Where do I begin… a love story?
Imagine you are in love. Truly, madly, deeply in love. Head over heels in love. It’s the kind of love that has you skipping through freshly cut meadows, picking wild flowers and carving each other’s names into trees. Your love is so pure and undying that there is nothing you wouldn’t do for that partner. You’re in a constant flushed state of arousal. You’re even prepared to overlook the little irritants, the annoying little foibles in the way they behave because they’re so damned perfect, the sex is so great and the joy of being in their company so overwhelming. They’ve changed the way you look, the way you act and the way you behave and what’s more you don’t care, you love them even more for showing you a new way.
You’ve gone from being the last one at the party to get a dance, to the sort of person who shuns those parties in order to frequent the best restaurants, the best shows and the best hotels in the land. You don’t even notice that you’re old friends have gone off you because of your new partner, or that you’re old enemies, or those that barely noticed you are now green with hatred through their envy of you and this gloriously gorgeous, highly intelligent, fiercely independent, tour de force who’s taken over your life. The one person who’s making you change from lovable, average but tragic comedian into detested, arrogant success story.
Then through a silly misunderstanding, a futile power play, a penchant for stubbornness inherent in them and mimicked by you, and an urge to mutually show who the dominant partner is. The slow drip paranoid belief of the insidious rumours spread by those out to get you finally take their toll and you suddenly part company. They tell everyone it was mutual and you do the same. You’re confused and showing it, they are confused but masking it. In truth both your hearts are breaking.
That was our season until September 20th 2007.
Like most suddenly separated people you fall into the arms of the first person to show you some empathy and sympathy. Your friends have introduced you to them previously and they’re in your narrow circle. They’re not as good looking, or assertive, but they’re kind and have a soothing manner. They make promises to help you through your trauma and like any broken hearted fool you fall for them. Some of your enemies laugh in your face, the ones that learned to hate you now gleefully gloat over your misfortune. Even your old friends give you a guarded welcome back to the fold. None of them like your new paramour. Your enemies mock your choice of partner; your friends are kind but doubting. The sex is not as good, the feeling of comfort is already waning and deep inside you know you’re going to have to give them a decent chance to win the doubters over, and most importantly convince you that they are the long term choice for you.
But your eyes are constantly turned by bright young things who through your experience with the love of your life now find you attractive. At night when alone, you pleasure yourself to the thoughts of any one of them linking their arm into yours and strolling up the proverbial aisle of success together. In the end the pressure is too much, the thoughts of mental infidelity grow stronger… so much choice… so much promise… so much potential joy and the chance to get the constantly aroused… orgasmic… feeling of success back. You’ve tasted it and like the mythical vampire, now you want more. The arrogance returns and despite your current partner not specifically doing anything wrong, you decide to make the cut, brutally, decisively and terminally. Now where did all those short skirts and well turned heels go?
That’s how the season went from 22nd September 2007 until May 24th 2008.
So, a season that started so promisingly with a thrilling defeat of Birmingham at Stamford Bridge and goals from new boys Florent Malouda and Claudio Pizarro seemed to indicate that the Jose Mourinho machine was ready to rumble and take back what we had started to regard as our property. A win at Reading, a draw at the detestable Liverpool hovel of Anfield and a win at home to an unknowingly resurgent Portsmouth and we were looking good.
Then came the storm. A shocker of a performance and defeat to Aston Villa, a home draw to Blackburn Rovers with a perfectly legitimate goal disallowed and a one-sided draw to lowly Rosenborg fuelled the press speculation on The Special One’s future. Rumours were rife with regard our benefactor’s dissatisfaction with those three games. Add to that the rumours of dressing room dissension, emanating specifically from the totemic on field icon of John Terry and with hindsight we could have predicted where the lightning would strike.
The news on that bleak September morning was massive. Maybe not on the Princess Diana scale, but certainly in terms of column inches and airwave time it was a big one. The press and broadcast media collectively got their cocks out and cracked one off at the news. This was more than sexy. It was football porn. It was filthy and alluring. Joining in the communal sigh of money-shot ecstasy were the likes of Spurs and Liverpool fans, whilst sighs of bowel loosening relief could be heard from The Emirates and Old Trafford. Then, not content with dishing up football’s equivalent to Deep Throat, we followed up with a free issue of Confessions of a Window Cleaner. We announce to the waiting world including our sponsors, potential sponsors, sporting rivals and enemies that we will hand one of the biggest jobs in football to a man, Avram Grant, with no heritage of success at any real level, or any adequate qualifications. You could almost hear the circus clown anthem playing in the background. He made his Premier League debut with an unsurprising defeat at Manchester United, with a shell shocked team that looked completely out of sorts.
I won’t go into detail about the rights and wrongs of his reign, nor the back story of player disrespect and dissension, training ground bust ups, tactical naivety and general lack of experience. Other articles will follow to cover that sort of stuff. For the remainder let’s just go to the normal review format for our season at Chelsea Football Club.
- A set of results that kept us in contention for three competitions until the last day. We could have won the League Cup, we could have won the Premier League and we could have won the Champions League. We should have won the FA Cup.
- Nicolas Anelka. A shrewd purchase who will be a Chelsea great providing the new man shows faith in him. Avram Grant bought him and then had no idea how to use him. His inability or unwillingness to follow up his pre-transfer promises show why he wasn’t the man to do his job. As for Anelka’s post Champions League final comments? I agree with the sentiments if not the timing.
- Beating Liverpool in the Champions League semi-final. After the previous two occasions, it really could not get any sweeter than this.
- The Champions League final. Losing in the manner we did was no disgrace and we really were part of the whole event that showed the rest of Europe why the Premier League is the best league in the world. We may never get another chance, but if someone knows of a narrower way to lose then I’m all ears.
- Ricardo Carvalho. My vote for player of the season, although Joe Cole would have been close if it were not for his alarming tail off in form. Ashley Cole deserves an honorary mention for finally showing what a class footballer he is, even if his taste in extra-curricular bedroom partner leaves something to be desired.
- Michael Ballack. Had he been in all season I think we’d have been champions. Started his first game on Boxing Day, replacing Frank Lampard after 20 minutes. Cue collective groans from all corners… except me. I knew he was a great player and after 10 minutes, those groans were turning into wondrous sighs as he commanded the game with (cue German stereotypes) Mercedes like smoothness, BMW like power, Panzer like accuracy. We had found a true midfield general to partner Frank. For me the defining moment was the ice cold penalty against Manchester United – at that moment I saw why he is the captain of Germany.
- Beating Arsenal and Manchester United at home. I was convinced either would take the millstone home record away from us, but against Arsenal we turned the game around in power play reminiscent of the best of Jose, and against United we rampaged at them from the start. Stirring stuff on both occasions.
- Sacking Jose Mourinho. Enough said.
- Appointing Avram Grant and kidding him he’d be a long-term option. Bad choice and another example of piss-poor man management akin to the treatment of Claudio Ranieri. The point of commonality here is, of course, Peter Kenyon. A man whose ship is definitely not called Dignity.
- Florent Malouda and Claudio Pizarro. Malouda will probably get another season, despite never achieving greater than mediocrity this year. Pizarro I’m sorry to say was a coiffured, lazy, cumbersome and slow acquisition who I assume will depart to annoy another set of fans next year.
- Shaun Wright-Phillips. Loyal and sporadically good, but madly inconsistent, lightweight and on a bad day is just one of the worse players to wear our proud shirt. Time to go elsewhere methinks.
- Losing to Spurs in the League Cup final. Defeat always hurts, but when it’s to this bunch of no-marks then you can multiply the pain a hundred fold. The first signs of a lack of leadership, tactical naivety and team confusion meant that the Chelsea fans were booing and that is never good.
- Seven home draws with four coming about in the dying minutes of the game. For me, the Villa and Wigan games hurt the most because in one we deserved to win after an epic comeback, and the other was all about us falling on our own sword of arrogance and misguided tactics. Add the last minute draw away to Spurs and it’s not hard to see why we didn’t win the Premier League by a country mile – just two of those needed to be converted to wins and we’d be champions again.
- Jose Mourinho: Never got the chance to put right some alleged wrongs – 7/10.
- Avram Grant: Steadied the ship but never really looked the ‘the man’. Tactically naïve, Ranieri-esque substitutions and a downbeat image at odds with our ‘brand’. But unlike Peter Kenyon he has got dignity and respect. I for one will remember him mostly with fondness and say thanks for what he did. – 7/10.
- Petr Cech: Sometimes he’s so brilliant you can only gaze in awe, but this season has been ruined by schoolboy errors and piss-poor clearances that 99% of the time are just an almighty hoof up the park immediately putting the risk of losing possession to 50-50 – 7/10.
- Carlo Cudicini: Needs a move or promotion to goalkeeping coach but can save penalties and distributes the ball much better than Cech – 7.5/10.
- Hilario: A good third choice goalkeeper – 6/10.
- Paulo Ferreira: Is he our right-back or what? Can shine but inconsistent this season probably due to lack of appearances. A new five-year contract means he will stay – 6/10.
- Juliano Belletti: Defensively suspect but great at shooting, crosses and corners. May well move on – 7/10.
- Alex: Did a sterling job when Carvalho and/or Terry were missing. Probably not got enough to be a first choice but a very commendable second choice – 7/10.
- Tal Ben Haim: A Bolton player at best – 4/10.
- John Terry: A bloody fool in rushing back from injury and could do with being a bit ‘Ballack’ and only coming back when ready. But what a magnificent captain and defender – 8.5/10.
- Ricardo Carvalho: Player of the season. The best centre back in the world in my view – 9/10.
- Ashley Cole: A few so-so games but finished the season showing why he’s the best left-back in Europe – 8/10.
- Wayne Bridge: He can’t say he hasn’t had his chances but had one or two stinkers – will probably leave – 7/10.
- Steve Sidwell: Hasn’t put a foot wrong and hasn’t complained either. Deserves another season as he wasn’t used enough to prove otherwise – 6/10.
- Michael Essien: Slow start, fell to pieces when Mourinho left then ironically shone at the Africa Cup of Nations, came back and stunk the place out (or a clone did) and then finished as one of our best players again. A weird season. But we must keep him! – 7/10.
- Joe Cole: Great at times, but an alarming drop in form towards the end of the season. Not treated well by Grant who rarely let him see a full 90 minutes and it’s startling how many games slipped away from us after Joe went off – 8/10.
- Michael Ballack: Class act – 8.5/10.
- Frank Lampard: Gutsy, clinical, links to Ze German brilliantly which shows Steven Gerrard to be the fuckwit we all know him to be – 8/10.
- John Mikel Obi: Needs tp keep his nose clean in terms of red cards but a huge talent for the future who deserved more games – 7/10.
- Claude Makelele: The old boy did us proud this year but his pace is slipping away faster than Gordon Brown’s popularity and his passing and tackling give away his age. Good for another, final year on the bench – 7.5/10.
- Florent Malouda: Despite a slightly better end to the season has been one of the least committed and caring players I’ve seen at Chelsea. Not a patch on Arjen Robben – 4/10.
- Shaun Wright-Phillips: Shone for a short while when given his chance in the middle but confidence is very brittle and ability is highly variable. Too inconsistent for me – 5.5/10.
- Claudio Pizarro: Hopeless in every sense. Goodbye – 2/10.
- Andriy Shevchenko: Was on course to show us his real talent but just as the Africa Cup of Nations started he contracted another bout of Anderton Syndrome (aka Sicknote Disease) – 6/10.
- Salomon Kalou: Flashes of brilliance but lacking the intelligence at the moment that’s needed to step up and be in the same class as Messi or Ronaldo – 7.5/10.
- Nicolas Anelka: I think he’s world class and with the right coach will be a true superstar. I think Grant treated him abominably and that’s why we’ve not seen anywhere near the best from him yet. Selling him would be madness – 7/10.
- Didier Drogba: On his day the best striker in the world and possibly the best midfielder and defender as well. On his day. A complex and intelligent thinker and maybe that’s the issue, but his petulance and play acting have come forth again after the departure of Mourinho and that lets him down. His red card in the Champions League final was moronic. Future in doubt unless the new man can change his mind – 7/10.
Whatever people may think about Chelsea it is never boring, despite Grant nearly taking us to the land of boredom with his low-key style. I’ve quoted Pulp Fiction before but once again paraphrasing – this has been, without doubt, the single weirdest fucking season of my life. We’ve certainly not only been on the rollercoaster, there have been times when we’ve been outside the carriage, hanging on with our fingernails as we went round the spiral. I predicted a trophyless season when Grant took over and so it came to pass. But boy did he take us close to a level of glory unparalleled in our history (yes, Liverpool we do have one) and for that I can only be grateful and take my hat off to the man. We’ll doubtless never really know how much influence he had on our results and how much was down to the players, or Steve Clarke and Henk Ten Cate. But for most of us the final game was certainly further than we expected to get, and surely has given our players, club and fans the taste to go one better.
For now, it’s time to have a breather, especially us England fans and sit back and watch the Euros as neutrals, able to revel in the skill without committing any passion. It’s a chance to say thanks to everyone at Chelsea for pulling us from one emotional extreme to the other and to the players for getting as close as they did. It’s a chance for the blood pressure to settle and to enjoy the speculation and anticipation over the lucky man who will attempt to take us onto greater glories. Whoever it is, I’m sure they’ll get a song from day one.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!