Has any Champions League finalist been this much of an afterthought before?
The story of Saturday's game between Manchester City and Inter Milan at Istanbul's Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Turkey is the last chapter of a so-far triumphant journey. To many, it's a tale of the power of brute force spending: when you have (comparatively) unlimited money, when you push the limits of established rules all the way up to (and possibly past) their breaking point, when you have a decade to fine-tune the process without ever slowing down, perhaps you can control the uncontrollable. In a sport governed by the whims of a bouncing ball and just three or four goals per game, anyone can win -- supposedly.
To a smaller subsection of fans, it's a slightly different story with the same endpoint.
Manchester City's march toward just the second treble in English soccer history is powered by billions and billions of dollars, sure. But it's the triumph of a club outside of the traditional hierarchy, a disruptor now winning all the games that the old rich would've been winning instead. Plus, plenty of other clubs have similar resources, don't they? And none of them have taken down 100 points in a season, won five of six Premier League titles, or reached two of the past three European Cup finals -- now have they?
But what about, you know, the other team?
For the unaware: Inter Milan are also playing in the Champions League final. Unlike City, the Italian club has won the thing before -- three times -- and a win on Saturday would tie them for the second-most European Cups since 2010. And yet, they're not even the most popular club with the letters "Inter Mi-" in their name this week.
While Saturday's game in Istanbul seems like a culmination of one of the most dominant soccer seasons we've ever seen -- and a jumping-off point for what that says about the future of the sport -- there is another possibility. Inter Milan, the third-place team in Serie A, could also win the Champions League.