PORTO, Portugal (Reuters) -A season that at times must have felt like a nightmare for Chelsea’s German youngster Kai Havertz ended in dreamland when his goal sealed a 1-0 victory over Manchester City in the Champions League final on Saturday.
The 21-year-old struck in the 42nd minute to give underdogs Chelsea a deserved win, instantly repaying a large chunk of the club-record 72 million pounds ($102.23 million) he cost when he joined from Bayer Leverkusen last year.
With impeccable timing Havertz scored his first-ever Champions League goal, racing on to Mason Mount’s superb through ball and evading out-rushing City keeper Ederson before calmly rolling the ball into an unguarded net.
It capped a remarkable turnaround for Havertz who looked like a fish out of water earlier in the season as he struggled to get to grips with the demands of the Premier League.
He suffered a further setback when he caught COVID-19 in November, admitting that it took him two or three weeks to recover from the virus.
But all that was forgotten on Saturday as Havertz became the youngest German player to score in a Champions League final since Borussia Dortmund’s Lars Ricken in 1997.
“I don’t know what to say. I really don’t know what to say. I waited a long time,” Havertz said on the pitch.
“I’ve waited 15 years for this moment and now it’s here.”
Havertz’s lack of form was a contributory factor in Frank Lampard being sacked as Chelsea manager in January, by which time the player had managed only one Premier League goal.
Even when fellow German Thomas Tuchel took over, the forward continued to struggle for form and did not manage another goal in the Premier League until April.
But under Tuchel, Havertz has slowly begun to show the flair that made him such a target for Europe’s biggest clubs.
It was perhaps a slight surprise that he was give the nod to start in Porto on Saturday ahead of Christian Pulisic.
But he fully justified Tuchel’s faith, working tirelessly and dropping deep to help link Chelsea’s potent attacks.
“He deserves that, it’s been a tough season,” said Chelsea skipper Cesar Azpilicueta, hugging his team mate as the celebrations got going on the pitch.
“This guy is going to be a superstar. He is already. He gave us the Champions League and not only that he ran like crazy.”
($1 = 0.7043 pounds)
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Clare Fallon and Ken Ferris)