At the start of the 2022/23 season, not many could’ve predicted the UEFA Champions League final to take place between Manchester City and Inter Milan. While the Cityzens have remained among the favourites to get all the way to the final due to their incredible squad, that only got better with Erling Haaland’s introduction, Inter weren’t even tipped to make it out of the group stages.
Indeed, the Nerazzurri were placed in the same group as Bayern Munich and Barcelona in what was being termed as the ‘group of death’. Almost everyone expected Inter to drop down to the UEFA Europa League after the group stages, but they had something else in the plan.
They managed to make it out as runners-up – before going on to beat two Portuguese sides FC Porto and Benfica to make it to the semi-finals. Inter managed to outclass their bitter rivals AC Milan in the semis, booking a place in their first Champions League final since 2010.
The general perception around the Champions League final is that it’ll be a walkover for City – who are en route to accomplishing the feat of winning the European treble. After the way the Cityzens embarrassed Real Madrid in the semis, they’re heavily favoured to finally break their European drought and bring home the Champions League title.
In terms of quality, Inter’s squad is significantly inferior to City. However, they do have one weird ‘ace-in-the-hole’ which is not really any superior player or something like that – but a strange recipe to winning the Champions League final over the last decade.
Over the last 10 seasons, every single Champions League winning team has had a Croatian player in their squad. This is rather unique because the same can’t be said about many of the other European players in the winning team.
This trend started back in 2013 when Mario Mandzukic helped Bayern Munich win the Champions League title. Luka Modric continued it by winning his first-ever Champions League crown with Real Madrid the year later.
With Barcelona claiming the Champions League title in 2015, Ivan Rakitic was able to claim the winner’s medal and keep Croatia’s reputation intact in the competition. Modric won the title three more times as Los Blancos did the threepeat from 2016-2018, while Mateo Kovacic also won it during his time at Real Madrid.
Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren ensured that this Croatian winners’ trend continued by claiming the title with the Reds in 2019. Ivan Perisic was a part of the Bayern Munich squad that dominated their way to clinch the 2020 Champions League title by defeating PSG in the only Champions League final to have taken place behind closed doors.
Kovacic claimed another Champions League winning medal by helping Chelsea complete their ridiculous underdog story in 2021 before Modric won it again with Real Madrid last year. This time, however, there is a strong chance that this incredible record comes to an end.
Some fans are hoping that this magical trend can also act as good luck for Inter Milan, who have their own Croatian gem in the form of Marcelo Brozovic and will definitely need fate to favour them to upset the Cityzens in the final. Of course, this trend of players from certain nations being involved in every Champions League-winning squad for consecutive years isn’t that rare.
Over the last decade – one Brazilian player has also been part of the Champions League winning squad and City have their own Brazilian in the form of Ederson. However, the progression of a little footballing nation like Croatia can be validated through this interesting trend and show how successful the country has been in churning out top-level footballers to major teams over the last decades.
Moreover, there is at least one Croatian player to be involved in every single final of UEFA’s three European competitions this season. Apart from Marcelo Brozovic representing Inter, Europa League finalists Sevilla also have their Croatian midfielder in the form of Ivan Rakitic. UEFA Europa Conference League finalist Fiorentina also have a Croatian international in the form of forward Josip Brekalo in their ranks.
But with the Champions League obviously being the most important tournament of the bunch, every anti-Manchester City fan and Inter Milan supporter will be hoping that their ‘ace in the hole’ Brozovic can maintain the trend of keeping a Croatian winner in every Champions League winning side over the last decade and continue City’s Champions League curse alive.