This week’s Chelsea Times was going to be a pleasant stroll down nostalgia avenue, with a few bits about the game in the Nou Camp or Camp Nou or whatever it’s called today, plus a bit on the Fulham (North Putney) game from last weekend. It was right in line with the Chelsea Times policy of accentuating the positive side of being conjoined to our enigmatic mistress, Chelsea FC.
I made an editorial decision to keep my powder dry on this week’s edition though and wait until after Wednesday’s showdown so as to include what I had convinced myself would be a glorious inset on our march to a revenge match against Manchester Village. Sorry United. Hmm… I rather like the first one though. Anyway, as it happened it seems my choice was prudent as it has given me the chance to produce a dedicated issue on the travesty/debacle/mugging/cock-up (delete as appropriate) that occurred against East Catalonia… sorry… Barcelona.
I’ve had just under 24 hours to digest the events of last night, so hopefully can now provide a reasonably objective and philosophical view on the night we never lost, but were beaten in the Champions League 2009.
I don’t think many were surprised by Hiddink’s selection for the game, especially in light of the success the Anelka, Drogba and Malouda triumvirate showed against Fulham. It seemed Guus, like many was confident that these three would shine in spearheading our attack against the flair and skill of Barca’s flamenco football. We all knew Barca may be slightly more suspect at the back without Marquez and Puyol, and if we were to show more of ourselves in attack then few can doubt we have much better than this currently. A midfield of regulars Ballack, Essien and Lampard could sit comfortably in front of a proven back four. There were no real surprises from Barca either, bar the no-show of ex-Gooner Henry through injury. We all knew this would be no cake walk, but after the display of stoicism and pragmatism at their place, we also knew we could defend like we used to under The Portuguese Gentleman formerly of these parts. A review has already been covered by our fearless editor so there’s no need to cover the minutiae of the game here. Suffice it to say the game ebbed in our direction rather more than flowed in theirs, but if we are to believe the club, this was all part of our Dutch master’s game plan. If so then it was a work of art to compare with anything slapped on a piece of canvas by Messrs Rembrandt and Vermeer. As containment goes both legs of the semi-final can be held up as glorious exhibitions of that genre of footballing art.
But of course, as with any great culturally shared experience, such as your first hearing of a particular album or the first time you visit a gallery and actually engage with some aspect of either to the point of wanting to tell the world, there will always be the bits you aren’t keen on, or those that turn you away from or onto something. The game was no different, with bits that neutrals could enjoy such as the two goals, both from glorious strikes, arguably from players not renowned for having that as their primary quality. Novice football watchers could revel in the skills shown by Malouda (yes, Malouda, looking every inch the player to keep now), Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Terry in their respective roles. But just what would the average viewer make of the game’s key incidents, each in itself a potential turning point in either of the combatants’ fortunes?
Key Incident 1 – Essien’s wonder strike from 30 yards resulting from a fortunate deflection from a Lampard cross. Quite simply a strike of awesome power and beauty combined.
Key Incident 2 – The ‘Malouda’ incident. Early in the game of course, but so blatantly an offence that should have incurred a penalty, one could only wonder if this was the start of a conspiracy. I don’t for one minute think so, and prefer to blame Captain Cock-up, rather than any ‘Spooks’ internal UEFA conspiracy. Quite frankly no organization so full of air-headed, power crazed, bureaucratic fuckwits could execute anything like this without shooting themselves in the foot somewhere. Believe me, if this was in anyway true then I’m sure The Sun or similar would revel in exposing such sleaze.
Key Incident 3 – The Drogba penalty claim. Again, this seemed so clear to me, that I’m sure in the Premier League even perennial Chelsea hater Mike Riley would have struggled not to give it. But Drogba has that reputation, and be honest… are you really surprised the ref ignored our appeals? Some might say it’s karma, or fate repaying us. Bollocks, it’s purely the fear of a ref being harangued for being conned by a man whose 15 stone frame topples more easily than straw in a gale force wind.
Key Incident 4 – Drogba’s glaring miss. Unforgivable for anyone claiming to be a world class striker. The fact that this was the second time in a week against the same keeper makes it imperative that we get a young destroyer in place, similar to Torres or Arshavin next season and quick. If he scores then 93rd minute goals are irrelevant unless preceded by an earlier equalizer.
Key Incident 5 – Abidal’s red card. It could have tugged the tiger’s tail, but instead it was scarcely noticeable judging by the way Barca continued to dominate possession. I was reminded of England versus Brazil in 2002, when despite Brazil being down to 10 men, England did not get a single shot on or off target. Stupid accusations of Anelka diving are wide of the mark. His heel was clipped, but it did NOT warrant a red card, nor did Anelka even attempt to appeal. The ensuing free kick was Lampard at his worst. Scuffed and wide. I could have cried. I still don’t know why Ballack, who is far more reliable in beating walls didn’t get the chance.
Key Incident 6 – Pique’s blatant handball. A ‘stick on’ penalty and by not giving it the referee has just re-written the FIFA/UEFA/FA handbooks on what constitutes a handball offence worthy of a penalty. I will watch with interest the next time something similar happens in our domestic league. As Souness said, ‘How can he NOT give it?’
Key Incident 7 – Iniesta’s equalizer. Essien cocked up here. A ball that should have been row Z was half-heartedly stabbed at, maybe through fatigue. If that’s the case then why didn’t Hiddink recognise this and swap him for Obi for the last five minutes? Whatever… it was a great strike and much has been said about it being their first… but it only takes one good one in order to score. We forgot that for a split second and a huge price has been duly paid.
Key Incident 8 – The Eto’o incident. The shot was goal bound. Valdez may have saved, but again we’ve seen these given week in and week out in our own league. Ballack’s reaction was over the top, but utterly understandable in light of the fact that in all likelihood this could be his last shot at a major honour.
Each or any of those going a different way might have influenced the game for better or worse as far as Chelsea are concerned. But what’s done is done and the brutal fact is that we were punished for not taking our chances as well as poor refereeing decisions. We gambled, nearly walked away with the fortune, but the house always wins. We staked the lot on Blue, but the ball fell to Yellow.
I would at this point question Guus’s tactics in one area. Substitutions. Drogba was injured, or feigning. The relevance is that just like the boy who cried wolf, the wolf will eventually get you. The wolf this time was Guus, who must have thought that Drogba was genuinely crocked. Time for a sub then… but Belletti? My problem here is the message that sent Barca. Clearly the message was that we intend to hold what we’ve got, and for me that was yet another shake of the large feline’s tail. With Kalou and Di Santo on the bench, why not give a further weakened Barca defence another player to watch? Belletti to his credit did well, but another chance to score was spurned by his poor touch. Then with 90 on the clock, and two possible substitutions left, why not use both, perhaps Essien for Obi and Ivanovic for Ballack? Fresh legs and maybe fresh impetus for the dying vestiges of the game. I don’t doubt for one minute our Branners would have hurled himself into Iniesta’s path at the moment of our execution.
Penultimately, some notes on the post match reaction across the media and football world. Firstly, one odd thing… I did not receive one gloating, baiting text from any of the normal fan rivals I know. Not one. Perhaps they could envisage their own feelings had it been their team. Who knows? The media it seems have been waiting since Mourinho’s departure for the chance to pounce on another bad Chelsea story, and enter stage left, pantomime villain Didier Drogba. Can you hear the collective booing and hissing? I understand Drogba’s reaction borne of frustration and culpability, and yes it was over the top. I also know that had I been a player I would have decked the ref and had a little spell in one of Lizzie’s less luxurious establishments. I want my heroes to be passionate, caring and emotional. I do not want footballers to be like Schumacher, Woods or Hamilton, automaton-like press trained monkeys. In general the printed press seem to be giving the fairer coverage, maybe because their depth of understanding and contact with football is, by legacy, that much closer. They need their spies and moles to get the stories that sell the print and hence they probably have a more insightful knowledge of the machinations of the footballer’s mind. It’s rare for me to praise the press but today, on balance, they seem to have been much fairer than normal. And that includes serial Chelsea despiser Richard Williams of The Grauniad. Of course Patrick Barclay has yet to comment so expect that to change
But the broadcast media get today’s vote as anti-Chelsea vultures.
TalkShite were nothing short of disgraceful. How happily they paraded their single brain celled presenters and pundits to berate Drogba and Terry whilst dismissing any balanced caller’s viewpoint as ‘opinion’ rather than their alleged facts. It was sickening to hear Ian Wright reinventing himself as the ‘referee’s friend’ in an act of hypocrisy only bettered by John Major preaching family values whilst lobbing his sausage up Edwina Currie’s alley. And as for the idiot alongside him… I’ve trod in less vile dog droppings. Bias is fine, but make it educated and evidence based. It was like someone had decided to broadcast Football 365 over the air. And as for the pompous, pious callers complaining about Drogba’s on-camera language… words fail me. ‘Footballer swears’ as a headline competes with ‘Pope is Catholic’. Was it Drogba’s fault, or the fault of the headline seeking Sky cameraman shoving it in his face? Sky went looking for the pound of flesh, and they got exactly what they wanted, and then re-broadcast it in order to generate more shock and complaint, and allow their trained simpleton, the ever patronising Richard Keyes to feign his horror and indignation at such filth. The BBC were slightly more measured, and Simon Brotherton actually mentioned Terry’s Barca dressing room sportsmanship, but that was quickly set aside never to be mentioned again, lest it show us in a better light. As far as the media goes, maybe it’s time to don those old tin hats again for a few months, until of course the whole thing starts again next season and freshly sharpened knives wait in readiness for the next evil act emanating from Stamford Bridge.
To summarize then, it was an awful night that compared to last year’s failure in Moscow. We can blame the referee as much as we like, but to win games you have to be brave in attack as well as resolute in defence. If we’d taken our chances then penalties would have been a side issue rather than a major talking point. Even the 1-0 would have rendered the debates fairly trivial. We’re maybe cursed as Lampard alluded, but I don’t hold with that fairy story bollocks either. Yes, you need luck, but that forms just part of the equation, and hard work and bravery is equally part of the mix that creates success. As Lee Trevino once said when accused of being lucky, ‘Yeah, and the more I practice, the luckier I get’… and the more we try to win the Champions League and the Premier League the luckier we will get.
For me, it’s part of the journey that’s needed to achieve true greatness, a journey that requires stout hearts and stubborn minds. The hoary old maxim about having to taste failure in order to relish the success still rings true. Since Mourinho left, we have been in a stormy sea, pitching violently from one crisis to another, deploying successive skippers who have failed to gain the confidence of the crew, until Admiral Guus was piped on board. He has steadied the ship with an experienced hand on the tiller, guiding us towards calmer waters where we can hopefully recruit the right man to lead us out into the squalls and storms of future thrilling adventures and ripping yarns. This year, let’s just get the winning habit back starting with the FA Cup. It’s one more trophy than Liverpool or Arsenal will see this year.
No apologies to Messrs Ulvaeus and Andersson for the small amendment…
The gods may throw a dice
Their minds as cold as ice
And someone way down here
Loses something dear
The winner takes it all
The loser has to fall
It’s simple and it’s plain
Why should I complain.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!