Winning the Champions League Final is now seen by Europe's top teams as the ultimate prize. No longer is winning the domestic title enough for the likes of the big four in the English Premier League, or the leading clubs participating in Spain, Italy and the rest of Europe.
Much is at stake, reputation, glory and money and this season's Champions League has been nothing if not controversial. Now the climax that most neutrals have wanted is imminent; Manchester United will take on Barcelona in Rome on May 27th in the 2009 Champions league Final.
Barcelona's spectacular last-gasp semi-final, second-leg added time winner denied Chelsea the chance to make the Final an all-English affair for the second year in a row, leaving the London-based team to lick their wounds and a certain Norwegian referee, embroiled in controversy to hurriedly exit the UK.
However, Manchester United's place in the Final never looked in doubt from as early as 10 minutes into the semi-final, second leg when they stormed to a 2-0 lead on the night, eventually steamrollering Arsenal 4-1 on aggregate and breezing into the final berth. Now, the reigning Premier League champions are aiming to return the Champions League Cup to their trophy cabinet with a win over Barcelona. But, having lost their appeal to UEFA, United will face the Spanish giants without key defender Darren Fletcher who was sent off during the second-leg semi for a foul on Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas. Rio Ferdinand is also a big doubt as he struggles to overcome injury, but that won't stop as many Manchester United fans as possible attempting to book their ticket to Rome.
Advice to non-football fans planning a trip to the Italian capital - avoid the last week of May! While in town both sets of supporters will no doubt be taking the opportunity to see what else the beautiful city has to offer, meaning that Rome hotels, restaurants and bars will be packed with tens of thousands of Mancunians and Catalonians. So, unless you can stand frenzied football fans all teetering on the edge of anticipation then it may be best to avoid Rome until the start of June.
Although no trouble is anticipated, travelling football fans do tend to get quite boisterous, especially in the final 24 hours before the game kicks-off. So, there will be no quiet contemplation at the Trevi Fountain, or rest and relaxation in Rome's piazzas during the run-up to the final, and unless you are willing to be part of that atmosphere, steer clear of Rome until the football circus departs!