So, how was it for you? The 2006/07 season review

Did the earth move? Was the season lit with fireworks? Did Andriy Shevchenko seduce you with silky skills? Did Didier Drogba’s drive and dynamism send shivers down your spine? Did the essence of Michael Essien send you into a dreamy haze?

Or did it seem like the interminable season from hell at times? Did you look longingly at Arsenal in February after the Carling Cup final and sigh with a hint of envy that their campaign was over and their fans could enjoy each game as a one-off encounter? Or, like me, are you just plain knackered and thankful the whole bloody shebang is finally over?

Don’t get me wrong, one week after the season has finished and I’m already declaring Sky Sports a dead zone until August and no amount of “Masters [sic] Football” will tempt me, although the coverage of the US Open might. Saturday nights with no Match of the Day? Bloody hell, I’ll have to start talking to the family now!

In the continuing spirit of our format for reviewing games I thought I’d follow suit for the end of season review, with a raft of player ratings chucked in at the end for good measure.

The good

  • Didier Drogba. Without any shadow of a doubt this was his best season in any league, anywhere during his career. A Golden Boot award for top scorer in the Premier League, and a similar award for scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup final (I think they still award one) alongside a host of good press coverage for changes in attitude show him to be worth every penny of the £24m we paid three years ago. There is little doubt we’d be two trophies down on this year’s haul without his goals in both finals. Can he repeat this? Well why not? He may not have the silky ball skills of Thierry Henry, or the close control of Wayne Rooney, or the dancing skills of Cristiano Ronaldo, but he does have something more than these players by the bucket load – spirit and fight. Simply put the man has never given up at any point this season, whether it’s scoring critical goals, making vital assists or simply being an outstanding defender. He is an inspiration and a true Chelsea legend. In a word – fantastic.
  • Michael Essien. From being a pariah, shamelessly hounded by the shabby shady lowlifes of the press for a single poor tackle in his first season, and subsequently punished retrospectively by UEFA, his true nature has come to the fore and he has shown himself to be a simply outstanding world class player who would be a first choice at any club in the world. Dignified, selfless, hard-working, spirited, strong, powerful and skilful. The perfect player? Not yet… but it won’t be long. Oh how I wish he were English.
  • Petr Cech. Alex Ferguson used to espouse with regularity the importance of Peter Schmeichel in Manchester United’s title winning heyday and we now have the new, improved Schmeichel. I will be honest and say I had my doubts last season, and he still has the downright annoying habit of hoofing the ball up the field when playing it to a defender would be a better option, but his saves this year have been as vital as Drogba’s goals in keeping us in the hunt for three trophies for so long. All this after suffering a life threatening injury against Reading early in the season makes “The Cat in the Hat” a truly remarkable man and athlete.
  • The overall effort. Despite a promising start to the season, marred early on by the strange defeat at Middlesbrough, it’s obvious the effect of the World Cup on more or less the whole squad, alongside political shenanigans in the stand-off between Jose Mourinho and Roman Abramovich, the intense anti-Chelsea press bias and the constant crippling injury list had a huge effect on our ruthless capacity to win. Having said that it’s hard to do anything other than stand back in open mouthed admiration for the two domestic trophies from three, second place in the Premier League, and a semi-final position in the Champions League. Could any other team have done that under such pressure?
  • Jose Mourinho. He appears below as well, such is the paradox of the man. He’s almost an oxymoron (a disastrously brilliant tactician maybe, or an incredibly lucky genius). One thing is for sure, he is a fighter and man who will use whatever armoury is available to get the right result. In a season where we have not had all our key players (Cech, Terry, Carvalho, Joe Cole, Robben) he has been able to adopt a fall back position similar to George Graham’s old Arsenal team, or the dominating German national teams of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. It ain’t entertaining, but it’s bloody effective and it’s got us two trophies this year, despite not having the real flair players available, or the spine of our defence. Could anyone else do that? Does any other coach have the balls to switch styles from one extreme to another with such assuredness, just to ensure the delivery of the right results? Thought not.
  • The trophy haul. To some of the younger blog readers this may seem a season of failure. But I’ve been there since 1970 when we won our first FA Cup and only our second major trophy in sixty-five years of existence, the first being our only previous League win in 1955 – for which I wasn’t about! After that FA Cup we won the old European Cup Winners’ Cup the following year beating the already mighty Real Madrid. In the 60’s and 70’s the ECWC was always second behind the European Cup (now the Champions League) and ahead of the Fairs Cup (now the UEFA Cup). In 1972 we should have won the League Cup but somehow lost to Stoke City who had a bloke called George Eastham playing that day who though was only 36, looked older than my grandad. He scored the winning goal that broke a young boy’s heart and started the trophy drought of twenty-five bloody long years until Ruud Gullit’s 1997 team finally won the FA Cup again and roused the sleeping giant from its slumber. That year seemed massive to me because in my eyes it put us back on the map. It got us noticed again for the right reasons and not hooligan fans or the embarrassing rantings of Ken Bates. There followed a period of another FA Cup under Gianluca Vialli, plus a Cup Winners’ Cup and a League Cup and a vague threat to the Manchester United/Arsenal duopoly. Back then, just ten short years ago, we were happy with one trophy but then the Claudio Ranieri years seemed to be taking us back into the coma. But in three years under Mourinho we have collected each domestic trophy, six in all. To that young boy in 1970 this would have been dreamland and once again I say to you, two out of three ain’t bad. Neither is two out of four.

The bad

  • The injury list. At times I thought we’d been transformed into Newcastle, whose tiresome perennial injury problems have seen away Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish, Ruud Gullit, Bobby Robson, Graeme Souness, and Glen Roeder. It’s hard to believe we’ve had a similar year to their previous ten in terms of injuries. It just seemed that no week would go by without yet more bad news on the state of some of our key players. A thinned squad didn’t help, and the intransigence of board and manager may have been costly in terms of the Premiership and Champions League. I hope this was a one-off and that next year we don’t even get five percent of the problems of this year. Then, just maybe we’ll have a better crack at all four trophies.
  • Jose Mourinho. Don’t get me wrong here. I love the guy. Hell, he can come round and marry my daughter if he wants (well, maybe next year when she’s sixteen). But sometimes he seems afflicted by the ghost of Ranieri in his team selections and his tactics. Sure he near enough always rectifies this but maybe his inexperience or ego just flirts too close to self-importance and danger. And sometimes, just sometimes I wish the PR people at the club would stop him from saying the wrong things. The barbed comment about Ronaldo’s alleged poor education was uncalled for, no matter what we might think of the cheating winker-diver (which is at least true).
  • Khalid Boulahrouz. Oh dear, oh dear. I thought I’d seen the worst defender ever in Asier Del Horno (Doug Rougvie excepted here) but along came The Cannibal. Hmm… he presumably got this nickname because he likes to take chunks out of people for pleasure. I’d let him go before he becomes another Winston Bogarde (Do’h! Maybe I’m being hard on Del Horno having just remembered this complete donkey).
  • Losing the Premiership. Let’s face it Manchester United won it because we lost it. The piss-poor Christmas with three draws and silly defeats at Middlesbrough and Spurs told me it wasn’t destined for us this year, and despite my many healthy debates with the Blue Evangelists on this site, who were even using lunar mythology to convince themselves we could do it, I can now gloat and say “I told you so”. That gives me no pleasure because we were more than good enough to win again this year even with the injuries. The spark and hunger had gone for some and I firmly believe the pain of losing this will bring us back stronger next year. But just remember this… each year it will get harder to win as the others start to compete in the market with us.

Player ratings (main squad only)

  • Petr Cech: 9/10 – A very brave man whose world class saves played a key part in our trophy wins and our extended challenge in the Premier and Champions League.
  • Khalid Bouhlarouz: 4/10 – “Oh dear” just doesn’t seem strong enough does it? A bright game against Barcelona was followed by him being humiliated and his confidence being publicly dismantled in Spain by Ronaldinho. Never really recovered from that and very probably on his way.
  • Paulo Ferreira: 7/10 – Spent most of the season sidelined or just being plain useless. Was he carrying an injury? Was his mind elsewhere? Who knows, but one thing is for sure he finished the season looking more like the Paulo we saw two years ago who was the best right-back in Europe.
  • Wayne Bridge: 8.5/10 – The number one left-back in Europe, if not the world. Frankly brilliant.
  • John Terry: 8.5/10 – Sidelined by serious injury during the winter and injured again due to his own bravery in the Carling Cup final. Never quite got back to his imperious best but that may be as much from the season’s length than anything else.
  • John Obi Mikel: 9/10 – A revelation and surely a sure fire top class player of the future. Plays like someone with ten years more experience and has only got to learn to control the red mist tendency. Wayne who?
  • Shaun Wright-Phillips: 8/10 – Looked doomed for much of the season. Annoyingly kept running the ball out of play as if suffering from whitewash blindness. When he did get past players his final ball was… well shit is the only word that fits here really. Then, the injury situation worsened and he got his best chance and boy did he take it. His tackling has improved as he has learned to “roam” the midfield behind the strikers and not limit himself to the wings. A big but welcome turn around.
  • Frank Lampard: 7.5/10 – 21 goals belie a season of only sporadic brilliance amongst swathes of mediocrity compared to previous years. Looked knackered a lot of the time and the World Cup seemed to smash his confidence. Let’s hope a good break gets him back into the real form we know he is capable of.
  • Joe Cole: 6/10 – A terrible season ruined by injury. Boy did we miss his trickery and verve.
  • Didier Drogba: 9.8/10 – For me, the best player of our season. I’ve said it all above but will add one more word. Magnificent.
  • Salomon Kalou: 7/10 – Shows flashes of brilliance but this is too often overshadowed by poor decisions and some frankly dire finishing or passing. A good bet for the future, but needs to work harder and gain more experience.
  • Arjen Robben: 6/10 – See Joe Cole.
  • Michael Ballack: 7/10 – At the start I thought we’d bought yet another duffer, but when he was absent I started to understand his contribution. The fact that he doesn’t seem to blow his own trumpet makes it all the more admirable. His “laissez-faire” attitude reminds me of Marcel Desailly. I expect next season to be the one where he gets noticed for the right reasons.
  • Andriy Shevchencko: 5/10 – Oh dear. Flashes of the player that everyone in Serie A either feared or admired, but for the most part seemed to struggle with the pace of the Premiership. It now transpires he’s been carrying an injury all season, but surely that begs the question of why we didn’t operate at the beginning and get him fully fit for the run-in. One more season and that’s it if he doesn’t improve.
  • Ashley Cole: 7/10 – Showed little of the form that projected him to England’s number one status at left-back but to be fair the requirements at Chelsea are very different than at Arsenal. Will have to work very hard to unseat Wayne Bridge.
  • Michael Essien: 9.7/10 – An absolute marvel this season and very close to being my player of the year. Pipped as my player of the year only by Drogba’s goal contribution, but has showed great dignity and versatility when asked, and unlike William Gallas has not complained once.
  • Ricardo Carvalho: 9.7/10 – I’d always been a bit sniffy about him previously. He always seemed to give away the penalties or the silly free kicks through petulant shirt pulling or late clumsy tackles. However, this season he has been the rock of the defence and did a marvellous job when Terry was away injured and in every game he played. With him we’re solid in defence, without him the armour has a chink. I think it’s fair to say that he was sorely missed when he himself got ‘flu for the Liverpool game at Anfield and then injured for the last four games of the season. Another close candidate for my player of the year, and the archetypal unsung hero.
  • Geremi: 7/10 – Points awarded here for unswerving loyalty but when offered the chance at right-back to make the position his own he failed to take it, despite an initially bright start. Perhaps his attacking midfield instincts are too strong but it’s hard to see a place next season.
  • Claude Makalele: 6/10 – Nearly a candidate for ‘The bad’ section until I realised he wasn’t actually “bad” per se, but merely poor in comparison to his previous three seasons. I firmly believe he was affected by the French World Cup effort and that maybe this was the season that showed he’d gone on just that little bit too far. He might be worth a one-year “off the bench” contract but unless his distribution improves markedly, and he stops giving away unnecessary free kicks in dangerous areas then maybe it’s time to shake his hand, give him a warm thank-you and let him go.
  • Lassana Diarra: 8/10 – An odd one this. He has a temperament issue and an attitude problem as well as shown by his fine for missing training. However he is a scintillating player who did a very good job at right-back and filled in for Makelele quite well. Inexperienced but a player I’d put some faith in because as his experience grows so will the rewards for us.
  • Carlo Cudicini: 7/10 – A loyal servant who showed great bravery in the game against Reading when he got knocked out making a vital clearance. In all honesty though he’s not the future and his age and lack of games must be a factor in his continuing capacity as the number two keeper. I would be looking to promote from within for the number two slot, and as a reward for unswerving loyalty offer Cudicini a job alongside Silvinho Lauro coaching the keepers and the youngsters.
  • Hilario: 6/10 – Got more games than he, or anyone was expecting. Not one for the future though. He is an average shot stopper but aerially he doesn’t command at crosses, tends to flap/slap at the ball and patently doesn’t inspire confidence in the defenders. He was noticeably castigated by Terry several times during games and when Carvalho also has something to say you know he isn’t the answer.

Final thoughts

Overall this season has been a paradox in itself. At times both deeply frustrating, undeniably drab, massively exciting, rewarding and yet unrewarding as well. It’s been very long for those of us with World Cup allegiances and I reckon I was as exhausted as the players as we hit the final run-in. I’ve kicked every ball, felt every tackle, headed every cross, whilst simultaneously screaming my love for the club, deriding the useless referees and linesmen and defending my club against the abuse of other fans and the press and TV. The players are lucky, they only have to kick a ball around once or twice a week. For me it never stops. Plus I have the added stress of knowing that no matter what I do, what superstitions I have, what prayers I may mutter despite my avowed agnosticism I have no influence whatsoever on the team. At least those picked can try and make a difference.

So, to wrap up this season until I can think of something else to post to the blog, here’s some thoughts on ins and outs and my predictions for next season. I reserve the right to perform u-turns on any of these on a pure whim or because they’re wrong!

In: David Villa or Carlos Tevez. Believe me I think one or the other will be arriving freshly scrubbed and ready to wear the blue shirt of success. Also in will be Micah Richards or Glen Johnson at right-back, PSV Eindhoven’s Alex as cover for the centre-backs as well as the already acquired Steve Sidwell to cover Essien or John Obi Mikel. Not a tough job then Steve!

Out: This is far tougher than I thought. Paulo Ferreira may have got a reprieve with his end of season form but that just makes it even more mysterious as to what had happened for the first three quarters of it. If he stays then Johnson will be sold and Richards bought in. Shaun Wright-Phillips was a banker as well but he turned it around big time. Definitely going will be Geremi and Khalid Boulahrouz and my other tip would be Claude Makelele as the future without him is already sorted with Lassana Diarra, Essien or Mikel ready to play that role.

Trophies. Providing we don’t suffer such a bad injury year then I think the Premiership will be back with us despite the current Manchester United spending spree. As for the cups, well I think common sense might prevail and we will follow the models set by the others in the Big Four – in other words we’ll downgrade our desire in these. The reason? Abramovich and Mourinho may have different opinions on each other but both want the Champions League. Roman because he wants us to be spoken of and revered with the other big European clubs, Jose because he wants to win and savour the victory this time without the pressure of knowing he is moving on. I believe Jose will be with us until 2010 when his contract ends. There is no better coach. I think next year, as seeds we will be gracing the final and this time there’ll be no mistakes. Manchester United will be second again, Liverpool will be third and the biggest shock will be either Spurs, Newcastle or maybe even a dogged Everton side pipping Arsenal for fourth place.

Until next time, keep the Blue Flag flying high.

Chelsea complete Pizarro signing · Update

Bayern Munich’s Peruvian striker Claudio Pizarro has signed on a free transfer. The 28-year-old joined after agreeing personal terms and undergoing a medical.

Pizarro joins Steve Sidwell and Danny Philliskirk as Chelsea’s summer signings.

Chelsea complete Ben Haim signing · Update

Bolton’s out-of-contract defender Tal Ben Haim has joined Chelsea on a four-year deal.

He becomes Chelsea’s third major summer addition, all on free transfers.

Ben Haim will join up with the club in time for the pre-season tour of the United States.