There was a distinct edge to training ahead of the Juventus game. You could tell the players wanted to put the record straight after the previous result. Players were even staying behind after training to practise free kicks, penalties and stamina building as they wanted it so bad.
On the Thursday morning, they were all bound for Madrid ready for the final at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium home of Real Madrid. The locals had hoped that Real Madrid would have made it to the final but they were knocked out in the quarter finals by Juventus.
The city was bathed in early spring sunshine and the temperature just perfect as they arrived at their hotel in the upmarket Salamanca district of Madrid, not far from the stadium. There were swarms of press waiting at their hotel along with fans and kids wanting autographs and photos, which most of the Arsenal players were happy to give, including Bradley. They had been given access to Real Madrid’s training complex to the north of the city and they were ferried up there after the checking in process was dealt with.
The facilities there were second to none. Bradley and the team marvelled at what Real Madrid’s players had at their disposal. After a light session, they headed back to the hotel for some relaxation by the hotel pool. Sr Cantonelli wanted his players in the right frame of mind for Saturday. He spoke to each player individually to ascertain where their mind was at and was pleased with the results. Bradley hadn’t been affected by his father’s antics this time which was good as he wanted a 100% from Bradley if they were going to lift the trophy.
Sitting in the dressing room as kick off approached, some of the players were silent. This was normal just before a game as players concentrated on the job in hand and pushed everything else out of their minds. Bradley was going over where he saw weaknesses in Juventus’ defence and shared his thoughts with his team mates.
They walked out of the tunnel into a sea of noise. The stadium was quite compact despite it holding 85,000 supporters. The noise was intensified by this and created quite an intimidating atmosphere. The match kicked off on time and a huge wave of relief went through the team. They had been looking forward to this and they were going to win it.
Bradley’s ideas were paying off; he was dancing through an ageing Juventus defence at will. Despite their attempts to hack him down, he humiliated them at every turn. It was no surprise then at half time it was 2-0 to Arsenal, Bradley scoring one and assisting the other.
The second half showed no signs that Juventus were going to get back in the game and when Bradley scored his second with a wicked shot into the top corner to make it 3-0, that all but killed the game off for them. The rest of the game was exhibition stuff with Arsenal happy to retain possession and pass the ball around the pitch waiting for the final whistle.
When it finally came, the team hugged each other with delirium. They had finally done it! Arsenal had won the Champions League for the very first time in their history. The team accepted their medals and went through the presentation of the trophy before lining up for the obligatory winner’s photo for the press then heading for the Arsenal supporters in the stadium to celebrate with them.
The sports news back in England was full of praise for the Arsenal team who had not only beaten the mighty Juventus, but humiliated them to lift the trophy. The praise was plentiful for Bradley after his contribution. He checked his phone later to find hundreds of messages of congratulations for him. There was only one text that mattered to him though, the one from Jessie which had xxxx at the end of the message. He was looking forward to seeing her when he got back.
When he realised that his mum and Sam had texted him, but not his dad, it took the edge off his mood slightly. It was his fault; he had promised himself that he would call him but he hadn’t. Now it was clear his dad had the hump with him and didn’t want to share his success. He must phone when he returns before the relationship spirals out of control.
Following the celebratory dinner and another night in Madrid, they were flown home to a heroes’ welcome on the Sunday afternoon. Heathrow Terminal 5 was packed with Arsenal supporters and press all cheering them through arrivals. It was a great feeling and one Bradley would never forget. How could the actions of eleven men affect all these people so much? Many of the fans were in tears and they reached out in the vain hope of being able to hug any of the players for giving them so much. It was a highly emotional episode which saddened Bradley as he thought of his dad being there like he had always been when he was young.
How times had changed.