“It’s just not fair,” seemed to be the biggest criticism a United fan could fling in to the face of a Chelsea fan on the attack, and it felt pitiful and weak. The press told us United were in decline whilst Chelsea were playing arguably the most efficient football the Premiership had ever seen. The opposition didn’t have a go at Chelsea, the same way they do against United, because it seemed a helpless task. This side were solid, capable of luring you in to a sense of false security, and then they’d pounce, score a goal or two, and it was game over. In the 2004-2005 season, they won an impressive 29 league games, but only on 17 occasions were they winning at half time. In fact, if the league was done on half time scores, Chelsea would have been some 8 points behind the leaders, not the 12 points in front that they finished. But that’s what made them so scary. They were so relaxed, so self composed, that they wouldn’t really turn it on until they needed to.
When they came to Old Trafford on our last home game of the season, already as Champions and receiving the Guard of the Honour, the difference in quality between the two sides was embarrassing. We played Carroll in goal, they had Cudicini; we played Silvestre at left back, they played Gallas; Fletcher was running down our wing, they had Joe Cole. Ouch. Despite going 1-0 up courtesy of a Ruud van Nistelrooy goal, there was only ever going to be one winner. Chelsea levelled the score before half time, and in the second half killed us off, the match finishing 3-1.
United have never been controlling in that sense. Any team on their day can beat Manchester United, which is illustrated by the fact that all of our four defeats in the league this season have come against sides outside the top 8. Whilst United at their best played far more exciting, devastating football than Chelsea, with few 1-0s in sight, Jose Mourinho’s men were scary to play against. They had great confidence that they were going to win every game and usually, that confidence didn’t go unfounded.
Things have changed at Chelsea since then, with Mourinho losing the title to United rather convincingly. Despite winning both domestic trophies, people began to question the self-proclaimed Special One, few of those doubters being Chelsea fans though. Whilst it is undeniable Chelsea suffered injuries (and not considerably worse than United, when you take in to account both Gary Neville and Nemanja Vidic were injured for longer than John Terry), surely a team that Mourinho had spent hundreds of millions of pounds creating should be able to withstand this? To think United had just brought in Michael Carrick the season preceding, whilst Chelsea had brought in arguably three of the best players in the World in their position, in the form of Ashley Cole, Michael Ballack and Andriy Shevchenko, there were far more Chelsea fans walking around with confidence. Whilst United fans sang of Chelsea’s success being “hollow” and them never winning three titles in a row, the press had Chelsea down as firm favourites to do just that.
However, Chelsea didn’t reclaim the title and the not-so-special-one has left, with Avram Grant taking his place. Chelsea now pose the biggest threat to United retaining their title, but the chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing” bellowing from the Chelsea fans when the blues were 1-0 down to rivals Arsenal a fortnight ago, show the fans don’t seem to rate their chances of reclaiming the Premiership as much as their rivals might.
So, for the first time ever on RoM, a Chelsea supporting feature writer, talking about Chelsea’s recent history is included on the blog, giving an honest appraisal of the highs and lows under the guidance of Roman Abramaovich, and our old friend, Peter Kenyon.
Rumour has it we were practically on the eve of bankruptcy when Roman stepped in to become our saviour. Cue a spending spree to alert the Premiership to a new era at The Bridge. To the press, a wankfest of ‘Loadsamoney’ headlines, to long time supporters, all a bit surreal as an almost orgasmic squad of players was being put together. The Tinkerman, however, did not fit this new multi-million pound, star-studded image and his days were very publicly numbered. As much as Ranieri had eventually grown on me during his time with us, I have to admit to being one of many who believed his constant tinkering would prevent any real challenge on the title. So, when Mourinho was tipped in the press as next in line to the ever revolving hotseat, it presented somewhat of a dilemma. On the one hand, here was this cocky Portugese bloke I’d already taken a disliking to from his Porto departure and yet, even before that infamous interview, there really did seem something special about him. Needless to say, my initial impression was soon as distant from my memory as the dippers last title.
First season under Mourinho couldn’t have gone better. Like a well-oiled machine, it didn’t take us long to find our momentum and it took an equally short space of time before the confidence Jose instilled in the team spread to the supporters. Somehow we just knew we’d win the games. The player’s heads were somehow held a little higher, they were playing with what seemed to be a newfound belief and defensively we were as tight as Wenger in the transfer market. As for TSO, here was a man who was showing us he knew how to win games. If we were deadlocked, his substitutions were inspired, if we were lacklustre in the first half, the impact of his team talk produced the desired effect. Little wonder we were all soon worshipping at the feet of the new messiah.
Second season and the changes in personnel were starting to reflect in our overall game. Not exactly sexy football, but still, Jose knew what he was doing. Subtle changes appeared in that belief too. Oh, we were still winning games, like dogs with bones in fact, just never knew when we were beat – and god help anyone who stood in our way. But it was a different type of belief now. Gone was the euphoria of winning a title most of us never thought we’d see in out lifetimes, to be replaced by expectancy. Short memories indeed.
Third season and it was getting harder to ignore the critics. Naturally we still defended our style of play, after all, it might not have been “edge of your seat” excitement, but it was effective wasn’t it? It was, wasn’t it? Clearly, the games were getting harder to win, irrespective of the opposition, every game became a constant battle – but we‘d fight to the death, be it the opposition, the press or authority. And as for not winning the title, well, it was hardly Jose’s fault our very expensive, but injury ravaged squad had to take on the press, them nasty officials who insisted on doing their jobs and a much improved Utd.
But, the writing was on the wall and following a summer of Chelsea’s usual very public discontent and a few very un-Jose like performances, the inevitable happened. And we mourned – also very publicly! Why oh why had our knight in shining silverware been so cruelly discarded after all he’d done for us? Was the Russian mad? Could he not see the fairytale the rest of us saw? Or did he, like some our critics feel the storyline had run it’s course and the happy ending wasn’t in this particular script?
Mourinho spent more money during his short time than most clubs would know how to spend in a decade – or longer in most cases. He’d already inherited a decent team and yet insisted on stripping it down and bringing in poorer players, but it was working, so why question it? Having spent the odd million or so assembling his squad, we were all terribly confused when the Russian suddenly closed his wallet. An evil plot to get TSO out no doubt. But how could this be so? After all, who else could motivate these heroes to get out there and battle on every week? Stroke of genius at work I say, I mean why use the whole squad (who clearly became bad players the minute they pulled on a Chelsea shirt, tut, tut) when the walking wounded sufficed? At least it excused us not winning the title.
And so the mourning went on while we eagerly awaited the next chapter. Cue Kenyon and Buck with a lovely little narrative about the new leading man who, we were reliably informed, was going to ‘take us to the next level’. So, the scene was set, the curtain raised and the main man takes centre stage – well actually, sat dribbling a little in the corner, but let’s not split hairs. Ok, so he looked like Shrek and had about the same amount of qualifications, but who were we to question Kenyon’s undoubted faith?
Maybe that seems a bit harsh and to be fair, Grant couldn’t have tried to step into a worse pair of shoes if he‘d tried. I mean from day one, we were comparing the iconic charisma, wit, confidence and self assurance of Mourinho to “uhhhh”. The players it seemed were making exactly the same comparisons as stories of planned departures swamped the headlines. But apart from the uncanny likeness to something from Star Wars, what exactly have we got to be unhappy about? Well, we have a manager brought in, not because of his managerial ability, not because he was some undiscovered diamond in Israel’s rough, but because he’s the Russian’s mate. A nodding dog with a vocabulary not much bigger, who mumbles his way through various interviews with insignificant drivel and the odd contradiction. On the touchline, he wanders around , presumed missing from the local nursing home. In fact, he appears to do very little unless you count exchanging the odd forward for a defender here and there (usually when chasing the game), which is usually met with flying boots, looks of confusion from the players and much jeering from the crowd. In short, he’s a charlatan and anyone with an ounce of grey matter can see he is to football what Harold Shipman was to medicine. To date, he’s brought a £15 million pound striker who’d need about the same amount to buy a goal and an unknown, who’s remained unknown to everyone but the physio so far. And 7 months in, does this ‘next level’ appear any nearer? Maybe Mr Kenyon would like to answer that for us?
The fact is, we’ve struggled to maintain the level we were at, never mind improve on it, mainly because players just aren’t performing under Grant. He clearly doesn’t offer much in the coaching department, his tactics confuse everyone and he isn’t managing the team.
To be fair to him, maybe the downturn even started during Jose’s second season and it was inevitable it’d come back and bite us on the arse eventually, irrespective of who took over. Despite the funds spent, we just haven’t got what we need where it counts. Take Drogba out of the equation and what have we got up front? Same with Joe Cole on the wings, who else have we got with creativity and a consistent end product? Even defensively now, both Terry and Carvalho have been played to within an inch of their lives. We might have got away with playing ugly and winning then, but even the law of averages is catching up with us now. However, having excused Grant the problems he inherited, its fair to say he hasn’t actually done anything about them. As for the players left behind by Mourinho, their poor form isn’t reflected in their attitudes. Definitely a throwback from his predecessor, Grant now finds himself with a group of Jose clones, complete with arrogant disregard for authority.
What we need is someone with something resembling a track record. Someone respected enough in the world of football to give the players a swift kick up their collective arses and remind them of their place. Someone who actually knows their football and is prepared to make wholesale changes to the squad if that’s what it takes. (NB. Tactical knowledge should be requested from all applicants). We simply don’t have that in Grant right now. Like it or not, he’s just never going to fit in at Chelsea. He’ll never be welcomed with open arms by anyone except maybe the opposition. The overwhelming feeling towards Grant from the home crowd isn’t hatred though, it’s apathy – basically he’s insignificant, unimportant and totally uninspiring.
Time to bring on the pantomime dames to tell us another story anyone?