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!
Please note : the views in many of our blogs are written by fans of Chelsea FC and are not necessarily the views of the club