of the pitch. This raised the tension to another level altogether. Not to forget, Manchester City winger Riyad Mahrez’s shot barely cleared the bar. Chelsea were pushed to the brim, defending a 1-0 lead courtesy a Kai Havertz goal. However, the joyous final whistle soon brought a glorious end to an elite contest, as the Blues celebrated their first Champions League title in nine years.
Fans attempted to express their exhilaration in the most extensive manner possible, considering the current COVID-19 pandemic that has wreaked havoc in all corners of the world. For many, this triumph was a sign of good times soon approaching with unemployment and bearing the loss of loved ones spreading gloom across mankind.
One of those supporters was 88-year-old Kusum Kaneriya and her 28-year-old grandson, Vivek Kaneriya. Kusum is considered one of the oldest fans of any football team in the Indian football ecosystem at least, emerging as a source of motivation for those veterans struggling to find purpose during the later stages of their lives.
She has been a supporter of The Blues for nearly 10 years, having started following the club since the final of the 2011-12 edition of the UEFA Champions League against Bayern Munich. The former pulled off a comeback against the odds, with a late Didier Drogba header forcing the game into extra-time and eventually penalties, where the English giants emerged victorious.
Kusum had not watched a single game of football before that point, with cricket her sole passion. She would wake up early to watch Team India on tours of Australia and New Zealand, with impressive consistency.
Kusum and Vivek have watched almost every game of Chelsea together from that day onwards. Even the staunchest of supporters find it difficult to stay awake in case of a late-night fixture due to personal or professional responsibilities.
The duo ensure impressive resolve and determination, with a cup of tea or coffee often providing some much-needed support.
“She has been very supportive, contradictory to other parents and grandparents. Even my dad shouts at me, saying that ‘you’re spoiling my mom and you are having tea at 2:30 AM but she supports me, goes to my dad and says ‘Let us watch the match. You sleep peacefully,” said Vivek in a Chelsea Football Club video.
Kusum starts watching a game repeating chants in praise of Lord Krishna, and Saturday night was no exception.
“We started watching the final with some chants as is the case generally. We were definitely nervous as it was the third Champions League final in the club’s history. The first final had witnessed a defeat at the hands of Manchester United, in a heart-breaking loss. The second was a comeback against the odds. It would have certainly caused a fair bit of sadness if the result from the maiden final had been maintained,” they said in an exclusive chat to sportslumo.com.
Kusum is a huge fan of N’Golo Kante, which is certainly quite understandable taking into account his humble nature and desire to deliver his best at any cost. The Frenchman was named as the Player of the Match courtesy an exceptional performance, where he stood out with his resilience and determination. With 85 percent passing accuracy, 53 touches, the most victorious duels with 11, recovering the ball the most (10), winning four aerials are just a few numbers that indicate how impressive he was.
Kante further followed it up with three tackles, two touches in the opposition box, 2 clearances, two interceptions and two fouls won. Prominent footballers like Rio Ferdinand have hailed the performance of the Frenchman, despite the Englishman usually reluctant to praise players of rival clubs. Many have gone to the extent of terming him as the ideal candidate to win the upcoming Ballon d’Or.
“When Kante scores a goal, I feel really good. I love watching matches. When Chelsea score a goal, my grandson starts jumping, and I feel really good then and I join him as well. When we lose, the food that we eat also doesn’t taste great but when we win, we eat two extra rotis. I lost my husband and Vivek’s grandfather nearly 30 years ago. Watching matches with my grandson helps me fill that void,” said Kusum.
However, Kante could very well have not even featured in the UCL final, considering an injury he was battling.
“I told my grandmother that the Frenchman is steadily recovering, with a lot of question marks over his presence in the lineup for the final. Remember asking her not to get her hopes up as well. She asked me to simply allow her to continue with the prayers, further reassuring me that it would all work out on the day of the final. Kante did perform brilliantly, making his presence felt with an extraordinary performance,” said Vivek.
Only two players have won the Champions League, Premier League, Europa League and the World Cup. Kante is one of them. Enough said.
Thomas Tuchel took over the managerial reins at Chelsea mid-season following the decision to sack club legend Frank Lampard. Tuchel had previously led French giants Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) to the final of the Champions League in the previous edition, where they suffered a defeat against Bayern Munich.
However, there was a certain level of scepticism with regard to the man-management skills of the German manager, with the same highlighted as a prime reason behind his early exit at Borussia Dortmund. Many further expected an early exit for Chelsea in the UCL considering the woes of German striker Timo Werner and the absence of consistent goal-scorers. The defence had leaked a lot of goals, leading to questions over the quality of the squad.
“We had no expectations from Tuchel with regard to silverware. The only desire was to witness some stability in the gameplay, which had gone missing,” said Kusum.
While the Blues managed to overcome the barrier posed by Porto in the Round of 16, they were slotted against Atletico Madrid in the quarter-finals. Atletico had been a bogey team of sorts for Chelsea in the past, which was an area of concern.
“Chelsea had a very young squad even under Frank Lampard. No one expected them to beat Atletico Madrid. It was a scenario of 1 percent chance and 99 percent faith going into the first leg. Atletico boasted of the presence of top players like Luis Suarez, Joao Felix and were league leaders in La Liga. Their excellent form going into the clash was certainly scary. However, Mason Mount scored a fantastic goal in the first leg, reviving our hopes. The triumph was a miracle in itself. The win was further an indication of what Tuchel was capable of, sparking a wave of positivity. We decided to take every match as it came from that stage onwards, and well it did result in something special,” said Vivek.
Thiago Silva was a major factor behind Chelsea’s triumph in the semi-final against Real Madrid, who can be exceedingly ruthless in the Champions League. Thiago delivered a performance for the ages, making his presence felt with inch-perfect tackles and fine leadership.
However, the veteran was forced off the field due to an injury early on in the final against Manchester City, leading to fear over a possible collapse. Liverpool had similarly conceded the momentum to Real Madrid following the departure of Mohammed Salah in a Champions League final a few years ago.
“When Thiago Silva walked off the field, I told my grandmother that she could take a break from her prayers if she wanted, as one of the main defenders had been subbed off, before being replaced by Andreas Christensen. She urged me to stick to one place and remain patient. The goal came soon enough as Kai Havertz scored a beauty. We remained rooted to our positions throughout the course of the game, celebrating in a muted manner in order to avoid disturbing my father. The final few minutes were certainly quite tough to negotiate, due to the slim lead. It was akin to doing a 45-second plank, with the triumph against a top team like Manchester City providing even more satisfaction. There are plans to celebrate the Champions League win in a more extensive manner by having some junk food, which is quite a luxury during these COVID times,” said Vivek.
The duo have words of praise for goalkeeper Edouard Mendy who became the first African goalkeeper to win the European Cup in the Champions League era. Mendy was unemployed and looking for a job in May 2015, after being released by Cherbourg. They believe his struggle will provide inspiration to all those badly affected by COVID-19.
“Edouard Mendy’s journey will give motivation to all those youngsters who are struggling due to unemployment in these tough times. Thiago Silva almost died from Tuberculosis aged 21 in Russia. Jorginho struggled on just 20 Euros a day before leaving Brazil for Italy. If you give your best, you will certainly be rewarded. There is no magic involved, simply sheer hard work,” said Kusum.
Vivek and his grandmother are planning a trip to Chelsea’s home ground Stamford Bridge in the coming months. However, it all depends on the scenario with regard to COVID-19.
“It was very difficult for the fans, considering the restrictions on match screenings due to COVID. It was quite dull. Hopefully, the situation improves before the coming season. We have a trip to Stamford Bridge planned out extensively as well, which does give sleepless nights out of excitement,” concluded Vivek.