Oh, Get a Grip!

I’m not surprised that normal service has resumed in the press over Chelsea as Roman Abramovich’s public show of disaffection with the Villa Park result has seemingly given the rowdy rotters something to bleat about. The muted whispers that greeted the match-day Guardian report that there’s trouble at the club (because Abramovich reportedly chased after Ronaldinho without José Mourinho’s consent) have now ballooned into loud celebratory guffaws. And the bookmakers, no slouches in reading the tell-tale signs, have shortened the odds against Mourinho facing the chop.

While I do not begrudge the frothing commentariat what is after all their usual dose of fleeting happiness over Chelsea’s momentary misfortune, I really sometimes wonder about the quality of some of our fans who joyfully hitch-hike on their bandwagon each time they ride through town. Time was when we as Chelsea fans used to take defeat with the equanimity of the rejected stone. But two league titles, three Champions League semi-finals, two Carling Cups and one FA Cup later, any sign of defeat is now a signal for mass suicide. Everywhere you look now, the overreaction is suffocating – an angry nation of knee-jerkers, fickle fans and fantasists falling over themselves to pick the team for the next game while calling for the manager’s head. The pessimists have won the bragging rights, but I just wonder for how long.

Frankly, there is no use telling anyone foolish enough to think Chelsea are out of the title race in the first week of September that they wouldn’t have long to wait to wolf down their wacky words, but it’s important to let them know that Abramovich is no fool. The man has a right, like every lover of his team and hater of defeat, to feel bad about the result; but to begin to read into his demeanour at the time a brooding cloud over Chelsea must be just plain silly. Abramovich did not storm out of the ground as some would have us believe. He actually went down to the away dressing room to console Mourinho and his men. Oh yes, he wasn’t happy; but he didn’t blank Mourinho or the players because they lost a game they dominated and should have won on another day. He was just being a fan – he was sitting there and watching his beloved team being beaten and he, like every true blue, found defeat hard to take.

Of course, we can come up with all sorts of excuses for this loss – Frank Lampard’s near-sudden absence disrupting our original game plan; the clear penalty against Shaun Wright-Phillips, which, if it had been given, would have most possibly changed the direction and outcome of the game; two new defenders coming into the side in such a historically difficult away tie; Mourinho’s new hairstyle and mellow mood being harbingers of bad luck. But when all is said and done, games like this where the underdogs perform as if on pills and the favourites unproductively batter their heads against the wall is standard fare every season. That’s why it’s football – essentially unpredictable and once in a while to be enjoyed by neutrals and those who root for the underdogs. Liverpool, Arsenal and any other team dreaming of the title know they will come up against their Villas sometime before the end of the campaign; but their prayers would be for such stumbles not to be at a decisive point during the season.

I think our own prayer has been answered, because our stumble (like that of Manchester United at Manchester City) has come early. Thus, we need not adorn our sackcloth. Rather, the coaching crew and players should be as clear-eyed and unsparing as possible in dissecting what went wrong. I believe this defeat has its benefits, not least the fact that it brings the team down to earth and makes everyone concentrate hard on the task at hand, instead of assuming they just have to turn up on a pitch anywhere and claim the points. But while I do not underrate the threat posed by Liverpool and Arsenal, I still cannot see beyond Chelsea and Manchester United for the title. So, as far as we’re still above United after five games, I don’t think we should be calling in the undertakers.

It’s Blackburn next at the Bridge. I look forward to seeing a proper reaction from the boys to this defeat.