The Hong Kong leg of the summer 2011, day by day…
Monday July 25
It’s a bright and hot Hong Kong afternoon that greets the team. The hotel is on the Kowloon side of Victoria Harbour, on the waterfront. That guarantees good views of Hong Kong Island’s stunning skyscraper and mountain skyline. There are a few hours for settling in although Roberto Di Matteo is interviewed for TV before even leaving the airport. In the evening the squad and staff make their first trip to the other side, for a reception with the other teams competing in the tournament – Aston Villa, Blackburn and local side Kitchee. It is also an outing for the Chelsea players’ new D&G shorts and polo shirt combination. Most suitable for these temperatures. Remaining behind however are the two injured players, Alex and Ryan Bertrand. The hotel’s swimming pool and bar area is a fantastic location on the roof and our doctors and physios clear tables and turn it into an improvised rehabilitation location and get down to work. The views from Cobham look very low key in comparison.
Tuesday July 26
Sweat! The Sai Tso Wan Recreation Ground may sound like a venue for dog walkers and kids on swings but in fact it is the best grass pitch in the whole of Hong Kong. A smooth surface, screened off and high up in the hills, it is the venue for morning training. But boy is it hot. So hot in fact that the Chelsea TV camera filming the session finds it hard to keep functioning properly. There are no thermometers available but touching 100°F is a common guess. The sun hasn’t relented by the time Frank Lampard, Petr Cech, Salomon Kalou and Fernando Torres find themselves on the roof a car park next to a school. Not a regular location for a community football pitch but in space-at-a-premium Hong Kong, it is where Chelsea’s first Blue Pitch outside of the UK was installed. The event is another coaching session for kids and all wear the new away kit ahead of its first game tomorrow. At the end a cake is produced by the locals and ‘Happy Birthday’ is sung to Salomon Kalou to not a little bemusement. His birthday is over a week away but the suggestion is they wished to celebrate the nearest one for any player. Evening training is in the Hong Kong Stadium, each competing club taking it in turns. John Terry misses it having turned his ankle in the morning but there is no concern. It is the last football of the tour he misses. The good crowd in appreciates Chelsea’s rehearsing of high-powered shooting at goal. In the evening there is a break from food prepared in the hotel as Andre Villas-Boas takes the team out for a restaurant meal, straight from the training session. The completion of the deal that sees 19-year-old keeper Thibaut Courtois sign before going out on loan is announced.
Wednesday July 27
A match day and Chelsea arrive in the Hong Kong Stadium early enough that an unusually physical pre-season match is still being played. In it, Villa beat Blackburn by a single goal so two managers new to their clubs will be laying plans to win silverware on Saturday. That is because Chelsea coast past Kitchee, the Spanish-flavoured Hong Kong league champions who do not have a proper chance in the game. Daniel Sturridge scores the best goal of the game, the third in a 4-0 win. Torres, who hits the post late on, catches up with a friend and compatriot in the opposition side after the game while Villas-Boas declares his happiness that the players adapted so well when asked to play in a new formation. A special mention must also go to Stamford the Lion who toils away under thick mane and coat, as throughout the tour. Chelsea staff have travelled over to organise fanzones at every game, handing out flags, pens and other memorabilia.
Thursday July 28
Villas-Boas decides no training so there is a rare chance to acquire some gifts to take back for family and friends. One day-time engagement is a coaching session for young locals with Chelsea’s own youth, Ryan Bertrand, Billy Clifford and Nathaniel Chalobah providing the guidance. There is also a Premier League event – their ‘trophy tour’ which is unusually located on the roof of a shopping centre inside a series of inflatable rooms. One has the Premier League trophy inside which can be viewed by fans. Patrick van Aanholt and Graeme Le Saux attended. Blackburn and Villa are also represented. Again it is baking hot although the weather is soon to change. By the evening there is a Level 1 typhoon warning declared, which increases to Level 3. The Philippines much further south suffer but Hong Kong is just brushed by the edge of the weather system. In reality Level 3 brings only gale-force winds. In the evening, team management and club directors attend a gala reception for the Barclays Asia Trophy at a hotel on Hong Kong Island. Back on the Kowloon side the players rest at the team base.
Friday July 29
One last day of training in Asia means two more visits to the Sai Tso Wan pitch. No-one is complaining that the typhoon has cooled the air. Between sessions, Villas-Boas and Josh McEachran help launch a Chelsea Foundation initiative with Right to Play and Barclays Spaces for Sport to engage disadvantage Hong Kong Youth in physical activity. Le Saux gives a speech. Then Villas-Boas and McEachran give a press conference. It is the youngster’s first and he does well. Asked about his position on the pitch, he says he’ll play in goal if the manager wishes. At the hotel Lampard sits down for a 30-minute interview with Chelsea TV. It follows on from John Terry doing similar the day before. Both will be aired a week later. More questions are asked by the Hong Kong Supporters Club to Le Saux and Ron Gourlay. It is their turn for a Q&A session. At night there is a meeting of the Chelsea fan clans as the Hong Kong Blues host their equivalents from all around the globe at The Trafalgar pub on the Island. It is an evening of song from well-lubricated throats.
Back at the hotel there is music too as Paulo Ferreira, Didier Drogba, Petr Cech and Florent Malouda, plus the club’s travelling chef Darren, join in with house band. The fans hanging around can’t believe their luck and many a camera is kept busy. Another YouTube hit is in the offing. Chelsea receive an apology from the Malaysian FA for any abuse Yossi Benayoun may have received from a small section of the crowd at the Kuala Lumpur game.
Saturday July 30
The final day and only one matter of concern – the final of the Asia Trophy. The team arrives at the stadium midway through Blackburn’s win over Kitchee and are so much in the zone that it takes just 35 seconds to take the lead against Aston Villa, McEachran netting for the first time for the senior side. Chelsea look so much sharper than Alex McLeish’s side who have played less pre-season games. Torres and Drogba are paired for the first time under Villas-Boas in a second-half switch and to the delight of the local supporters, the Spaniard nets with his first touch. Chelsea have an extra piece of luggage to take home, one silver in nature. In his post-match press conference Villas-Boas expresses his satisfaction at how professionally his squad have absorbed all that has been asked of them. The match ends at 10.30pm local time and before midnight the travelling party is in the airport. In keeping with the whole tour, the fans leave an enduring memory with their send off, including an original Chelsea refrain to the tune of the Canadian national anthem. We will be back!
There is no busier time in the club’s schedule than a pre-season tour, so Old Blue Eyes decided to keep a diary to give an idea of the level of activity out in Asia.
Below is a catch-up with events from the first week away, starting with departure from Gatwick until boarding the plane in Bangkok on Monday morning.
SUNDAY JULY 17 – MONDAY JULY 18
It is tour time, and a rare free morning in pre-season is followed by a 12-hour flight to Kuala Lumpur where the travelling party (26 players including four yet to make competitive debuts but minus Copa America competing Ramires and David Luiz) arrive shortly after midday and are greeted by a frenzied few hundred Malaysian fans at the hotel.
It is far from the low-key entrances made for domestic games, and surpasses even the Champions League Final in Moscow in 2008.
Andre Villas-Boas, Branislav Ivanovic and Frank Lampard are ushered almost straight away into a press conference for local media plus travelling reporters from England held at the team’s hotel. Villas-Boas confirms Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is undergoing a medical in England although he is unlikely to join the tour.
Other players are allowed to rest before a training session at the Shah Alam Stadium, venue for our game in this city three years ago.
The heat and humidity, even in early evening, are widely felt, though spirits are raised by the presence of 45 members of the Malaysian supporters’ club.
TUESDAY JULY 19
The first training session, bang in the middle of morning amid 30-degree heat. The playing surface is not impressive and there is relief the game will be played on the other side of the city at the larger Bukit Jalil Stadium.
A 10am start means the kitmen must leave the hotel sometime before 8am – a tour takes it out on them as much as anyone.
Goalkeeper coach Christophe Lollichon has his men, including Petr Cech who is on his way back from a small injury, sprinting up the stadium steps. The general consensus is that it is too hot for intense work, but the players are still pushed hard.
In the afternoon John Terry and Josh McEachran visit the headquarters of the Asian Football Confederation with chief executive Ron Gourlay and Graeme Le Saux, who is also on the trip as an ambassador, while the rest of the squad meet fans and sign autographs at the hotel.
In the evening there is another workout, this time at the Bukit Jalil, where thousands of fans are waiting to give the players a tremendous welcome.
Chelsea TV’s travelling crew are set a challenge in feeding material back to Stamford Bridge, such is the unpredictability of Kuala Lumpur’s wifi, but sheer persistence sees enough footage sent for Blues News.
WEDNESDAY JULY 20
Two more training sessions take place as the kit team go into overdrive, while between sessions at the Bukit Jalil four players plus Le Saux take a look at the newly-opened Kuala Lumpur Blue Pitch.
All are impressed with the facility which is for use by local young players long after the team has gone. Under a hangar-like roof are a 3G turf surface and a hard court playing area, as well as outside space. Today we are under cover, and the heat outside makes life inside almost unbearable, though the players’ stay to coach some kids and they are well watered while there.
Having started the week joining in with the rest of the squad, injured Alex is once again working alone. He is at least buoyed by still being a part of the tour, and not back at Cobham on his own.
Ron Gourlay announces in a Q & A session with the local supporters’ club that tomorrow’s game is now an 85,000 sellout – which would mean more fans in the stadium than had seen Liverpool a week earlier.
THURSDAY JULY 21
Match day one on tour. That means no community or media commitments, and a day of focus for the squad.
It begins with a 9am breakfast and a walk and stretch at 10am, followed by lunch and an afternoon of strict rest.
The kit truck departs at 5pm, nearly four hours before kick-off, and arrives at a stadium awash with Chelsea flags after staff and supporters have spent hours distributing them, the work increased when the authorities insisted the flag poles had to be removed.
Amid more crazy scenes at the hotel, the team coach leaves at 6.45 and arrives in plenty of time thanks to a slick police escort operation.
When they walk out at the stadium, the players are taken aback with the reception, and Drogba films much on his camera phone.
A 1-0 win thanks to a Drogba-induced own goal sees John Terry awarded a trophy, though most players are not smiling, instead trying to dry off from the sweat and catch breath. They arrive back at the hotel shortly before midnight, eat, and head to bed.
FRIDAY JULY 22
Departure for Bangkok means an early start. Having played the second half of last night’s game, losing a lot of fluid, Terry has slept for under an hour, but still joins his team-mates in signing autographs for the final time in Malaysia.
It is a two-hour flight to Thailand, where almost everybody sleeps, bar Chelsea TV’s producer who is doing some editing, and Salomon Kalou, who has agreed to do some filming of his team-mates for the channel.
Creating the alter-ego David Cameroon, the winger has players and staff in fits of laughter as he conducts his documentary-style work, work which will attract more than 250,000 views in a couple of days when it is uploaded to YouTube.
The greeting from Thai fans is much like those in KL, only possibly louder. After lunch, Didier Drogba, Andre Villas-Boas and Ron Gourlay go to pay their respects to the King of Thailand, and are utterly mobbed by thousands of supporters. Members of the accompanying Chelsea media team are overwhelmed by their reception too, and once more Drogba has his camera phone out.
Back at the hotel there is an autograph session and a charity auction with the rest of the squad split between two ballrooms.
An evening training session planned for the Rajamangala Stadium is cancelled, and the players are allowed a night off.
SATURDAY JULY 23
At a press conference, also attended by Drogba and Paulo Ferreira (who has his own fan club in Bangkok who make themselves visible throughout the stay), Villas-Boas reveals his desire to sign Barcelona’s holding midfielder Oriol Romeu. The two clubs do a deal but the Under 20 World Cup is in the way of transfer completion.
Florent Malouda, Alex, Josh McEachran and Nathaniel Chalobah accompany the Foundation coaches to a Samsung coaching event in mid-afternoon, and even Malouda, who claims to be well-adapted to such conditions, sweats heavily in the sunshine. All of the players seem to enjoy their involvement though, helping local schoolkids with their skills.
The weather goes from one extreme to another for open training in the evening, as players and fans are subjected to a heavy downpour at the Rajamangala, the national stadium. Supporters try to hide at the back of the main stand, the only part that is covered, while Drogba and Ivanovic embrace the conditions with a full-on slide along the grass. Drogba also tricks new doctor Paco Biosca into a soaking. It is almost a pleasant break from the intense heat.
SUNDAY JULY 24
Another match day, so another day of rest for the players. An earlier kick-off than in Malaysia could prove difficult, and the first-half performance looks a little laboured until Frank Lampard’s goal.
The pitch is watered at half-time though and suddenly there is good football, as three more goals follow to put a gloss on another successful day in front of a full house.
Ten of the players play an hour or more rather than the previous 45 minutes.
Once again the captain lifts a trophy, the Coke Super Cup, before travelling back to the hotel. Bangkok’s police are less efficient than their Malaysian counterparts, but the team is still back in time for an early night ahead of another day of travel.
Just as 2011 gets going, OBE here thought it time to take a look back at the past 12 months and pick out my favourite Chelsea moments.
In a year that brought our first ever Premier League and FA Cup Double there was bound to be plenty of high points, and while 2010 ended with a bad run not seen at the Bridge since the mid-‘90s, we at least returned to winning ways on Sunday with a 7-0 demolition of Ipswich in the FA Cup.
So in no particular order, here we go…
Proving the critics wrong
In the run-up to last January, we’d suffered a bit of a dip in form (though nothing by this season’s standards). Then came the African Nations, a time when four Blues would be gallivanting around Angola and Chelsea would be short. ‘Crisis!’ shouted the press. ‘Nonsense!’ shouted Carlo Ancelotti, as we proceeded to win our four January league games, and although Michael Essien would not return due to injury, the other three John Mikel Obi, Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou, all came back to help us on our way.
Conor’s Clincher in the Youth Cup
It had been 49 years since we’d last triumphed in youth football’s top competition with a side containing Peter Bonetti, Barry Bridges and Ron Harris. Several generations of Chelsea legends have passed since without junior success, so when Conor Clifford smashed home the winner against Aston Villa at the Bridge, 12,000 people saw the culmination of some serious hard work and rebuilding in the Academy. Expect more first-team involvement from the youth sides soon…
Alex’s free-kick v Arsenal
There’s one every year from the Brazilian barnstormer, and 2010’s effort did not disappoint. From somewhere between the 25 and 30-yard mark, the defender absolutely wellied it into the top corner of Lukasz Fabianski’s net, the goalkeeper making damned well sure he didn’t lose any fingers trying to save it. The fact Alex damaged his groin in the process and missed a few weeks of action (where we were unbeaten) seems to only heighten the quality of the strike.
Kalou’s hat-trick in the sunshine
He’s a lovely lad, Kalou. Sure, he can frustrate at times as he turns defenders and then himself inside out, but on a sunny afternoon in late April it all came together for the Ivorian, who netted his first Chelsea hat-trick and set us on the way to a big win against hard-working Stoke.
Frank Lampard’s goal against Stoke
Two moments from the same game. Such was the quality of football we were playing at that time, it’s not hard to see why. Lampsy’s finish, with the outside of his boot, on the volley, was top class, but this goal is nominated because of the assist from young Sam Hutchinson. It looked as though the versatile defender had finally beaten his injury problems that had plagued him almost three years, and on as a sub at right-back, he got forward and delivered a perfectly weighted far-post cross. There wasn’t a person at the club not delighted for Hutch that afternoon, and it was terribly sad for such a talented player to have to retire from the game just a few months later as the injuries returned.
Frank’s goal at Anfield
Penultimate game of the Premier League season, away at one of our biggest rivals. A victory was needed to stay top going into the last game at home to Wigan, and it duly came thanks to a goal in either half. It was the day all Chelsea fans, quietly, thought: ‘We’ve done it’, though no-one would say it out loud, just in case…
Beating Wigan 8-0 to win the Premier League
There are different ways of wrapping up a league title on the final day. Blackburn did it by losing in 1995, United beat Spurs in 1999, no doubt both satisfying in their own way, but has anyone ever done it with the class of Chelsea in 2010? Beating Wigan 8(eight, count them!)-0 must be the most convincing way ever. To make things even better, Didier Drogba scored a hat-trick to earn the Golden Boot, even after a minor disagreement with Lamps over who should be taking spot kicks…
Portsmouth pay the penalty
It was a fairytale story for Portsmouth, cash-strapped, relegated and managed by Avram Grant, to reach the FA Cup Final. Juliano Belletti was clearly feeling a little romantic when he brought down Aruna Dindane in the box to offer Pompey the Cup on a plate and deny us the Double. Thankfully Petr Cech was in less charitable mood and saved Kevin-Prince Boateng’s penalty. Drogba then struck at the other end with a cracking free-kick, and history was made.
Joe Cole scores at Old Trafford
Wasted showpony or silky matchwinner? JC divides opinion but his last Chelsea goal before leaving for Liverpool was him at his cheeky best. A low cross to the near post from Florent Malouda was flicked with his heel into the net to put us in front early on. Drogba smashed home late on to put us back on top of the league.
Ashley Cole’s goal against Sunderland
Remember this? Of course you do. John Terry sent a first-time through-ball over the top of the Mackem defence where the left-back galloped on, controlled the ball perfectly with his first touch, cut inside his man on his second and lifted it over the goalkeeper with his third. A rare goal for a consistent performer.
One of the many reasons to watch that Youth Cup run was to see a young midfielder in action who was attracting an ever-louder buzz. We all know him now, but anyone who saw Josh in action during that campaign will be overcome with smugness and saying ‘I told you so’ as he continues his progression under Ancelotti. Of course there is still work to do before he is the finished article, but at 17, time is probably on his side…
Peter Osgood’s statue is unveiled
It is now almost five years since Stamford Bridge’s favourite son passed away, but we will never forget Ossie, and to prove it the club erected a statue of the forward outside the West Stand, which was unveiled to the great man’s friends and family in early November. He now stands proudly for all visitors to the Bridge to see.
Let’s hope 2011 has just as many moments to remember…
Accepted wisdom, although the player may dispute this, is he has not been quite the same since becoming closely acquainted with Stephen Hunt’s knee back in October 2006.
Prior to the head injury he was the keeper that won back-to-back titles, at one stage along the way going 1,024 Premier League minutes without conceding a goal – then a record. He was frequently described as the best in the world and the odd murmur was beginning that he was on course to be the best of all-time.
Old Blue Eyes believes evidence is mounting that Cech is returning to his 2004-06 heights.
True he was at fault for the goal in Zilina (one of only four he has let in over 13 Chelsea games this season don’t forget) but then he wasn’t faultless back at the beginning, however much time turns memories into black-and-white stories.
Three weeks before winning the league at Bolton in 2005 he misjudged a Birmingham free-kick, allowing it over his head which ultimately led to a goal and two home points dropped at a high-pressure time.
Let us recall Petr’s best moments from this season so far.
A finger-tip low save to stop Alex Baptiste finding the bottom corner when Chelsea were beating Blackpool 2-0. The first time he had truly been extended this season and he was up the challenge. He followed that up with a good tip-over save on a looping Gary Taylor-Fletcher shot for the same opposition.
Then there was the brilliant save in the top corner from Andrey Arshavin when it was still goalless against Arsenal. Away to Villa it would have been another point lost had he not saved from Jon Carew and made himself a big obstacle for Nigel Reo-Coker to beat in the dying seconds.
There were a succession of saves in Moscow and he denied Kevin Doyle of Wolves before that incredible recovery save on Saturday after slipping on the soggy Blackburn turf.
And then there is the hand, or more precisely, the boot he has had in goals.
Look at how similar the first goal against Blackburn and the third against Wigan are: the deliberate long pass from Cech out to Florent Malouda on the left, the cross to Drogba battling at the far post and Anelka finishing it off. Uncanny.
Back to keeping the ball out of the net and much was made of Jason Roberts’ wastefulness late on in the Blackburn game that could have clinched a home win but if you watch the action again, note how hard by Cech’s positioning and the timing of his charge-out it was for the Blackburn sub to find a gap on route to goal.
Cech back to his best? The raw statistics this season back that idea up. OBE believes there is a very good case.
Friday is the day the private working environment of Cobham opens its doors to the world via the football media.
If there is a weekend game, people want to hear or read what Carlo Ancelotti has to say about it so it is the day for TV crews and newspaper reporters to roll through the gates, just as the players are finishing their preparations away on a distant pitch.
In past days the press conference was accommodated in a student sports pavilion on rows of chairs that would not look out of place in the local school, both at Chelsea’s previous training ground at Harlington and at Cobham before the new purpose-built buildings were completed. Now it has all changed.
Think of the main first-team building at Cobham as one with a long layout of rooms and three floors. The press facilities are right at one of the ends, on ground level and with its own dedicated entrance through which the arriving journalists can pass.
They are served tea and biscuits by long-serving part-time press steward Brian who was made famous last season by Jose Mourinho on his return to the Bridge, the former manager recalling the reliable supply of custard creams that came his way on Fridays.
As press conference time approaches the reporters fill seats in the special theatre, awaiting the Ancelotti arrival from stage left, through a separate door that leads straight behind the raised desk, although sometimes the manager will throw in a surprise and enter through the same door as everyone else, as he did today.
It was not a wilful attempt to catch everyone unawares. Carlo had decided to speak to Chelsea TV first for the interview that will be broadcast in tonight’s Inside Cobham show. Another feature of Fridays at the training ground is the crew from CTV, using their ‘access all areas’ to shoot reports and interviews.
You never know quite where they will pop up next – out among the pitches while the players train, in the gym down in the building’s basement, the boot room maybe, or even in the car park catching up with one of the journos who has just heard Carlo’s words.
His appearance in front of the Chelsea TV cameras takes place in their on-site studio, just five yards away from the press conference theatre where the manager is soon back in front of camera for a second time.
The first 15 minutes or so of the press conference questioning is primarily for TV or radio broadcasters, or written media that publishes straight away. Saturday’s game being a big live televised game, Sky Sports sent down senior reporter Nick Collins who traditionally has first bite, and was straightaway enquiring about the condition of our injured players. A rough pecking order of questioners is followed, with others free to join in when they get the nod, and it is this segment that can be watched via a live stream on the Official Chelsea Website.
Then the cameras and radio mics are switched off and the newspapers have their turn. Their craft is turning the questioning in a direction that will give them a fresh story for the next morning. Although free to use the first part of the press conference, they know Carlo’s answers will be broadcast widely before the newspapers hit the shops.
Meanwhile, 100 metres down the corridor on the same floor, the players are changing and had it been a home game, would steadily be driving off home past the media area entrance. But this weekend is a trip north, and a coach is already waiting in the car park. So it is a change into club tracksuits, lunch in the canteen upstairs and then off to the airport for the flight to Manchester.
Come the morning there will be just enough time to read newspaper reports of their manager’s words from the day before boarding the same coach that made its own way north, for the journey to the ‘first real test of the season’.