The Guardian, Dominic Fifield: “Guus Hiddink bade farewell to Stamford Bridge with a polite bow to the home support and an end of season stroll from his players though for Roman Abramovich, watching from his executive box on high, there is still plenty to ponder. This game had drifted beyond the hour-mark when the most vocal section of the Matthew Harding stand broke off from their chants of “We want you to stay” aimed at the interim manager to offer their opinion on his potential successor. “You can stick your Ancelotti up your arse” rang out. The message was loud and clear.”
Daily Telegraph, Jason Burt: “Hiddink was afforded a guard of honour by the Chelsea players and proceeded to cha-cha down it with 85-year-old Roy Bentley in tow and also did a theatrical bow to the crowd after they chanted “we want you to stay” to him while they also urged Abramovich to “sign him up”.”
The Times, Kaveh Solhekol: ““I didn’t expect it,” Hiddink said. “The reaction of the crowd was a big surprise for me. I have had many second thoughts, sometimes third thoughts about leaving. When I see this reaction I feel sad to leave but that’s the reality.””
The Independent, Glenn Moore: “Throughout the afternoon a banner adorned the Matthew Harding Stand reading “Thanks Guus”, sentiments that were echoed in the match programme by John Terry and Bruce Buck. The chairman also wrote that the club hoped to make an announcement about their latest new manager “sooner rather than later”.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “Florent Malouda’s sixth league goal of the season and Nicolas Anelka’s 18th made it a good afternoon on the pitch as Stamford Bridge said farewell to Guus Hiddink.”
Have a Cigar (The Preamble)
Walking down the Fulham Road to the café had a strange air about it yesterday. Fans seemed to be suffering with a touch of the bi-polar syndrome we’re renowned for, in fact it may have even been tri-polar. For some it was the normal feisty confident display of bravado and blind faith so typical of football fans everywhere, for others the day had a beach feeling about it, with the result meaning little for either team. And for some the day had a slightly funereal feel about it, tinged with sadness at another season of missed chances and the inevitable farewell to Guus Hiddink and the nagging subconscious images of Manchester United picking up their third back to back Premiership trophy.
Still a stiff cup of tea and a large chicken kebab in the hubbub of Chelsea fan talk returned yours truly to the normal pre-match state of nervous excitement and warm glow gleaned from the sense of belonging. It’s always weird to feel the sense of commonality across such a broad spectrum of people, many of whom you probably wouldn’t like, or get on with were it not for the common bond of a love of Chelsea Football Club.
Welcome to the Machine (The Game)
First things first. I like Sam Allardyce. I think he’s much maligned in and out of the game as being some sort of footballing luddite, steeped in Charlie Hughes hoof the ball mentality that so ill served English football for so long. A bit of deeper study and analysis suggest a man prepared to try the latest fitness technologies and training methods, and a man who knows that different styles and the appropriate application of them are what create success. Bolton have become an established team because of Big Sam’s hard work, and Blackburn have survived the drop after the disastrous Paul Ince experiment and the parallels with our own Guus Hiddink stand out for me. Does anyone really think Newcastle would be in the mire if they had kept Big Sam and let him rebuild their Keystone Kops constructed basket case of a club?
Anyway I digress. The crowd tried to create a party atmosphere as the teams trudged onto the field, although the feeling that Blackburn may as well have been wearing Hawaiian shirts, flip flops and swimmers was hard to avoid, especially in light of the rather paltry travelling crowd… 200 maybe?
The team lists produced no surprises, bar the fact that our bench contained four of our kids, all under 21, in Mancienne, Stoch, Di Santo and returning wanderer Scott Sinclair. The fact that none got to actually come on is a tad weird as with 10 minutes remaining it was clear Blackburn were already making sandcastles, paddling hand in hand with partners and enjoying a celebratory drop of Champagne and puffing on the Montecristo cigar of survival.
After an early scare from which arguably Blackburn should have gone ahead, a lightning fast break from us on four minutes resulted in the superb Anelka playing a wonder cross into the box for our most recently (vastly) improved player Malouda to score with a header that was truly magnificent. If the mark of a good coach is getting players to believe in, and unlock their potential then Hiddink has a huge Malouda shaped key somewhere. The game settled a bit after the initial flurry, and by settled I mean Blackburn trying and failing to make any headway against our well marshalled midfield and defence whilst every now and then we would rip through them like the proverbial knife cutting through butter. To say we should have been five or six up by half time is not an understatement with chances going begging including a goal line clearance from Malouda, Lampard hitting the bar, Lampard unable to find his feet with just Robinson to beat and Ashley Cole also coming close. Blackburn also had a couple of attempts on goal, but it’s reasonably fair to say that Cech was rarely troubled. And it was good to see Cech actually favouring the quick throw out rather than the mindless hoof to Drogba. At 1-0 of course, and being a Chelsea fan, you’re always troubled and for me it just seemed to underline the season – apparently we have had more shots than any other team over the campaign. We’ve also converted the fewest in terms of percentages. And as the players went off at half time and Attillio, Tony and myself shared our thoughts over a beer, the sense was one of frustration that we weren’t winning by a country mile. Par for the course these days.
The second half started in much the same way as the first half but it was glaringly obvious that Blackburn were some way below us in terms of tactics and quality. Malouda, Anelka, Lampard and Drogba (now playing wide) seemed to be able to tear through Blackburn with consummate ease. The second goal, was a terrific strike from Anelka who had deserved at least a goal if not more. He was superb wherever he was on the pitch. We continued to have our chances with Blackburn at best mustering the odd half chance. Lampard was guilty of missing arguably the simplest of chances as yet again he seemed to be caught in two minds, on one occasion opting to pass to Anelka when he had a clear shot on goal, and then mystifyingly contriving to miss an open goal through a combination of baby giraffe feet and Chelsea bi-polar syndrome leaving him undecided whether to shoot or try and walk the ball in. All of this happened despite the referee Rob Styles doing a passable impression of a hirsute Tom Henning Ovrebo. On at least three occasions he played an advantage which didn’t come to fruition but didn’t return play to the foul. He booked Bosingwa for diving, which seemed reasonable considering the way he’d been bulldozed off the ball and of course flatly refused any penalty shouts from us.
As the game wore on, Blackburn tired and we knocked the car out of gear and gently cruised towards a routine victory, three points, another clean sheet. Blackburn off to pack their bags, whilst we turn our attention to a tricky or potential dead rubber game against a Sunderland team who may or may not be fighting for survival. Then of course before we can pack the buckets and spades, the hankie hats, roll up our trousers and recline in the deck chair, we have the matter of an FA Cup Final to keep our nerves slightly on edge for just that little longer.
Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Guus Tribute)
Midway through the second half and the Chelsea machine is firmly in cruise control, so the fans turn their attention to some traditional end of season chanting. We had the gallows humour of “We’re staying at home’, the cheeky chirpy Cockney chappy humour of ‘Let’s all laugh at Arsenal’, a few bursts of ‘You can stick Ancelotti up your arse’ but what stood out most of all was the standing chant of ‘We want you to stay, Guus Hiddink, we want you stay’ – Guus responded with a wave and a a bow all around the ground, which just made the singing even more forceful.
There is no doubt that Hiddink has transformed the side from a dispirited and de-motivated rabble under Luiz Felipe ‘Plan A only’ Scolari. We’ve seen Drogba almost back at his former marauding best, Cech has become more reliable (although still needs competition for his place – I hear Ross Turnbull is a target, which would be good) and Malouda has gone from zero to hero in three short months. We’ve looked more solid at the back, more controlled in midfield and more potent up front. All down to Guus. Without his intervention we would have struggled to be in the top four such was the decline in belief and fitness. I still believe we need to remove sentiment and drop some big players from the club, much as Alex Ferguson would do. But if Hiddink were to change his mind, then I would warmly welcome him on board full time. In honour of his Dutch origins, I’d even be prepared to say the word ‘also’ at the end of each sentence. Well done Guus and thanks for restoring the belief in the team and the fans. Whoever takes your place has a tough job living up to you, but you have finally laid the ghost of Mourinho and the new man will at least get the chance to start afresh without the baggage of Mourinho’s success hanging around his neck.
- Petr Cech – 7/10 – Little to do but looked more comfortable today and happily stopped hoofing.
- Jose Bosingwa – 7/10 – Solid if a little lackadaisical at times.
- Alex – 7.5/10 – Quiet, efficient and frankly worthy of his place. It’s hard to see Carvalho coming back in.
- John Terry – 7.5/10 – Such was the dominance at times he found himself in the midst of our attack. Great, as usual.
- Ashley Cole – 8/10 – A couple of misplaced passes early on were more than made up for by his invention and tigerish tackling. Linked superbly with Malouda.
- John Obi Mikel – 8/10 – Imperious, calm and generally very good. Him and Essien have developed a great rapport.
- Michael Essien – 7/10 – Steady and linked with Obi well.
- Frank Lampard – 7/10 – Seems to have a combination of bi-polar syndrome and the yips at the moment. Missed three sitters and took a shocker of a free kick. Everything else was fine though.
- Florent Malouda – 8.5/10 – The single most improved player in the squad. A superb header for the first goal and hard working everywhere else.
- Nicolas Anelka – 9/10 – World class. Great touch and vision, superb assist for first goal and well deserved second. Marvellous.
- Didier Drogba – 7/10 – Very quiet by his standards, maybe feeling a bit chastened by recent experiences. Seems happier to rotate between the central striker role and out wide with Anelka.
- Overall team performance – 8.5/10 – Professional and occasionally ruthless.
Man of the Match
This was tight between Malouda (again) and Anelka, but in the end with a great goal, assist and general overall contribution I am awarding this to Nicolas Anelka. Hopefully Ferguson will rest The Petulant One next weekend against Hull in anticipation of the Euro-Toss Cup final, and maybe Nico can nip in front with a goal against lowly Sunderland to win The Golden Boot.
What Shall We Use to Fill the Empty Spaces?
And so my friends, that ends my last Premier League review for this season. When we play Sunderland I’ll be on the golf course trying to make up for the dismal display of hacking that saw me roundly beaten 6&5 this week. It’s also mine, and many others’ last visit to Stamford Bridge for three months, although for me that will actually mean September as I’ll hopefully be sunning myself in the South of France for August in its entirety. I’ll do a post season review as a Chelsea Times Special in a few weeks.
Until then we have an FA Cup Final to occupy us and to close the season down properly. It’s a big chance for us to remember what winning feels like and to give us some hope for a more fruitful season next year. After the final we have weeks of speculation, media bollocks talk and of course the inauguration of a new manager. There’s plenty to keep us going with England World Cup qualifiers in June, plus the usual meaningless pre-season games against Hicksville, USA and whoever else might fancy a gentle run about. But it’s not the same is it? Whilst the Scolari days had some of us pleading for the season to end so we could move on, the post Cup Final weeks will still feel like an enormous void in life has opened up. How will the café survive without its matchday clientele? How will I occupy myself when losing at golf and not being able to check the scores on my phone to divert attention from my utter crapness? The season end might be a relief and a chance to draw breath and plan for the next campaign, but I can guarantee within two weeks I’ll be climbing walls of madness pining for the return of football. I’ve already re-bought the season ticket just to make sure I don’t miss out on the heady mixture of ecstasy and heartbreak that surely accompanies every Chelsea fan the world over.
Yesterday had the feel of a barbecue that had been booked on the rainiest day of the year and in true British style we have the damn thing anyway. It’s OK, but not quite the same as if it was sunny. The sun will shine on us again, we’re too good not be champions again one day. Manchester United say they want a fourth title on the bounce to steal a march on New Leeds, but surely we’ll be a sterner test next year, as will Liverpool and possibly even Arsenal. Next season will really be the time that we need to stand up and be counted again.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!