When Chelsea knocked out Barcelona on that historic night at Camp Nou, most people felt deja vu. Barcelona and Chelsea approached the game exactly as you would expect them to. Their respective methods have given them too much success to experiment with something else on such a big occasion like this. The plans were quite clear ahead of the game. The difference was going to be who executes and delivers their plan to perfection. So, it wasn’t really surprising that these two teams adopted their tried and tested methods. But the difference was elsewhere. The difference was on how Chelsea’s performance was viewed, accepted and even appreciated by the football community.
What used to be called as anti-football has now become defensive masterclass. What used to be called parking the bus was now called defensive organisation and discipline. What was called parking the bus is now called Barca’s inability to break through a tight defence. What was called a defeat for football is now being called success for the british bulldog spirit. This has been a subtle transformation and this is widespread cutting across all club affinities.
How did this happen? I personally think that people have learnt some lessons in football. As simple as that. Yes, Barcelona are the most fluent football team, probably ever. They are the guardians for what’s being called ‘beautiful football’. They are the gods and angels of football. And these impressions of FC Barcelona meant they can’t be beaten fairly and anyone that beats them might have used unfair means. They just cannot be deservedly beaten. And there was an expectation that the opponents play and beat Barca at their own game and anything else is going to be a lucky win or a defeat for football.
Have things changed? Hell yes! Fooball community, including the pundits, have learnt some important lessons in football. Barcelona’s playing style is not from the training ground, it’s from their roots and their culture. And theirs is one way of playing football. Some love it. Some don’t (yeah, it’s me). While they are definitely beautiful to watch, I find their approach highly one-dimensional and surely crackable. And that’s what teams take advantage of. This wasn’t a beauty pageant on the Camp Nou that night. It was a hard-fought contest whose prize was a place in the Champions League final.
Barca played like they always do. Chelsea simply stayed with organisation and discipline, soaked up all the pressure waiting to deliver the knockout blow when they get their chances. You can’t blame Chelsea’s approach. It has worked in the past not just for Chelsea but for various other teams. Why would we change that when Barcelona haven’t figured out to deal with that? And hence, you have pundits finally saying in chorus that Barca don’t have a plan B and teams like Chelsea are perfectly fine in exploiting that.
If we are planning to match Barca’s playing style, we need to do hundred other things before we try to match them on the pitch. Until then, we can be clever in our approach. Until then, we can play intelligent football instead of what’s called ‘beautiful football’. Personally, I’m not a fan of Barca’s style of football. I do like the fast and opportunistic style as against the slow and deliberate style. And it’s okay to not like Barca’s style. And it’s okay to play football with a different style and still be called good football. I’m a proud Chelsea fan as I know my team is versatile. They can play in many ways. They can play in different ways even in the 90 minutes of one game. Versatility is an identity in itself.
Barcelona are not gods of football. And hence it’s not blasphemous to beat them by not playing their game. You play in a way that helps you achieve your objective. To expect teams to play Barca with Barca’s vision and approach to football is plain silly. Who is to say which is the right method? It’s purely subjective. I think there is a great realisation of this fact in the wider football community. And hence I think there was widespread appreciation for Chelsea’s efforts against Barcelona. And for once, after Chelsea played Barca, I heard them all say, Chelsea fully deserved to go to the final at the expense of Barcelona.
Nothing changed in style and approach. All that changed was the mindset and perception. It’s about time Chelsea got credit and there’s nothing like football media showering praises on Chelsea. Music to my ears!
I’ve always wondered how key is the role of a defensive midfielder in a team like Chelsea. The DM is quite essential in a team where the full-backs are expected to provide the width in attack. Under Carlo, our full-backs had a big role to play in our attacks and we needed a defensive-minded player to drop back and that’s where the DM comes in handy.
Things are slightly changing. We could be signing Mata quite soon. We have Sturridge and Lukaku as possible wide players to Torres or Drogba. Before the window is closed, we might also get Perreira who’s an orthodox wide man. Plus, we are rumoured to sign Modric or Moutinho for the playmaker role. If Chelsea were to get and play proper wide men in attack and get proper playmaker plus play our own Josh more frequently, our tactical landscape changes completely.
In such a scenario, do you think it’s absolutely necessary to have a spot in the starting line-up for an orthodox defensive midfielder? If we look to play a more attacking game, why waste a starting spot for a defensive midfielder? Why can’t we do away with the DM role and allow another attack-minded player with the confidence that we have one of the best defences in Europe and probably the best keeper too.
And this doesn’t mean getting rid of the role altogether. We can still use this role depending on match situations, tournament situations and against certain oppositions.
The DM role need not be a standard feature in our line-up and tactics. What do you think?
If there’s a league table for first impressions, you know where Andre Villas-Boas would be. The man’s come in and taken us by storm and the season’s not even started yet. Here are some of the perfect moves he’s managed so far:
Sorting the backroom: He’s made it quite clear that he wants his men and the backroom staff would be his appointments. He’s got rid of a couple of them and also replaced with his men. His view seems to be ‘I have a philosophy and objective. In order to deliver my objectives through my philosophy, I need my team and hence I’d hand-pick them’. Sounds about right!
Messages to players: Boas cancelled the first friendly because he wants to meet the players before getting on to the pitch. How cool is that! He has said that there won’t be any activity in the transfer market until he meets every single player in person. He’s also conveyed through the press what he expects of his players. He even went to the extent of saying ‘John Terry will continue to be captain as long as he continues to fight for his place’. He’s given very clear messages that he’s a strong manager and also a considerate one. He’s created quite an impression before he could even shake hands with the players.
Playing to the media: Boas has been very careful with the media. He’s carefully avoided comparisons with Jose Mourinho. He has clearly stated what it takes to be a Chelsea manager and the expectations and the consequences. He’s not said anything controversial yet (apart from the ‘social role models’ which is okay). And, going by the reports so far, the media seems to like him. Of course, we all know that when he’s winning, he’s ‘a young manager’ and when he’s losing, he’s ‘an inexperienced manager’. That’s media for you.
I’m ‘the Boas’: The one thing he has done very cleverly, subtly and sometimes explicitly is displaying his authority. He’s made us believe that he has full control over his support staff, the transfer market and also who plays and how Chelsea would play. Make no mistake, he looks like a very strong manager. He knows where he wants to be. And he also knows how to get there.
He’s created great first impressions and he’s shot up the excitement levels of Chelsea fans to dizzy heights. I’ve never felt this excited about our manager since Jose Mourinho.
It’s a cliche among the Chelsea fans now: I can’t wait for the season to start!
It’s never a great start if a striker doesn’t manage to score his debut goal in a dozen matches. It’s even worse if it’s Fernando Torres from Liverpool to Chelsea. Add to this, he joined in the eleventh hour in the January transfer window amidst melodramatic scenes. ‘Will he ever score?’ asks the media. They must be loving this. What a story for them!
I’m very positive about Fernando Torres. Firstly, I think he is a great purchase. He’s a super star striker. He’s also the one that also sells shirts. Secondly, I think he’s the one for our future. Here are three reasons why I’m uber-confident about Torres:
1. He’s a top quality striker: Look, he’s got some serious talent. He was a star at Atletico. He was a adored at Liverpool. All because he was a hell of a striker for these clubs. No one denies that he’s a brilliant striker. Have to use a cliche: ‘Form is temporary, class is permanent’. Remember Berbatov’s first season?
2. He’s still young: Okay, he’s 27. It’s young enough for a striker. Drogba was 26 when he joined Chelsea. Look where he is now. He shot himself to a legend status in just a few seasons. Many think Torres has already peaked. I don’t think so. He’s had some very good seasons. Just like Drogba, he could peak with Chelsea in the next 2-3 years.
3. He’s meant to be our future: No club buys an expensive striker from their rivals for anything but a long term plan. Torres is bought for the long term. He’s supposed to be part of the future of Chelsea. Like we have Ramires and Josh for midfield, and David Luiz for defence, we have Torres for attack. Doesn’t matter how he does this season. He’s anyway meant for the future.
4. We haven’t started helping him: I think, as a team, we haven’t started to play in such a way that would help Torres. We’re offering no favours to our new addition to the family. Joining mid-season means he never got the time to blend with his team members and being a high profile player in a expensive transfer drama didn’t help. Let him settle down. Let him go through the pre-seasons and stuff. Once we learn how to play with him and he learns how to play in the Chelsea system, goals will come.
So, people, these are the reasons why I’m totally positive about Torres and I do believe that he would become a darling of the Stamford Bridge very soon. the pressure is off us now as we’re out of all competitions. We won’t be under media spot light. Probably, Torres can use the opportunities until the end of the season to knock in a few goals and to get integrated into the team.
Here’s hoping he scores a few goals in the next few matches! Power to you, Fernando!
Welcome back! In the first part of this two-part series on UEFA financial fairplay regulations (FFP), we saw some basics and fundamentals of FFP. Now, let’s try to understand the regulations in football context, rather than in financial context.
Big money transfers are fine:
FFP is not against big money transfers despite what Platini says about the acquisitions of Torres and Luiz. For instance, when Barcelona signed Ibrahimovic for 50m, he didn’t mind. So, it’s not about big money signing. It’s about balancing of revenues and expenditure. When Chelsea FC signed Torres, they expect the expenditure to be covered by various means – football success, more TV revenue, gate receipts, sponsorship money, shirt sales etc. So, though £50m (assuming that’s right) looks like lots of money, we could have plans or expectations to recover this over a 5.5 year period. This logic may not quite hold good as UEFA wants to first check if we are breaking even after the transfer not considering the possible future benefits that the player or the signing can generate. While this does not sound like good logic, that’s the way it is.
Anyway, worry not. All the £50m or whatever we spent does not go into our profit and loss account this year. What hits the bottom line this year is only this year’s amortisation of the transferr fee. So, since Torres has signed for 5.5 years, that would amount to about 9m into our P&L every year. Therefore, if we want to sign players for £50m every year on long-term contracts, we only need to ensure that our break even for the previous period is more than £9-10m. How’s that possible when we’re making operating losses, you may ask. That leads us to our next section.
Operating profits/losses mean nothing in FFP
You can report massive operating losses and still be staisfying the FFP regulations. That’s because in computing the operating profits/losses, it is the international accounting principles that are considered whereas for FFP, UEFA have specifically defined what should come under revenue and expenses for determining if a club has break-even positive or negative. So, don’t worry so much about the operating losses as per the financial statements. That’s financial accounting for you. As far as FFP is concerned, we could be in break-even positive.
FFP is meant to protect the European clubs
The big expectation is that clubs don’t spend more than they earn. One might then wonder whether this will trigger innovative accounting and boosting of revenues to enhance spending ability. Well, UEFA would then successfully resolve one problem and introduce probably a bigger one. The primary issue that UEFA wants to tackle is the financial stability of the clubs. Controlling the spending is one, only one, of the various tools that can help stability. The bigger issue is around ownership and debts which can continue to exist even with the control on spendings. With so much focus on the revenue items and so less on the balance sheet items, you’ll start seeing mounting debts that have little impact on the profit and loss statements but risk the stability of the club.
FFP is all about UEFA
That’s right. This is a UEFA regulation. If a certain is unable to satisfy the FFP regulations, that would make them ineligible to participate only in UEFA competitions such as the Champions League and Europa League, and any other tournaments they might establish in future. UEFA needs these clubs as much as the clubs need UEFA. I’m wondering what would happen if the clubs that don’t meet the FFP requirements happen to be Chelsea, Man Utd, Barcelona and Real Madrid. The UEFA Champions League would lose its shine, wouldn’t it? It wouldn’t draw the same revenue or it wouldn’t generate as much pride as it would otherwise. So if you don’t want to play in the UEFA competitions, you can spend as much as you want and continue to play in the Premier Leauge. It’s just that you might have to live with Platini’s words.
I have a feeling that UEFA has crossed the limits by being a self-appointed guardian of the financial well-being of the football clubs. We have accounting principles, auditing firms, the financial regulators, the stock exchange and many such watchdogs to ensure that the investors interests are protected. I wonder why UEFA wants to step in their shoes. Take the hotel industry. The industry body would be concerned about how they fare in the current economic environment and help the members with support and guidelines but wouldn’t try to act as the central bank or the tax authority or the stock exchange because those authorities exist and they don’t need to duplicate. They can challenge them and question them as a representative of the members of the fraternity. But what UEFA has done is to pick up the stick and start dealing with matters themselves.
Sticking with the hotel industry example, you don’t have fairplay rules in there. If you’ve got the money, you use it prudently and you grow. There’s no fair play anywhere in the world. The only thing is, you don’t have millions of fans who laugh and cry with the swinging fortunes of The Hilton or The Marriot. The fans/supporters angle is what makes this a unique proposition. But if that’s so important, I seem to think that this can be balanced through football terms rather than financial terms. I agree that fair play rules promote competition. But there are many ways to promote competition other than trying to address them through figures in red and green ink.
Love it or hate it – it’s here to stay, at least for a few years. Now we have a new thing to debate and confuse. This is like offside. You can forever debate and disagree on offside decisions and you can extend that to understanding the nitty gritties of the fair play regulations – and are we onside or offside!