Stamford Bridge is not happiest place around London these days, and certainly not as safe as a fortress that it used be. The Mourinhos and Renieris have left. The only thing that seems stable about the club right now is its Russian owner.
It was only the 19th of May last year that Chelsea Football Club experienced its most exuberant moment. Lifting the Champions League was one momentous feat for Roberto Di Matteo. Only if he knew that he will become the victim of the owner’s over-used sack policy by October the same year. His sacking sent reverberations down Europe. All the managers (if any) with a Chelsea dream were fearing whether God had heard their voices.
This season, under Di Matteo Chelsea were cruising at the top of the table. 4 points ahead of United, playing the best football that the club had ever played and they certainly were serious title contenders. They had added class and flamboyance to the squad.
What happened suddenly? What went wrong with the intellectual functioning of Abramovich?
He made it clear that he wanted a more expansive style of football at the club, which was probably the right way forward for the club. But the fact of the matter is that when any team in any sport is suddenly changing its root style of play, mistakes are bound to happen. It is something new for heaven’s sake. You just can’t have an automated adaptation mechanism till the time you are human. For that matter Chelsea had adapted to this new style of play faster than usual.
Let’s go back to the Manchester United game at the Bridge in November. Till halftime United were 2 goals ahead without any kind of trouble, thanks to 2 identical strikes by Van Persie. Those who were watching the match would remember how Chelsea were caught out at the back by the pace of Valencia. But that was only the first half. Chelsea learnt from their mistakes and did not let anything like that happen in second half. Mata’s moment of brilliance and Ramires’ header brought the Blues back to level terms.
Big games are like pressure cookers in the English game. If something stops happening for some time, the pressure on the players increases by a factor of 10. After Chelsea’s equaliser, things stopped happening. The cooker had to explode. Chelsea’s part of it did. Two red cards were absolutely not what was expected or for that matter, deserved by Chelsea. Mind you, if Chelsea had won that day, their story at the top of the table by now would have been something else.
Everything that followed was a consequence of what transpired against Manchester United. 4 games without a win and Di Matteo’s beheading was just round the corner.
Now let’s go back to the bigger picture; was Abramovich right in sacking Di Matteo? Well, obviously he wasn’t. Yes, Chelsea were in sort of a ‘mini’ crisis at that time, but the fact that Abramovich doesn’t seem to understand is that more things change, more they stay the same. Any Chelsea supporter will instinctively grow angry at the way the club is being ‘owned’.
By the players that Chelsea had bought in the summer, it was clear that Chelsea had opted for flair. Hazard, Marin, Oscar and Azpilicueta are players that certainly add to the speed and depth of any squad. So Abramovich had made a statement by splashing all the cash, and all of this came after Chelsea winning the Champions League.
The Fernando Torres dilemma
Most people don’t realise how big Fernando Torres is in this Chelsea setup, in a counter-productive way. If you look at top teams these days, there is always this one player who is relentlessly getting the ball in the back of the net. United with their Van Persie, City with Aguero and Liverpool with Suarez. Till the time Demba Ba was signed, Chelsea were virtually playing without a striker.
If you analyse the problem carefully, you will notice that all of this manager chaos at Chelsea arose after Fernando Torres stopped scoring for Chelsea. Yes, he has more than a dozen goals this season but he has not scored when it really mattered. At first he complained about Chelsea’s speed during build up play. Agreed, some players in the old Chelsea midfield really slowed the game down, but now that he has Mata, Hazard and Oscar behind him, there is nothing left to complain about. He still somehow manages to not score which is quite mind-boggling.
He is the highest scoring midfielder in English football history and is closing down on Sir Bobby Tambling’s record. A great leader with a lot of mental resolve. These are just some of the points that prove how big an asset he is to the current Chelsea squad, but still, he remains unnoticed in the eyes of the Russian owner. No contract extension has been proposed yet.
If he leaves Chelsea this summer, it’ll be equivalent to Liverpool selling Gerrard or for that matter Manchester United sacking Sir Alex. If Ashley Cole can get his contract extended then why can’t the same be for a selfless serving patron who has served Chelsea for more than ten years and has committed himself to help Chelsea lift every trophy possible. Frank Lampard is Chelsea’s 21st century icon. Frankly, this is not even a dilemma, I am sure that everyone who is related to English football would agree to the fact that Chelsea should offer him a new contract.
The final say
Only time can tell what will happen at Chelsea in the next few months. Will Chelsea sign a replacement for the un-replaceable Frank Lampard? Will Chelsea bring in yet another interim manager? And finally, will Fernando Torres ever return to form?
These are questions that no one can answer right now but it’s only a matter of months before things start unfolding at Chelsea; will it be for better or for worse is what matters.Published 27 Feb 2013, 22:47 IST