At the trophy lift after Chelsea’s victory in the last Champions League final, Olivier Giroud took up a good position for souvenir pictures. He was just behind the Cup, directly in the eyeline of assembled photographers. You don’t reach your mid-30s, and win a World Cup, without learning a few lessons about how to preserve your legacy.
But that night in Porto had been an unfulfilling one for Giroud, the France striker who after a decade spent at elite clubs still sometimes finds the flaws in his game - he is not the quickest sprinter - highlighted almost as much as the strengths.
He hears himself unfairly deemed an old-fashioned centre-forward for being strong in the air, good at holding the ball up and an astute poacher, while his catalogue of spectacular strikes is mentioned only as a footnote.
By the end of his career with Chelsea, he had certainly fallen out of fashion. He spent all of that Champions League final on the bench, hardly expecting to play, with his side defending a 1-0 lead from late in the first half against Manchester City. The longer he was under Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel’s charge, the more Giroud knew his role would be confined to occasional substitute.
On Sunday, Giroud did not need to sneak guiltily into any of the celebration pictures around AC Milan’s first Serie A title for 11 years. He was entitled to feel centre-stage for the club he joined last summer, to enjoy the hero status that attached to him from early on in what might have been a nervous evening. Had Milan faltered on the last match-day of their campaign, Internazionale would have overtaken them at the top of the table, with the gap between first and second just two points.
At Sassuolo, Giroud forced a strong save from Andrea Consigli within the first seven minutes. After 17, he had put Milan in charge. Just after the half hour, he had his second goal, both of them alert, well-positioned finishes from the lively Rafael Leao’s crosses. Franck Kessie gave Milan a 3-0 lead long before half-time. They held it to the final whistle.
A little less comfortable was the sealing, earlier on the same afternoon, of the Premier League title by a club much more in the habit, recently, of winning the most demanding domestic league in the game.
Manchester City, holding a one point advantage over Liverpool, went 2-0 down at home to Aston Villa, and were trailing by that score with less than 15 minutes to go - 15 minutes in which, at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers, second-placed Liverpool would score the goals that would have overtaken City in the table.
Or, rather, they would have done were it not for Ilkay Gundogan, who, like Giroud, struck twice, and who, like Giroud, had cause to look back to events at Porto’s Dragao stadium almost a year ago. There Gundogan was part of a deflated, beaten City team, and he found himself at the heart of the post-final scrutiny over where City had fallen short in their closest encounter yet with the target of a first European Cup for the club.
Gundogan had been selected as the nearest equivalent to an anchor midfielder in Pep Guardiola’s starting line-up against Chelsea, with Fernandinho and Rodri left on the bench. The diagnosis after the game was that the manager had left City exposed, and Gundogan’s creativity misused.
Fitting then, that the headliners for City’s comeback against Villa, were Rodri, an unused substitute in Porto, and Gundogan, who had only come off the bench eight minutes before his back-post header set off a five-minute burst of goals. Rodri’s accurate drive was the second of them and Gundogan’s cool, composed finish the third. “Legends,” Guardiola called his players after the final whistle and the lifting of City’s fourth league trophy in five seasons.
In Milan, Giroud was about to achieve his legendary status. His goals against Sassuolo took him to 11 for the Serie A campaign, rolling back the years to when he always registered double-figures in the league while at Arsenal - his limited time on the pitch for Chelsea meant he never scored more than eight in a Premier League season for them - and he is entitled to believe many of those for Milan have a bonus value.
He scored a brace in the last 15 minutes of the derby against Inter, giving Milan three points from 1-0 down. He scored the only goal of the match against third-placed Napoli in March. His goal at Lazio in late April launched another turnaround, Milan having trailed early before winning 2-1. From there, it was full steam ahead.