Roberto Di Matteo must be pinching himself. Sacked by West Bromwich Albion in February of last year, turned down by Birmingham City, who preferred Chris Hughton, he was still out of work 10 months ago. Yet in three weeks' time he will become the 10th Italian coach to lead a team into the European Cup final, and victory in Munich would put him alongside Nereo Rocco, Giovanni Trapattoni, Arrigo Sacchi, Fabio Capello, Marcello Lippi and Carlo Ancelotti: just about as august a gathering as could be imagined. Can these things really be happening to him?
Best of all, perhaps, he can travel to Bavaria knowing that José Mourinho will not be lying in wait. For Di Matteo and his team, the psychological effect of confronting the man who had Chelsea under his spell for three incomparably dramatic seasons, and who still retains the loyalty and affection of some of his former players and most of the club's fans, could hardly be exaggerated. Were they having to face Real Madrid on 19 May, Mourinho would loom as a more significant figure even than Cristiano Ronaldo or Iker Casillas.
But now he is out of the picture, last seen watching Wednesday's penalty shootout while kneeling on the Bernabéu touchline before disappearing down the tunnel in the wake of defeat. We can be sorry, of course, because any contest between Chelsea and a team managed by Mourinho contains a special charge of electricity, but from Di Matteo's perspective it removes an unhealthy distraction. There will be no back-page headlines proclaiming Frank Lampard's undimmed admiration for the Portuguese provocateur.
Instead Chelsea will face Bayern, four-times winners of the competition, now led by Jupp Heynckes, the 66-year-old veteran of West Germany's 1972 European Championship-winning team. As a striker for Borussia Mönchengladbach and Hannover 96, Heynckes scored 220 league goals between 1963 and 1978, putting him third in the Bundesliga's all-time list, behind his contemporaries Gerd Müller and Klaus Fischer. As a coach his 33-year career has taken him to clubs in Germany, Spain and Portugal, including three spells with Bayern, the first of them highlighted by league titles in 1988-89 and 1989-90. With Real Madrid he won the European Cup in 1997-98, thanks to Predrag Mijatovic's goal against Juventus in Amsterdam.
He rejoined Bayern last summer, and he already knows that, with two matches to go, his team are destined to finish second behind the defending champions, Borussia Dortmund, and will not regain the title they have won five times in the last 10 years. But to capture the European Cup for the first time since 2001– itself the first victory since the club's hat-trick in the mid-1970s – would be more than enough to spread contentment through a club whose ownership is structured in a manner as far from that of Chelsea's single-owner model as could be imagined.
Bayern's 160,000 members own 84% of the company's shares, while the remainder is split between two German firms, Adidas and Audi, who put up the money to build the Allianz Arena. Distinguished former players, notably Franz Beckenbauer, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Uli Hoeness (the current president), are closely involved in the club's governance. It is a formula that clearly works: despite low membership fees and affordable ticket prices, last year Bayern were rated the fourth richest club in the world by the annual Deloitte survey.
Heynckes's team joined this season's Champions League in the play-off round, where they overcame FC Zürich before topping a tough group including Manchester City, Napoli and Villarreal, losing only to City when the outcome was already settled and half a dozen first-choice players could be left on the bench. Basel, conquerors of Manchester United, were dismissed in the round of 16 before Marseille were beaten home and away in the quarter-finals. Then came the two intense and thrilling matches against Real Madrid, in which Bayern proved themselves a more compact, crafty and consistent team than the star-studded heirs of the nine-times winners.
Like Chelsea, Bayern will suffer from the effect of yellow cards awarded in the second leg of the semi-finals, with suspensions costing them the presence of the centre-back Holger Badstuber, the Brazilian defensive midfielder Luiz Gustavo and the dynamic Austrian left-back David Alaba. Rafinha, a Brazilian right-back, may come in, with the captain, Philipp Lahm, switching to the left, as he has often done in the past. The Belgian defender Daniel Van Buyten, once briefly of Manchester City, could be restored to the team in place of Badstuber, or Heynckes may prefer Breno, a 22-year-old Brazilian central defender with a poor disciplinary record on and off the pitch.
Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, the experienced Ukraine midfielder, is the most obvious replacement for Gustavo as a second screening player alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger, although Thomas Müller offers a more adventurous alternative. The changes may mean that they are not as defensively sound as they were in the semi-final but the same prediction may be made of Chelsea's reshuffled rearguard.
Then there is Bayern's home advantage. Real Madrid in 1957 and Internazionale in 1965 both made the most of playing a European Cup final in their own stadium while Roma fell to Liverpool on their own pitch in 1984. The lusty support of Bayern fans gathering from all over Germany in a glittering modern ground holding almost 70,000 could be counterbalanced by the dragging weight of expectation and the fear of repeating the disappointment of two years ago, when they fell to Mourinho's Inter in Madrid.
History and form must favour the German club, for whom a victory would condemn their opponents to becoming the Premier League's sixth beaten finalists in the past seven finals of the competition: a remarkable statistic, if not a wholly enviable one. For Chelsea, whose owner grew up in a communist state but now embodies the rewards of unbridled capitalism, never has the advice of Antonio Gramsci, the great Marxist intellectual, seemed more appropriate: pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will. It has done them well so far.