From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.35 :: NO.14 :: Apr. 05, 2012


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Same old Chelsea

The European Cup Chelsea so nearly won in Moscow, when Terry missed in the penalty shootout. Could they win it at last this time? The odds seem against them but with Chelsea, you just never know. If they haven't staggered humanity, they can still surely stagger football, writes Brian Glanville.


John Terry (left) and Frank Lampard have effectively taken over the Chelsea ranks.

“Chelsea will stagger humanity,” declared a sports journalist in 1905, at the foundation of the club. Allowing for hyperbole, perhaps over the generations since then, they more or less have. Certainly there was something pretty staggering about their sensational 4-1 victory in the European Champions Cup against a Napoli side which had taken them to pieces in Italy; and threatened to do so again at Stamford Bridge in the first twenty minutes of a game that suddenly transformed when Didier Droga headed that masterly goal.

So Chelsea qualified with a side which might be said to have risen from the ashes of chaos and confusion. The appointment of the just 34-years-old Portuguese Andre Villas-Boas, supposedly with a three year project to rebuild an elderly team, had ended in disaster. Not that the famously impatient and impetuous Russian oligarch owner, the billionaire Roman Abramovich, have ever seemed likely to sit quietly for three whole years till things improved.

But Villas-Boas had, as they say, lost the dressing room, alienating such senior professionals as centre back and captain John Terry, incidentally the single home town player in the side. Treating with crude insensitivity such seasoned performers as the Brazilian centre back Alex, and the admittedly and famously impetuous striker or if you like right winger, Nicolas Anelka, dismissing them from first team training and even, petulantly, excluding them to the fury of their club-mates from the annual Christmas dinner. As time went by it became all too clear that the team could have done with both of them, and now Anelka has joined a Chinese club in Shanghai for a fabulous amount of money, while Alex has been snapped up by the former Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti for Paris Saint-Germain; Anelka's original club.

Stamford Bridge, which under the regime of the ever confrontational and contentious Chairman Ken Bates, so nearly fell into the hands of the developers — saved only by a sudden and dramatic collapse in the housing market — was once a huge coal heap owned by a railway company, dug out and made into an athletics stadium, when the newly formed Chelsea club, under the powerful aegis of H. A. Mears, whose heirs would control the club for decades to come — now became a soccer ground. Though athletics and, later, even grey hounds ran around the perimeter.

The trouble was, Chelsea just couldn't find consistency. They'd beat the best and lose to the worst. There was even a satirical 1930s song written by a popular comedian, “The Day That Chelsea Won the Cup.”

With lines such as, “On the day that Chelsea went and won the final, all the human race went on the wheel. “Another line declared, “A pigeon laid an egg upon the cat.” In fact Chelsea didn't win the FA Cup for 65 long and torrid years. Even then it came to a replay in Manchester after a draw with Leeds United (Bates owns them now) at Wembley. The solitary goal appearing to fly in off the chin of the robust defender, David Webb.

Chelsea's caretaker manager Roberto Di Matteo can only hold on to his job if he wins the UEFA Champions League.

But they did, in this epoch, manage to win the League Championship in 1954/55. The irony being that it was with a team which cost peanuts by comparison with the millions which Abramovich has lavished on the club. Sometimes in vain personal indulgences, such as the GBP30 million he spent on a faded Ukrainian striker, Andrei Shevchenko and the still more exaggerated GBP50 million he lavished on the Spanish international centre forward Fernando Torres, who simply never scores. Any more, poor fellow, than he did when missing an excellent chance after inexplicably being brought on as a substitute, deployed not in the middle but on the right wing, late in the Napoli second leg.

By sharp contrast, Ted Drake, once such a prolific Arsenal and England centre forward built up his Championship winning 1955 team with bargain transfers from 3rd Division clubs; which he knew well having previously managed Reading in the 3rd Division South. The one resplendent exception from these diligent journeymen was Roy Bentley, previously, if unhappily, at Newcastle United, who became a superbly effective deep lying centre forward, years before Nandor Hidekuti of Hungary showed how it was done for Hungary at Wembley, a hat-trick scorer, in November 1953. Not until 2005 did Chelsea do the trick again and they followed it up with victory the following season.

Bates, who, the former Chelsea Chairman Brian Mears told me, could have bought the ground for a relatively moderate sum couldn't afford it, became bitterly embattled with the Mears family and as we know, saw them, in their hostility, sell it to potential developers. Bates in due course built grandiose edifices behind the so called Shed terraces, and eventually when funds were running out sold the club to Abramovich for a reported GBP17 million. Since then the Russian has gone through one manager after another even including the renowned Special One Jose Mourinho, who had led Chelsea to steady success. Now the temporary incumbent is the ex-player Roberto di Matteo but Terry and the senior players seem to be calling the shots.

The European Cup Chelsea so nearly won in Moscow, when Terry missed in the penalty shoot out. Could they win it at last this time? The odds seem against them but with Chelsea, you just never know. If they haven't staggered humanity, they can still surely stagger football.

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