On this blog there have been detractors of the Champions League competition but personally I’ve never been as affected and distracted by supporting Chelsea as I have since Wednesday 18th April 2012, Barcelona at home, right through to today. I’ve watched re-runs of the final endless times to the point that there must now be a groove cut into the relevant sectors of the hard disk in my Sky+ box. Even today the penalty shoot-out brings out the goose bumps as I panic that Drogba should take a longer run up and he might miss. And on YouTube I’ve seen countless videos from fans in the stadium, bars and, in the case of Omid Djalili, dressing room where for just a few seconds all Chelsea fans shared the same emotions of fear, uncertainty and doubt shortly followed by elation.
2011/12 may go down as the most memorable season in my lifetime and, now that the dust is settling, I’m trying to interpret our season of two halves and what caused the dramatic turnaround. My startling conclusion is that Andre Villas-Boas deserves the credit for us winning the Champions League.
In the latter half of season 2010/11 our old guard quartet were beginning to feel their age as our trophyless season petered out to the ultimate dismissal of Carlo. There were factions and cliques, the French foreign legion, the Brazilians, the kids, Torres and the Mourinho old guard. We weren’t a team.
Clearly it was time for a metamorphosis from the old spine to a new team of young, exciting players in the mould of Barcelona and so the term ‘transition’ entered our everyday vocabulary.
Herald the arrival of Andre Villas-Boas, one of a new breed of educated, articulate and professionally trained managers who developed their skills and strategies by osmosis, working shoulder to shoulder with footballing heavyweights, unlike the old school managers that had earned their stripes by playing the game.
Our gladiators were fed a diet of either sitting on the sidelines or being asked to play in a different style, pressing high up the pitch in the Iberian tiki-taka style of short passing and movement, working the ball through various channels, and maintaining possession.
Sometimes it worked and we played exciting stuff, such as Manchester United away, but our new style left massive openings at the back that resulted in the opposition driving their coach and horses straight through us so we conceded more than we scored.
AVB was not able to get the existing squad to adapt to his new style. Either they weren’t listening or simply not capable. AVB scanned every page of his coaching manuals to find possible solutions for motivating the squad. He implemented a carrot and stick approach; the carrot being the promise of providing an emotional stimulus and the stick the banishing of rebels from the first team car park.
Ronald Reagan once remarked during a discussion with Mikhail Gorbachev, “How easy his task and mine might be in these meetings that we held if suddenly there was a threat to this world from some other species from another planet outside in the universe. We’d forget all the little local differences that we have between our countries …”
There have been many instances when deadly adversaries, at one another’s throats for generations, put their differences aside to confront a still more urgent threat: the Greek city states against the Persians; the Russians and the Polovtsys against the Mongols and the Americans and the Soviets against the Nazis.
And so it was with our factions. Gladiators such as Lampard, Terry and Drogba could see their reputations and legacy being destroyed by the AVB regime as the media and Chelsea fans all wrote them off as has-beens. Time to put personal differences to one side. AVB had tried desperately to unite the team by getting them to believe in a common ideal but it’s generally accepted that group unity is forged stronger by shared negative attitudes. A common enemy!
So our Champions League triumph has nothing to do with the heavens, being written in the stars, destiny nor a blue angel sitting on the crossbar. Our triumph is due to Andre, who so desperately wanted to build team spirit and unwittingly succeeded by causing such anger and frustration that our players united to play with an unprecedented determination and spirit that overcame age, injury, suspension, tika-taka and finally the Germans.