No-one likes us but we don’t care, right? In fact we enjoy our role as football’s Anti-Christ so much, we don’t even like ourselves sometimes.
A spot of self-loathing we can deal with, but despite their relative lack of importance inane ramblings by the likes of Lawton and Hattenstone do tend to grate as they dictate the agenda in the short term. The media perception of the club is something that often creates a false impression, given that many commentators and pundits rarely stray from the realms of hackneyed cliché and the simplistic view of the herd.
The arrival of Mourinho has given journalists both plenty of material and the opportunity to renew the stock buzzwords and phrases they use to describe Chelsea. This helps form an image of the club in the collective consciousness over the course of time which is trotted out irrespective of what happens on (or off) the pitch. Our image (if you can call it that) has simply been remodeled given our change in circumstances and recent success.
There have been embarrassing episodes of course, from Mourinho’s ‘moments’ to the Ashley Cole affair but we are hardly ground-breaking in this respect. Ferguson and Wenger have frequently been less than gracious in defeat and tapping-up is hardly a new pastime, but our elevated position leaves us ripe for criticism. Whether we play stunning football or otherwise is almost irrelevant given the headline-generating soap opera that currently follows Chelsea.
The modern game is all about image and perception. Tuesday night’s Champions League game between AC Milan and Barcelona was an excellent case in point of how a club’s standing is shaped in the eyes of the world. A feverishly anticipated contest between two European greats and as you would expect the vernacular used by Messrs. Tyldesley and Pleat was suitably reverent given the historic and near-mythical nature of those involved.
“Some have suggested that this is the final” remarked Tyldesley in his typically over-excited tones.
But they’d be talking shit, wouldn’t they Clive? I hoped the ITV man would suggest as much, but as is often the case when he speaks I was disappointed. Both Arsenal and Villareal have earned their semi-final spots as the Rossoneri and Rijkaard’s men had, but their perceived cachet amongst dedicated non-thinkers like Tyldesley is lower than that of the Milanese and Catalan giants.
Why? Is here the place for a timely reminder that the game is about eleven against eleven; that all the history, pedigree, wealth and reputation in the world count for absolutely squat on the other side of the touchline?
Reputation – now there’s a word. AC Milan’s impressive (and rather expensively acquired) Big Cup history is almost without equal, but Barcelona? Their European pedigree is on a par with that of Aston Villa, but still a little way short of Nottingham Forest. Yet they are ‘legends’ with a prestige that requires the use of hushed tones and endless superlatives.
And it doesn’t stop there. Brilliant player he may be, but listening to how Ronaldinho is described by a star-struck pundit can be a hilarious distraction. He doesn’t go past people; he skips, dances and pirouettes with the grace of a ballet dancer. He never just plays a pass, he dazzles his marker with footwork that defies the laws of physics and then delivers an inch-perfect ball with sublime skill and great vision. And he always does it with a smile on his face. Joga Bonito indeed.
That for the best part of an hour the Brazilian was firmly packed into the back pocket of Jaap Stam, 57, almost went unnoticed; the Dutchman could probably feel those unfeasibly huge teeth embedded into his arse. Tyldesley did eventually bring himself to comment on this terrible state of affairs:
“David, would it be remiss of me to suggest that Ronaldinho, dare I say it – hasn’t had the best of games tonight?”
The question had a kind of wary English politeness that might have been appropriate had the suggestion been a visit to Pleat HQ to administer a length of prime Tyldesley pork sword to Mrs. Pleat whilst her husband was out driving his car slowly around Kings Cross.
Yes, we know the samba superstar is a twenty-four carat genius and plays for a team fashioned by God himself (you point it out every four seconds), but you won’t go to Hell if you dare to suggest that he occasionally has a bit of a ‘mare. However as truly world-class players often do, Ronaldinho raised his game and created Guily’s crucial away goal; a very good pass it was too. But it wasn’t worth the several minutes of verbal masturbation and giddy breathlessness afforded it by the ITV twosome, both terminally guilty of the Sky disease of desperately talking everything up to be some sort of epic Ali v. Foreman type contest. Of course, this was AC Milan and Barcelona so the occasion demanded it whether the game was good, bad or indifferent.
Should Arsenal successfully defend their slender first leg lead as though their lives depended on it for ninety minutes in Spain, will it be reported as a display of ever-so-slightly cynical percentage football that paid dividends? Or a textbook example of supreme tactical intelligence, the emergence of a brilliant young defensive unit and a touch of counter-attacking genius? I think we all know the answer to that.
The media have formed their opinions about ‘new’ Chelsea and our outspoken boss; no conspiracy, no hidden agenda – for whatever reason, most of the Fourth Estate simply aren’t worshipping at the Blue altar. As Blingo suggested, such is the personality and presence of Mourinho (of whom I would have been producing voodoo dolls long ago were he managing another Premiership side) that for many people he is Chelsea. It is because of this his transgressions from the accepted norm are projected onto the club; the view of the Blues is set in stone and is unlikely to change until he departs for pastures new.
Despite our success, we as Chelsea fans suffer from the occasional moment of split personality given our sudden shift from second tier to top table. In the space of the average fan’s lifetime, our emotional scale has encompassed the despair of relegation, the joy of a Premiership title and the disappointment of not making a Champions League final by the narrowest of margins. Schizophrenic is a word that you might use. But no matter how low the lows in the bad old days, there was always a small (but usually wildly fanciful) notion that somehow, somewhere we had the potential to be the best team in the land.
Well now we are – and we still want more. Winning isn’t enough – we have to win in style, given our potential and the resources available.
Hereby hangs the problem of the near-obsessive love we bestow upon our chosen team; give a football fan the world (relatively speaking) and he’ll probably moan that the moon and stars haven’t come as part of the package. To those outside this particular bubble of insanity it seems irrational, but the man with the gripe has every right to express it – after all, since when has supporting a football team had anything to do with rational thought?
It isn’t a unique point of view and it pervades through the game at all levels. A Norwich supporting friend and season ticket holder recently remarked upon their largely forgettable mid-table season in the Championship. During their 3-2 win over QPR at the weekend, a section of the home fans applauded both of QPR’s goals, chanted constantly that they wanted Nigel Worthington served in one of Delia’s pies and generally expressed their displeasure at the current situation.
But as a seasoned football man, my friend observed that most of the boo-boys simply hold the unshakable belief that Norwich are a Premiership side that have always played like Ajax in the 1970’s. Are they insane, I hear you cry? Probably no more than the rest of us blindly devoted fools are. Talk to a less than balanced Tottenham fan (they aren’t too hard to find) and you’ll hear about their divine right to a place at the game’s top table as a big club, with ‘the Tottenham way’ of brilliant attacking football being a pre-requisite at the Lane. The fact that their only success in recent years came under the dour, defensive stewardship of George Graham has been conveniently forgotten. Which is probably how to look at things as a fan; in fifty years time it’ll be a trophy on the record books and the details surrounding its acquisition will be consigned to history. Lawton and Hattenstone, take note.
Were the revitalised Accrington Stanley to attract the attention of a billionaire who decided to bankroll them towards a Premiership title in 2014, would all of their fans be completely happy? Not in a million years they wouldn’t; for someone, something wouldn’t be right. If Mourinho threw caution to the wind with an all-out attacking team that scored hatfuls in style but regularly conceded three or four, there would be those who would moan about our defence. You can’t please all of the people all of the time.
So where next for Chelsea? How do we create ourselves a legacy, possibly even winning over a few stony critical hearts in the process?
Keep winning. Attractive football and the media-friendly eccentricity of Ranieri might win you friends but it is trophies and success that will attract a new generation of fans and the best players; people follow success – always have, always will.
Winning is what Mourinho has been employed to do. It isn’t pretty at times but the weight of expectation and Abramovich’s investment dictate that we have to win. Five year gap between titles? Not good enough. This overriding need almost certainly played a part in Jose’s appointment as the type of pragmatic and relentless winning that he prescribes are what Abramovich’s Chelsea demand. Perfect bedfellows, you could say.
Possibly not the old-fashioned sentimental approach to football that we might have liked, but in the G14 era a polite knock on the door asking to join the elite won’t be heard above the din of Berlusconi’s billions and Tyldesley spouting nonsense about Ronaldinho and Barcelona. Our dreams of brilliant free-flowing football week in, week out will hopefully be realised one day, but at present set against the realities of the balance sheet and Kenyon’s masterplan it is winning by whatever means that counts. The current side is nearing messianic status in our eyes, but the harsh reality is that to Chelsea Global Football Limited they are building blocks for the future and assets that can be bought and sold in a few phone calls.
Does this relentless need for victory above all else bother me? Not particularly – it is the way things have always been, albeit with far higher stakes, but I can understand that the culture and some of the football it has arguably created don’t sit well with everyone. The trophies may have arrived, but are we paying the price for wanting to reach the head of the queue in record time?
Great sides are built on a simple basis; first, stop them losing. Second, turn them into winners by all means necessary and instill it as a mindset that runs throughout the club – then and only then do you worry about winning with style. We have a side that is well into the second stage of that process; whether stage three will come under Mourinho is another matter, but I’d rather we took our time establishing a solid foundation for the future first.
For all the changes at Chelsea, sitting in the MHU things look the same as they ever were. Sometimes I’m entertained, sometimes I’m frustrated and sometimes I’m driven to the edge of screaming insanity. Sometimes I’m blown away by Mourinho’s genius. Sometimes I’m convinced my mother could do a better job. Sometimes it’s like watching Pelé’s Brazil in the sunshine and sometimes it’s sitting in the freezing cold watching eleven blokes that have been possessed by the spirit of Winston Bogarde on an off day (this is a mercifully infrequent occurrence these days).
This will always be the case but I don’t doubt that I shall continue to worship the Blues no matter how delighted or disgusted I am with the manager or our style of play, how we are viewed by the world or how many trophies we have or haven’t won.
After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder isn’t it?