Well, it’s been a while since I’ve scribed here, but hey, that’s because I do have a day job you know. And yes, I’ve even changed from ChelseaTony to my proper name for future articles. Maybe I’ve grown up? But also, and probably more likely, it’s because after the artery bursting excitement of That Night In Munich it’s taken me far longer to get the full on football mojo back in place.
It’s always an issue for me when there’s a Euro or World Cup, but add to that the sheer conjoined heaven and hell of That Night In Munich and the refuelling of the mojo tank has really been slowed up. So much emotion was drained from me on That Night In Munich that I genuinely felt like writing to the club and resigning as a lifelong supporter. After all I’d now seen everything. From 20 plus years of next to nothing from 1971 to 1997, like London buses the trophies kept on arriving culminating in the greatest club trophy of them all. What else was there to see?
I’m guessing that by the time we played Stoke, in a game that might define the phrase ”hard earned victory’ my mojo tank was roughly about 60% full. By Manchester United it was hitting 90% and after Shakhtar and Liverpool it now sits proudly at 100% and looking for a reserve mojo tank to put the excess into. Of course with this fully refuelled mojo one might expect that I’m also full of expectations that this season will lead us to a similar climax of joy and ecstasy as last season did. But you’d be wrong, so very wrong. No, what this slow build up of mojo has done is in fact dilute that level of expectation with a good mixture of wise old experience, familiar Chelsea bi-polarity and a healthy dollop of gloom and cynicism drizzled over the top. Why should this be?
Well, it’s quite simple really. My old mind has mixed logic with reality and some anecdotal statistical analysis and come up with what I believe could be called a Pragmatism Sundae. I always smile wryly at some of the commenters we get on a little blog I occasionally write for at www.chelseafcblog.com who predict that we’ll constantly move on to greater and greater things relentlessly season after season. To a degree I believe this could be the case, but it will not be constant annual success. No team really gets that ever. Even Manchester United and their phenomenal record under Fergie (don’t squeal, it’s the truth) have had trophy-less seasons as the price paid for rebuilding teams and styles. Granted Arsenal have taken that philosophy a little too far, as have Liverpool….and err….Tottenham, but the point remains that sometimes a team in transition needs to build towards success even if that means not achieving it outright for a season or two. That’s where I believe we find ourselves now.
Now I’m aware that this opens me to accusations of being a ‘plastic’ and that any sort of realistic underplayed ambition is seen as heresy, but the fact remains in my opinion that despite a very good start to the season, and some exciting new players we are still very much a ‘work in progress’. If Robbie Di Matteo is to be our Monet or Van Gogh, the artist creating the Chelsea masterpieces of the future then he is very much breaking in the brushes and mixing the palette to make sure he has the right colour and tone for every occasion. This will take some degree of patience from the fans, fickle by nature and as Danny Baker oft says the ‘most bi-polar fans in the world’. Since the heady days of Mr Abramovich’s arrival we swing from uncontrolled ecstasy and optimism to downright despondency and pessimism. Sometimes in the space of 90 minutes. I’m sure other fans would say the same but I’d disagree. We don’t have the history of WINNING trophies like Manchester United, Arsenal, Real Madrid and yes, even Liverpool but we are creating a new history and writing new chapters into footballs annals.
So most of us older fans remember comparatively recent lean times thus making the current success all the sweeter. We remember nearly losing our ground to developers, we remember nearly losing our club trying to finance a single new stand. We remember 27 years of winning nothing worth remembering. Contrast that to the fans of the aforementioned ‘greats’ of whom two, Arsenal and Liverpool have had to readjust their views to the opposite of ours. They’ve stumbled from success to mediocrity which for any fan has to be the harder journey.
I’ll sit and watch with glee the new ‘creative herberts’ of Oscar, Mata, Ramires and Hazard in our midfield build their understanding of each other, hold my breath as the new defensive formations involving Gary Cahill and Crazy David Luiz ply and continue to learn their trade under the tutelage of John Terry. I’ll watch with a keen eye as John Mikel Obi continues the path to Vieira like greatness (and he will be better than that, mark my words) and Apzilicueta and Bertrand complete their apprenticeships and move towards being regulars rather than understudys. My only concern is our strikers. Fernando seems determined to remodel his game into the Anelka mode of supporting striker rather than out and out striker, whist Danny Sturridge seems uncertain as to his best position. I hope we keep both, Sturrudge is young and crammed with potential and Torres is still a very skilful player. But there’s no doubt in my mind that either Lukaku starts to fulfil his promise and comes back within 18 months as a fully fledged striker, or we buy an alternative at the next opportunity.
I am not saying we definitely won’t win anything this season, and it would of course be great to do so. But I am saying that if we don’t then we as fans must understand that we are building to a new squad and style that will see us through the next 10 years of Roman’s reign onto even more frequent and greater glories. If that means a transition season of no trophies whilst qualifying for the Champions League then we need to have the patience and foresight to stick with Robbie Di Matteo rather than fall for the attractions of the next hired gun, no matter how attractive that might seem. And that goes for the owner, Chairman and CEO as well.
What a season!
I could just end the article there on that point alone. Every Chelsea fan reading it would nod and say the same. Supporting Chelsea has never been a bed of roses, in fact it’s more like a bed of rusty nails at times. This season in particular has been like being in the passenger seat of one of those stunt aircraft flown by near psychopathic thrill seeking pilots at air-shows. Exhilarating at times, vomit inducing at others. The first part was more often than not the vomit inducing period, but now the latter part since RDM took the helm has been a potent mixture of both, with the vomit being induced by the sheer thrills involved. Whatever anyone says, when last season faded away over a period, this season has been rekindled from the smallest of burning embers. We can only hope that by Saturday night those embers of hope have turned into a raging inferno of glory and pride.
I’ve been supporting Chelsea for around 40 years now, since the 1970 FA Cup final when I was hijacked by football as a young boy and sold to Chelsea FC as a lifelong slave. Now some of you might think the term ‘slave’ is a bit strong, but is it? I get nothing from the club in terms of monetary reward. I write here for love not money. I write on our little blog (www.chelseafcblog.com) for love not money. I do a podcast (The Podding Shed on iTunes) for love not money. Of course the reward is in the glory, the thrills are in the journey, but in essence, the club says jump and I answer ‘how high’. No matter what i think of manager selection, kit styles, ticket prices, merchandise prices, stadium beer selection or anything the club decide, I go along with it. And I pay for the privilege of doing that. I’m struggling to find a difference between football fanaticism and religion. For the pedants they’re right, it isn’t slavery. But it is something that holds you and grips you and won’t let you go.
Back in 1970 of course, I was emotionally unformed. Everything was exciting and emotions could not be stemmed. During the replay I cried when we were losing. As documented in a previous post I went to get my 2 biscuits nightly treat and missed Osgood equalising. When we won the game I didn’t cry because I was just too excited by everything. A Blue for life. Of course come 1997 and our best chance of winning a trophy in the FA Cup against Middlesbrough after 27 years of pretty relentless misery and false hopes and dawns I was 36 years old. By this time I was an emotionally fully formed adult (well as much as a man can be) and therefore the importance of this game was elevated to utterly unreasonable levels, I still have the VHS tapes of the whole day from the BBC. I remember the interview with the sadly late Tony Banks MP in which he said in response to a question on if he felt good (I paraphrase)
‘Are you joking? I’ve never felt worse in my life. I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I can’t drink. My nerves are shattered and I feel sick to my stomach’
That could have been me speaking. Since that time those feelings have been pretty much the same in varying degrees for every single game since. Every single game. I am one of those fans whose weekend is utterly ruined by a defeat. A man who dreads facing people at work on a Monday because of the weekend game, or any other day if we have a midweek game. Or any game. Of course a dead rubber game like the last one at Stamford Bridge wasn’t as stressful but I didn’t want us to win any less. The levels of stress for the FA Cup Final were off the scale in the build up (I damn near wore a trench into carpet through pacing) and during the game. I think it was safe to say I could have changed my name by deed poll to Mr PottyMouth. I am that emotional I lose control of all contextual surroundings irrespective of who’s nearby. Hence in the days when I would get Corporate invites into the posh seats or a box I would shake the hands of the people who’s guest I was and apologise for anything they were to witness during the game. I think some thought they had invited a real life Jekyll and Hyde character.
And they were right.
And so we move on to Saturday night. A huge game versus Bayern Munich for the crown of Champions of Europe. A proper European final, in proper Europe against a giant of European football and not a team 150 miles up the M6. A European final that isn’t a glorified repeat of a Super Sunday Premiership game. It’s well documented that I ran the white flag up the pole during the second half versus Barcelona and decided to become a hermit for 50 minutes with all technology switched off and a rerun of QI to distract me. And even after that game I was calm and relaxed about the final. No doubt sensations granted by the comparative time between then and now. But tomorrow there is no easy escape. I have fellow fans coming round to enjoy it in full HD. We will suffer together and hopefully celebrate together. We will kick every ball, head every header, be in every tackle. We will shout, scream, cajole, barrack, abuse, banter, cry and sulk. We will direct this volley of emotions at everyone involved, coach, players, fans, opposition, commentators, the TV itself, our beers and no doubt ourselves.
Real fans aren’t measured by how much they spend, how many games they go to or how much merchandise they own. They’re measured in terms of everything I’ve mentioned above. In a nutshell its all about how much we suffer. Already I have the exact symptoms of Tony Banks on that day back in 1997. Food looks unappetising, feeling bilious, restful sleep a distant memory, concentration something I can only aspire to, not being able to be more than 50 metres from a toilet, running through every single team permutation in my head, reading all the omens, discarding all the omens, reading them again and even PRAYING! Yes praying, even though I’m a confirmed atheist, a man of science and logic in every other aspect of my life except this one . Chelsea blinking Football Club.
Tomorrow folks, its the big one. The biggest one to date. Bigger than Moscow because its genuine Europe. The chance to win Old Big Ears itself. It’s the glory. It’s not about qualifying for next year. Its about winning the damn thing. Being a Chelsea fan isn’t a vocation. It isn’t a religion. It isn’t slavery.
It’s a disease. A lifelong disease. There is no cure. You all have it. Enjoy it. Make the most of it.
Football eh? Bloody Hell!
It is said this phrase was once said by Sir Alex Ferguson. A man I dislike and yet grudgingly admire in almost equal measures based purely on my personal politics of envy. I have a theory that I espoused here once and also at our very unofficial ChelseaFC Blog that no one knows anything about football. But maybe, just maybe the old boy is someone who might have more of an inkling than most.
In reality I suspect that last night even Sir Alex himself was scratching his head and tearing up every theory of football he thought he knew. Of course in reality the very game itself is such a pot-pourri of chance, skill and downright anti-logic. Any ‘Professor’ of football is a charlatan who bases theory on statistics and tenuous connections. And that includes every single one of us fans. Every one of us illogical, superstitious fools. Surely if ever a term deserved the description of being an oxymoron it would be ‘sensible logical football fan’.
Barcelona are our uber-nemesis as I’ve said before. Barely a game between us in years of football, and then like London buses we get one almost yearly. And they are never short of controversy or amazing stories. However, for me, their football, as pretty as it can be, is the equivalent of drinking a cup of tea with 4 sugars. Refreshing if you haven’t drunk anything for a few days, but by the 3rd cup you’re feeling more than the sugar rush. you feel sick. They are the footballing equivalent of Samantha Brick …not quite as beautiful as they like to think. Add to that the fact they have no Plan B.
If they can’t walk the ball through you then they enter some kind of eternal football processing loop whereby they end up living the mantra of Einstein that stated ‘the definition of madness is repeating the same thing over and again and expecting different results’. They are the worst kind of football narcissists ever seen. I have a word for this. It’s Barcissism. They can’t pass a mirror without a sideways glance and an imaginary pass of the ball. I imagine they have the sort of dressing room that might be packed with John Frieda style crimpers and preeners and make up artists. I imagine they have ‘runners’ whizzing about looking after the individual needs of each and every one of their stars. Puyol aside. He is pure caveman, and more power to him for it. He’s like Lemmy in a room full of Peter Andre lookalikes. Because of this we’re often portrayed as the anti-football, but last week and last night I prefer that Chelsea be thought of as the antidote to the sickly sweet poison of tiki-taka football conveyed through a Catalonian form of dance.
And so a brief precis of the game
I’m no fan of endless debates on tactical formations, and even less so regarding statistics. For me tactics often get slung out of the bath water with the baby when the other team does something unexpected, or events conspire for or against a team. Or players do daft things. Yes, I think you know who I might be referring to here. Statistics are the root of all scaremongering or one-upmanship and if anything the recent CL games proved the futile nature of their use as the sole premise of debate or argument. Apart from one stat, the one in the goals column, nothing else matters that much.
Pre-match I was full of nerves and as daft as it sounds it took a real effort to sit down and watch as the tippy-tappy ballet dancing prima-donnas started to waltz through us in their flouncing, prancing, diving manner. Within 5 minutes, despite a bright start for us, it was obvious we were going to be subject to football’s equivalent of Rourkes Drift yet again. That or The Battle of Little Bighorn. Roughly 10 minutes in and the first tactic ruining event occurs as the impressive Gary Cahill slides awkwardly after being turned by Messi in the box.
The obvious move was to bring on Bosingwa at right back and move Ivanovic to centre back. Bosingwa did come on but even now it’s not obvious what took place in defence. In my eyes it looked like we lost a right back and gained an extra centre back. When the inevitable Barcelona goal came it was because whoever our right back was supposed to be had disappeared. I doubt there was a Chelsea fan who was surprised at their overall match-equalizing goal but that wasn’t game over by any means.
It wasn’t because under 99% of any other circumstances that event came shortly after from an act of monumental irrationality from John Terry. I won’t harp on about this, we all know what happened and what we saw. I’ll simply leave you with those words. Monumental Irrationality. Inevitably, rattled by this run of events, our heads dropped fractionally and within minutes Barcelona had doubled their on the night lead and taken aggregate lead in the match. Was I alone in thinking this was the end? I doubt it. I bet even SAF was thinking it was game over, perhaps even with some glee. Then came the turning point.
With one minute of the added time up, we finally got the ball and with a stunning move that the Barcissists themselves would have been proud of Frank Lampard played the perfect ball to the hard working and deeply impressive Ramires to score a goal of pure Brazilian impish impudence and skill. Although if I’m honest despite my joy, the overriding thought was ‘Oh no, what have you done?’. Once again the Goddess of Hope had reared her head, lifted her skirt showing me the merest glimpse of stocking top to tempt me into believing a result was due.
Our aggregate lead is restored. Football eh? Bloody Hell!
I will admit, my physical health was failing me. As was my mental health so I blocked out the world for the second half. The cowards checklist was complete. Daughter doing homework upstairs. Check. Laptop off. Check. Defibrillator ready. Check. Mobile phone off. Check. I had raised the flag of surrender. I justify this cowardice with the thought that because of my strength I am alive this morning because I’m damn sure one of my internal fuses would have popped had I watched it all ‘live’.
In summary, Barcelona laid siege on us. But the Goddess of Hope could not cast a greater spell than the God of Sweet Revenge. Messi hit the bar from the dubiously awarded penalty and if there was a second turning point then this was it. It was as if the bubble of Barcissism had been finally pricked. After this they went into an endless processing loop of pass and move. Time and again they tried to weave through a defensive wall that stood solid. It was like pounding the granite walls of a castle with snowballs. The more the half went on, the more the frustration crept into the Barcissist game and the more their game went awry. Passes failed to reach targets or were overplayed. Moves broke down. Messi became isolated, dejected and frustrated. And Chelsea showed just how a band of brothers can beat the odds.
Yes, we’d lost a man due to his own moment of insanity, but we’d gained even greater spirit and belief. No Chelsea player was being carried. Some players cleared the ball like a pub player would for the most part but that’s what we needed. Vanilla clearance, not precision clearance. Drogba was replaced by Torres which seemed odd as Didier was revelling in being the ultimate utility player, defending, marauding, harassing, in parts left back, centre back, right back, midfield general and striker. But Torres is a Madrid boy and has a good record of goals versus Barca. Like Meireles joy in putting one over on Benfica, Torres now had the chance to do similar to Barcelona. And boy was that about to come to fruition.
In the last 10 minutes of the game, as The Goddess of Hope battled the God of Sweet Revenge one felt that a moment of magic from Iniesta or any of their players might destroy us as it did at Stamford Bridge on that infamous Ovrebo Night in 2009. But Sweet revenge won in the end. False hope was extinguished. Cometh the hour, Cometh the man and Fernando Torres delivered the killer blow like a medieval knight slaying the dragon to win the Princess’s heart. We, the fans, are the Princess in this analogy.
If I were doing a Good, Bad and Ugly then the good speaks for itself but honourable mentions for Ramires, Lampard, Drogba, Torres, Ivan, Ashley Cole and Mikel Obi should be made. The Bad would have to be the fact that we lose 4 top players for the final due to bookings, which may have been inevitable and a red, which was unarguable but completely avoidable. I wonder if we can ask for an amnesty on the yellow cards bearing in mind we’re sweating on Cahill and Luiz being fit? Surely UEFA would want the best of both sides on display?
The Ugly would be the mystifying act from JT. His punishment is to miss what in all likelihood will be his last final in this competition. This is a very heavy personal price for him, which makes the act even more mystifying.
Let’s not allow that to detract from the fact that last night we made the seemingly impossible become possible. If ever there was David and Goliath analogy then last night was it.
We haven’t won anything of course so lets not break out the cigars and bubbly just yet. However, in terms of great performances, great comebacks and sheer terror mixed with joy then last night is amongst the greatest ever Champions League nights. Hell, even some of my Manchester United and Arsenal supporting friends have doffed their caps in our direction. Now we sit back, in two finals and just waiting to see who we’ll meet for one of them. As much as I love Jose I don’t want to face Real Madrid because if any team knows how to dig in like us it will be them. For that reason I’ll take Bayern then please.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High my friends.
The despair of writers block combined with the pressure of work have meant I haven’t written anything here for a while. Time is never a kind mistress. But all is well now and for the remainder of the season it’s my intention to get something here for your enjoyment each week. And hopefully keep stuff flowing during the close season and pick up again next season.
Well, this has been some season thus far. Whatever you may think about Chelsea, one thing is certain, we are never dull and it seems we never know when we’re beaten. I had a lot of faith in Andre Villas-Boas. I believed we had a talented young coach at the helm who was ready and willing to take us into the next phase of our most successful period in history. Sadly as the season went on it became obvious that all was not well in the camp. The bright, fast, pass and move football of the early season faded away soon after the QPR defeat.
In the end we seemed unable to decide whether we wanted to change or whether we could change. We became stuck between a rock and a hard place, not quite understanding or having the capability to play the AVB high line and pressing game, and yet unwilling to revert to the power play that had served us so well. We had talk of ‘old guard’ cliques in the club, factions in the dressing room, open hostility between players and management. Of course most of this was the mischief making of professional journalists throwing enough mud and hoping some of it stuck. But the endless negative press and rumours, combined with some pretty dismal performances on the pitch (albiet interspersed with the odd encouraging and battling display) combined to form the perfect storm for AVB. The inevitable happened and for whatever reasons it now looks like it was the right thing to do.
I was one of those who blamed the players, my rationale being that they are professionals who should be able to perform despite their personal feelings for the management team. But in hindsight I have worked in environments where the boss and his or her ideas have been unpopular or misunderstood or the simple skill of good man management has been missing, and I’ve seen the motivation and ambition factors drop amongst the staff. I know this because I’ve been one of them. The staff that is. If your place of work is making you unhappy on a day by day basis, where you feel undervalued, where decisions are no longer transparent, where no rationale is given for decisions that affect you, then it’s hard to even go through the motions, let alone perform anywhere near or above your best. This is a universal truth, whether you’re a lowly office worker or a highly paid professional sportsperson. Looking back I can now see that something was wrong and when the true powers behind the throne see this then tough decisions have to be made.
Luckily we have a good man to shepherd us through the remainder of the season, and boy what a difference Roberto Di Matteo has made. One defeat since he took the helm, an FA Cup final, a Champions League semi-final coming down to a second leg with advantage us, and still a remote chance of 4th spot. Barely 3 months ago we would never have thought it possible, and even if we don’t win a thing I do think it has lifted each and every one of us fans to know that pride in the club is shared with the players, and that idiot fans like me really do not know anything about football. I was wrong. I am happy to have been wrong. To the players and everyone at the club I doubted…….Je suis desole!
And so to this momentous of weeks. Before the Spurs game, and having sat through the rather dismal Wigan and Fulham games I feared the worst. When we fought out a 0-0 draw with them a few weeks back I had thought Spurs had edged the game then, but happily accepted that RDM has one aspect that AVB didn’t have. He’s lucky. Sometimes a little lucky, other times very lucky. But I’d rather have a lucky coach any day than an unlucky one. So, the sheer thrill of a thumping 5-1 win over our close rivals was heartwarming to witness, and above all gives me some ammunition for the inevitable summer banter on holiday with a Spurs supporting friend of mine. And yes, we got a lucky break with the so called ‘ghost’ goal but my thoughts are that we have had enough rotten luck in the past and it’s about time one of those sort of breaks went our way. If Spurs and the media are so worried about it then I’m happy to strike it off and leave the score at 4-1. How’s that for generosity?
A few honourable mentions for some star turns at Wembley start with JT as indomitable as ever, but also to the young pretender, Gary Cahill, who at £7m is looking much like the buy of the season. Looking back on that semi final every single player put in a shift, but most noteworthy for me was the return of pace, power and confidence. John Mikel Obi, a real marmite player with our fans has been nothing short of Ballack-esque since RDM showed faith in him, Crazy David (Luiz) has shown exactly what a class signing he is, a true successor to the original floppy haired centre back Ricardo Carvalho. Ramires is back to his non-stop running best and he’s moving out of the shadows into the spotlight again. When other fans of other teams start to notice you and utter disparaging remarks then things are generally looking good. It means they fear you.
For me the single most edifying sight of that game was the mass evacuation of Spurs fans some 10 minutes before the end of the game. When that happens you know all is well in Chelsea world. If we play like that against Liverpool then the cigars will need to be bought out and the champagne chilled.
And then to the arguable climax of the week, as we welcome back the team we’d probably consider as a bigger nemesis to us than Spurs or Liverpool…or Leeds. Barcelona. Who would have thought just 12 short years ago that this fixture would feature so regularly and so heavily on our Chelsea lives? In a little podcast I contribute to (The Podding Shed… available from www.chelseafcblog.com and iTunes) I commented on the game at Stamford Bridge that I was forced, due to work, to listen en route home to the south coast from Stoke. I listened to the game on the radio (luckily the car had built in DAB) through the gloom of torrential rain and thunder, long the grotty transport backbone of Britain that is the M6, the M42 and the M40 and eventually had to switch off with 10 minutes to go, such was my fear that I would crash the car inadvertently or deliberately should Barcelona score. On arrival home I sat and watched the recording back and maybe I’ll save a fuller review for another post after the return leg, but my chest was puffed out with pride at the magnificent display of defensive containment football.
No English team will beat them by trying to play the pretty stuff (ask Arsenal and Manchester United) and we knew this. So we didn’t try. Our best chance here and out there will be the punchers chance. This week we adopted the football equivalent of the great Muhammed Ali rope-a-dope tactics and delivered a single blow. Not enough for the knockout, but enough to daze the opponent. And they have NO away goal. It was the Rourkes Drift of football as Barca swarmed all over us. I swear at one point I heard JT yell ‘front rank fire…..reload…..second rank fire….reload’ . Yes my friends we recreated the marvellous Zulu in SW6 last night and we need to do it for just 90 more minutes next week. I will probably run the white flag up the pole and hide for that game!
This is the business end of the season and despite the trials and tribulations thus far, we’re fighting on 3 counts and that’s all you can ask. To win things you need to be in them and we’re still there. fighting to the bitter or sweet end.
C’mon you blues!
It’s been a while hasn’t it? But that’s the price you pay for trying to hold down gainful employment in an employers’ market whilst appeasing all the members of the family, including two very demanding teenage daughters and a wife who thinks that my ‘working from home’ means actually working for her. And through all this I have to follow the most currently bipolar football team in the UK, make sense of it all and then compose a few words here for the baying crowd to either like or tear to pieces.
Why do I define myself as mad? Well, balancing that lot above might be deemed enough to push anyone to the very edge of their mental boundaries, but add in the over-riding definition of being a football fan addicted to the game in any shape or form to the point where despite the inevitable pain I will still watch England games, then had I existed in the pre-industrial age society then surely I’d be eating gruel shoved into my very own asylum cell.
Some observations from my sick bed, confined as I am to my house by that most debilitating and cruel of illnesses, the man-cold.
An acquaintance on another fine Chelsea site wrote a match report in which he mentions his in-match notes about 2-0 being the worst of all possible scores when faced with a must win game like Valencia. As I watched the game unfurl I did think to myself how hateful that scoreline is. You just know that if the other team get that goal back with a decent amount of time to play, the psychological impact and the doubts that creep in can almost inevitably lead to the situation where every minute suddenly works as a London Transport minute in that it changes to being 120 seconds long rather than 60.
The players become shrouded in doubt and fear, and unless you can steady the ship then you will feel your heart sinking when the equaliser flies in. This is a proven fact and now sits in the pantheon of Universal Laws as shown by the great Professor Daniel Baker esq, of Broadcast Boulevard. As he has oft stated, to prove this universal law just stand up in the middle of any crowd when you’re team is 2-0 in front with more than 30 minutes to go and declare at the top of your voice “NOTHING can go wrong now!”. You will either incur the wrath of those mercurial footballing spirits who will conspire to land the evil angel of Captain CockUp within the mind of everyone of your players, fans and coaching staff, or the fans you proclaim this to will set upon you like starving dingoes leaving just the tatters of your best Matalan outerwear as evidence of your existence.
The same acquaintance then noted that a mere few lines later he had written “Surely now!” after Drogba had got his second and our third. This settled him down, but not only him, I’d estimate around 99.999% of Chelsea fans exhaled a huge sigh of relief at that point. To parapharase the late but great William Shankly Esq, it was he I believe who said ”If you go a goal up, then go for a second, if you get the second then go for the third, if you get the third then shut the shop”. This is somewhat true as a mantra to relax by, except for occasions such as games versus Bolton (April 2009) when we were 4-0 up at home only to run out 4-3 victors. That was sphincter clenching stuff as the shroud of self doubt and fear fell over everyone involved with Chelsea.
Personally I tend to start relaxing after a few more. In our famous title clinching game versus Wigan (the 8-0) I realised we’d win the title when the 6th goal went in, and since then that’s pretty much set the bar of where the ‘totally relaxed about the result of the game’ level is for me.
Let me now move on to the bruhaha regarding AVB and the press. So, the scribes of the 4th estate are upset are they? The natives are revolting and all that. Following, as I do, several of these hacks within the Twitterverse, I have to say I was surprised at the level of precious indignation from them because someone other than Sir Ferg of Salford Quays had decided to ‘tell it how it is’. But when I looked at the main complainers and saw who they wrote for and the general level of vitriol they’ve spat in our direction as a club over the years I did start to wonder what the world was coming to. The single thought that that crossed my mind as they whined on and on about AVB, the ‘slap in the face’ and the comment about how it was unfortunate for them they would have to write something positive about us was this. Grow up. Followed swiftly by Get a Grip. They continue to dish it, they have constantly dished it in the past. They have written the death certificate without checking the pulse. They have booked the wake and written their eulogies without visiting the chapel of rest. They have sat and sniped and piled the pressure on. They have used the inductive reasoning method to falsely create an impression of impending doom. Chelsea have sacked all previously unsuccessful Champions League coaches, therefore they will sack AVB if we fail to qualify. Oh dear, even the most basic student of philosophy will know that you only need one example of the conclusion being false, even if the premises of the argument are true to destroy that line of argument.
Today’s doom mongering hacks are so ingrained in the culture of negativity and their own misguided view of their importance that they have forgotten the difference between reporting the news and trying to create it through tissues of lies and hearsay. Henry Winter, Martin Samuel and Patrick Barclay are about the only ones I view with any honour or integrity, perhaps with Andy Dunn close behind. And as for AVB, you carry on telling everything like it is. If its good enough for Alex and Arsene………
A word on mercurial enigmatic talent. Well Didier Drogba to be precise. Like many I had written Drogba off and I’m glad that on Tuesday night he showed me up for the footballing no-mark that I and most fans are. As much as we like to think we’re experts, the vast majority of us are not top line football managers (and no Football Manager, the game does NOT count). But one swallow does not a summer make. Until Saturday he hadn’t shown me anywhere near enough to think he could recreate his marauding best. If anything he looked to be in terminal decline. I believe we must start building for the future and this inevitably means less games consecutively for players like JT, Lamps and Drogba. I would hope they’d accept it gracefully. I’ll mention it again, they need to adopt the same mentality that Scholes and Giggs have done, and to a degree Gary Neville did, and as Michael Owen appears to be doing with Rio as well, remaining loyal to the team, not putting in transfer requests and accepting that less games might prolong their careers. Maybe Lord Ferg of Manchestershire has the right touch in keeping players onside whilst winding them down gently to lucre laden retirement. If the seniors don’t like it then let them go. Thank them, shake their hands, wish them well but let them go. The club’s progress cannot be hindered by unwitting or witting intransigence and egotistical sulking players, no matter how good they once were.
And lastly, yes..I promise for now…….I’ve seen lots of interesting comments overall on forums, blogs, twitter and social networks as well as the broadcast and print media about the lack of possession from us against Valencia. Maybe it is the ghost of Special One’s past in AVB that I see from that night, but cast your mind back 2 years to a Champions League game between Inter Milan (eventual winners) and Barcelona (perennially annoying arrogant tiki taka merchants with a penchant for double pikes when tackled) at the Camp Nou with Inter holding a 3-1 first leg lead. Just look at the stats. Possession 76%-24% to the Catalan synchronised swimmers. Inter Milan down to 10 men with an hour to play, away from home. Barcelona 7 shots on target, 9 off target. Inter Milan 0 attempts on or off target, yes ZERO, NIL, ZILCH, NADA attempts. The result was 1-0 to Barca and an exit at the hands of the Inter coach, one Jose Mourinho. To this day I rate this as one of the best examples of digging in never-say-die football I’ve ever seen. It’s the Rourkes Drift of football. If that’s what we need to do to win key games, much as we almost did when we played Barca under Guus Hiddink, then so be it. The key to being a great team, as shown most recently by us and Manchester United is about trying Plan A, but having a Plan B and Plan C to fall back on. It’s about mixing up the styles from tippy tappy to power play to Wimbledon-esque long ball if that’s what’s required.
And that’s it. Let’s not join in the media’s game of finding reasons to criticise when we have no real reason to. Let’s enjoy a little moment of quite dignified celebration at the fact we’re through, top of group and the red and blue sides of Manchester are now contemplating exposure through ITV4 and Channel 5, along with trips to Outer Mongoligradsburg. Kind of gladdens the old heart doesn’t it?