When a teenage Emerson Palmieri sat down to watch the 2012 Champions League final with his family and friends in Santos, little did he know he would one day play for the team he was supporting that day.
Emerson was 17 and a year earlier had made his debut for his hometown club, on Brazil’s Atlantic coast. In May 2012, almost 6000 miles away, Chelsea were preparing to take on Bayern Munich as European club football reached its pinnacle at the home of the German giants. Our left-back was one of hundreds of millions tuning in around the world.
‘In Brazil we would watch the Champions League all the time, get together and watch the great players in Europe,’ he tells us.
‘It’s a real occasion. All those young players who leave Brazil dream of playing in the Champions League. Since I was little I started watching the Champions League with that great Barca team, players like Ronaldinho, Eto’o, Deco.
‘I still remember the final Chelsea played against Bayern Munich which was absolutely incredible. Without knowing what would come in the future obviously, I was supporting Chelsea that night. Everybody said Bayern were going to win and finally Chelsea won which was fantastic.
‘I was at home watching with my friends and family,’ he continues.
‘We were playing around and placing bets on who was going to win, and whoever lost was going to have pay for a dinner. I was there with my friend and my dad and everybody said Bayern were going to win, but I didn’t.
‘They were leading but when Drogba scored that goal, it was incredible and I remember celebrating that goal so much at home. Even back then I remember supporting Chelsea.’
Emerson will be hoping to feature in the Champions League for the first time when we take on Valencia tonight, knowing a victory will guarantee our place in the knockout stages. His prior European involvement with the Blues came in last season’s victorious run to Europa League glory.
The Italian international played 11 times in the competition for us, and started the final when he set up the opener for Olivier Giroud.
‘I will always look back on that night in Baku with really fond memories,’ he smiles, casting his mind back to May 2019.
‘To have had the opportunity to win the Europa League will always have a special place in my heart. In the future, when I hear those words "Europa League" I am always going to remember that night.
‘To have assisted Olivier’s goal was also really special, and the occasion to have got to the final, to be playing in a derby match against Arsenal, and to have helped the team win as I did will always stay with me.
‘It really was amazing, the celebrations in the stadium straight after the match, and then also in the dressing room, and then when we joined up with our families afterwards. It was something very complete for the whole group, for a team who as a collective deserved to win on that night.’
Now Emerson dreams of emulating the heroes of 2012 by lifting the biggest silverware of all. A positive result on Spain’s east coast will be a crucial first step to doing just that.