Monday, 20th May 2013
A hotel room somewhere in South West London, the sun is rising through hazy clouds, there is dew on the ground, and the birds reluctantly start their daily chorus of joy. Are they slightly hesitant? It’s as if they’re unsure today will bring much to sing about…
Outside the room the raised voice of a man with a Spanish accent can be heard… not shouting… but loud enough in frustrated yet resigned desperation to be heard.
“Well? How was that… go on, tell me?”
Embarrassed muffled words. “Look… I think we should call it a day… please don’t tell me you hadn’t guessed?”
“That’s it? Am I getting this right?”
More embarrassed muffled words sounding something like “Sorry… it’s not you… it’s me.”
“I have to know… it’s important to me… c’mon, you said you wanted me, that you cared for me… what’s changed? What do you mean, it wasn’t enough? You’re dumping me? After all the crap I’ve taken from you and your ‘friends’? We had a deal! You want me to still go where?”
“Oh and could you just accompany me to the last couple of social events I have planned… just for appearance’s sake… after all you did agree to… you know the American gigs…”
An imagined end of shag conversation, variations of which no doubt happened in reality from time to time, maybe even amongst the fine readers of this revered blog. In the cluttered enclaves of my ageing mind, this is the sort of imagined conversation that Chelsea had with Rafa Benitez the day after the Everton game that secured the cherished position of third place in the Premier League. The courtship was over, what had appeared as a mutual meeting of two like-minded entities, desperately searching for a long-term relationship which would be accepted and admired had turned out to be more ill-fated than Elton John’s liaison with Renate Blauel. You know, the girl he married before he realized he was gay? Anyway, the point is whilst the rest of the world looked on and said it wouldn’t work, that it couldn’t work, the two parties ploughed on regardless anyway, as if by denying the obvious mismatches the situation could be overcome, and that perfect conjoined bliss would eventually become the default environment.
Like any football manager role, both sides had failed to see that irrespective of the intentions from each party, the end result whether the span is a few months, or a few years is always the same.
To quote one of my favourite lyrics, that every football manager should learn off by heart…
And after a while, you can work on points for style.
Like the club tie, and the firm handshake,
A certain look in the eye and an easy smile.
You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to,
So that when they turn their backs on you,
You’ll get the chance to put the knife in.
The Season Overview Part One
Normally I would re-open the gates of the school, St Chelsea of Stamford Bridge and wax lyrically on about polished shoes, parquet floor, the smell of Duraglit in the air as yet another trophy is delivered into the ever extending cabinet of honours. But this year it’s time for a more sombre look at how the season of madness, arguably a madness to exceed all of the preceding madness we’ve come to love or loathe.
So come last August, in rain drenched Britain, with travel companies inundated with last minute requests for people trying to desperately vacate this green, extremely green as it happens and pleasant isle. The football season is about to start, and for some who have had their holidays it’s the start of something to metaphorically warm and dry the damp spirits. Football is back, and under the stewardship of Robbie Di Matteo, the FA Cup and Champions League conquering bravehearts of Chelsea start their 2012-13 campaign. Didier Drogba has left our club with memories of cup final heroics obliterating some of his more eccentric and dismal moments, and like any ‘big’ player his role in our FA Cup win over the detestable Liverpool and the mighty Bayern Munich will never be forgotten, but like many I believe he chose his moment of departure perfectly. With that last kick for us in the last penalty in Munich his legend was secured. There was literally nothing left for him to win. He’d come in as a much derided substandard Thierry Henry and walked out of the Premier League with a few more gongs than Henry did.
Instead we saw new players come in, Oscar the Brazilian playmaker, Kevin de Bruyne (straight out on loan) and the much lauded Eden Hazard alongside the rather less known Cesar Azpilicueta. Brown envelopes were exchanged with Wigan Athletic to bring in Victor Moses and Michael Essien went on loan to Real Madrid, under the care of our former patriarch, Jose Mourinho. The squad still looked thin but Fernando Torres and Daniel Sturridge no longer had the big Ivorian to deal with for the key striker position. Surely we’d have enough to finish better in the Premier League, even if most believed the defence of our Champions League crown was highly unlikely. As well as Drogba, we said goodbye to Salomon Kalou, a Marmite player who never seemed to reach his full potential and eventually became either super sub, or a last desperate roll of the dice depending on your view of Marmite. Other losses included the unloved Jose Bosingwa, a man who went to QPR and showed his true motivation by refusing to be a substitute there.
And it all looked so good for a short while. Ignoring the rumble with Manchester City in the Community Shield, where they kicked our players out of the game things looked OK. After the first few games of the season we were top of the league with three consecutive wins and a dull 0-0 draw at QPR. Although the QPR result was disappointing, I like many just thought of it as being because it was their FA Cup final, little did we know then just how dire QPR were to become, and that therefore this result and a defeat in the return fixture would be a staggering indication of how easily broken we could be. It was an unheeded warning sign of fragility and fans were right to not worry based on what we knew at that point. Then came the UEFA Super Cup and if QPR was a graze that could be infected, then the 4-1 demolition we suffered at the hands of Atletico Madrid was the hand being sliced open by a chisel. Many of us weren’t unduly worried at this point wither, although the several thousand that travelled could be justifiably aggrieved at how easily beaten, deservedly so as well, we had been. A second red light was ignored by many fans because we were still top, and even the further capitulation of a two goal lead in the Champions League ending in a 2-2 home draw with Juventus didn’t dent many optimists, nestled as it was before wins over Stoke and then away to Arsenal in the Premier League. The blinkers remained down as we went on to beat Norwich and the loathsome Spurs and a little known team in our Champions League group called FC Nordsjaelland. But under the surface, rumours were growing that Roman was already thinking he’d dropped another managerial bollock with Di Matteo, and that his desire for Pep Guardiola to come in had infected every thought of his waking and sleeping hours. A salutary lesson was dished out by Shakhtar Donetsk in our Champions League game there. They were good, but we were frail, lacking in composure, lacking in steel, lacking in ideas and lacking in confidence. We were fast morphing into the Jekyll and Hyde team many of us knew and loved in the 1970s and 80s. Brilliant one minute, pub team the next.
On the 28th October, we entertained the team many thought would be our biggest title rivals, Manchester United at Stamford Bridge. They came to us hot on our tail having started the season pretty well, and not seemingly content on waiting until their traditional post-Christmas spell of dominance to push them to glory. From a Chelsea perspective the pub team started that day for the first 20 minutes. In fact after 12 minutes we were two goals down and frankly being ripped apart by them. But after 20 minutes, things calmed down and we started to dominate the game. We clawed it back to 2-2 and what had looked a rout had become a highly entertaining game with Chelsea looking phenomenal at times. Even being reduced to 10 men we still looked the most like to win. Then Mark Clattenburg heard the words ‘Bet in play… now!’ and sent Torres off in an unfathomable decision that shocked everyone, United fans included. We lost; we accused Clattenburg of racist comments to John Obi Mikel. We lost not only two players, but also the game and eventually the entire plot.
It was the turning point.
The next game sequence went WDWDLL. Significantly it was a leaner spell of unconvincing football, but the final defeat in that run was against Juventus where we went down 3-0, Torres had been dropped by Robbie, seemingly against the ‘advice’ of the club hierarchy. He gambled, he lost and the inevitable lunatic piece of PR sacking ensued. The man who rescued one season in untold glory, who’d carried out a bigger rescue than Red Adair Hiddink, had been thrown overboard by the club. And then, for many fans the club having pushed him overboard then threw the souls of many fans with him by appointing the largely despised Rafa Benitez.
Things were changing, and for many it was not necessarily for the better.
The Season Overview Part Two
It was hardly the most inspiring of starts. A low key appointment with the caveat of ‘interim’ as part of the title was it seemed a testimony towards the club’s realisation that once again they’d taken the biggest spoonful from the terrine of Piss Poor PR Soup, and that yet again the club had skins so thick they were tougher than a bull elephant with a Kevlar suit. His first three games were dire 0-0 draws against Man City and Fulham (Fulham!) and a defeat against West Ham (West Ham!). This was hardly going to endear him to the anti Rafa groups, and even me, who’d cautiously thought he might be OK wobbled slightly. Let’s be clear I had no objection to him based on what he’d allegedly (but didn’t) say about us when in charge of Liverpool. After all he was Liverpool coach so he was hardly going to praise us. And as for the rubbish about never coaching Chelsea, said again when at Liverpool, well what else would he have said?
He was in charge when we won a virtual dead rubber return against FC Nordsjaelland and so can’t be blamed for our embarrassing early exit in the Champions League, but when we met Corinthians, who must equate in ability terms to Newcastle or Fulham, in the World Club Championship final, we put in a typically Benitez-like whimpering simpering display of unnecessary caution based on his principle of not losing a game before winning it. Not the most prestigious of trophies but yet another failure in the huge list of trophies we’d have a chance of winning. Another one-off game with a trophy at stake in which we’d choked, two under Di Matteo and this under Benitez. There were good games under his tutelage, not least of all an 8-0 destruction of Aston Villa, but the pattern of inconsistency was set with a chance to win every game over the vital Christmas period, then winning the first three but losing at home to QPR. At home! A team who had not won a single away match in the season beat us at home! Simply unacceptable, and his calm manner did nothing to alter the views of many that he was merely a mercenary with no passion for the club, no skin in the game, merely dismissing each disappointment with statements of cold logic and standard media-trained soundbites. In the same month we drew 2-2 with lowly Brentford in a game we were lucky to come out of unscathed and then there were two inexplicable 2-2 draws versus Southampton and Reading to finally scupper our chances of winning the league. Both United and City were away from us.
By this time my anger had been replaced by apathy. I genuinely cared less about going because the football was dire, the heart and passion was sporadic at best, the tactics bewildering, the substitutions bizarre and yet despite all of this, there were some great results in there. Beating Arsenal at home when I was snowed in that day was a joy. Beating United in the FA Cup and then in the league at a critical time, albeit after they had secured their 20th title. We had also progressed through the Europa League stages and even in this my apathy submitted bit by bit and became belated enthusiasm. In the end it was all we had in the shape of a winnable trophy. We’d been contesting the Community Shield and lost, the FA Cup and been knocked out against our new hoodoo side Manchester City, the Champions League defence was shambolic, we’d been beaten out of sight in the UEFA Super Cup, been pathetic in the World Club Championship, been knocked out of the Capital One Cup by Swansea with yet more weak and lily-livered displays, and surrendered any chance of the Premier League by the end of January. April and May however, saw the team grow in confidence in the Premier League, the last eight results looking much like WWDWWDWW which in fairness is decent form and included a last game win at home versus Everton for the virtual trophy of third place. Benitez finally seemed to have a better grip on the idea of starting your strongest team irrespective of the competition. As the Europa League progressed though we seemed to be determined to ensure that trophy never slipped away. In the final versus a tough Benfica side we played like The Hope and Anchor ‘B’ team for much of the first half, unable to pass to anyone in the same colour shirt and were lucky to be 0-0 at half time. Even the second half start wasn’t great, but if Chelsea are known for anything these days it is a never say die spirit in big games. Games with a trophy at stake. A far cry from the nearly men teams of the 1960s and 70s and the dead loss teams of the 80s and much of the 90s. A goal from the mercurial Torres, seemingly transformed from deadly striker into an Anelka-like role of targetman/playmaker and occasional scorer got a decent goal with echoes of the Nou Camp semi versus Barcelona to give us hope. Hope seemingly dashed by a Benfica equaliser within 10 minutes, only for that to be undone by a romantic novelist fairytale script ending winner form Branislav Ivanovic after a corner won by the oft slated Ramires. Two players who’d sat out Munich because of suspension had finally played their part in ensuring that unlike press and media role model side Arsenal, yet another chaotic, lunatic, basket case, bat shit crazy, bipolar and insane season for Chelsea FC had returned silverware.
Time for another tenuously relevant quote…
I’ve been mad for fucking years, absolutely years, been
over the edge for yonks, been working me buns off for bands…
I’ve always been mad, I know I’ve been mad, like the
most of us… very hard to explain why you’re mad, even
if you’re not mad…
And so endeth another season. I’m glad to see the back of it quite frankly. Glad to see the back of Benitez and his brand of negative safety first football, glad to see the back of moronic 16th minute chants commemorating a man who is still alive, glad to see the back of misguided racist accusations, contract deadline rumours, 18-year-old ballboys, refereeing injustices, anti-Rafa songs in full view of his family (no-one deserves that dog’s abuse) and of our Kremlin-esque communications to the fans from our own Ministry of Truth conveniently covering over the fissures running deep through the fanbase and club. A season of stress, anger, bemusement, confusion, embarrassment, apathy, determination, illogical decisions, irrationality, heartbreak and in the end joy and relief. Yet there is some good stuff, the emergence of David Luiz as a key player, the growing confidence of Gary Cahill, the lowered dependence on John Terry and to some degree Frank Lampard, the delightful progress of Juan Mata, the potential of Oscar, the sheer audacity, skill and pace of Hazard and of course the steadiness of Azpilicueta finally filling our problem right-back position with aplomb. And let’s not forget the continued employment of Eva, huh?
And if all of the madness and emotion just listed and experienced by me and I suspect most of you wasn’t enough, the club then unwraps the beloved Jose Mourinho as our next manager (reprise) and for the most part the divisions between fans are gone, the club is unified top to bottom and out. Have we recruited another madman to join the fray? Another impaired person to come in and try and provide stability and success where all others including himself have failed? Who knows?
All said and done it’s possibly best left to Captain Edmund Blackadder at the time of the big push when Private “Sodoff” Baldrick tells him he has a plan so cunning that it’s as cunning as a fox just appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University…
Whatever it was it was better than my idea of pretending to be mad, after all who’d ever notice another madman round here?
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!