Why Oscar deserves respect for his Chelsea career
Oscar’s Champions League goal against Juventus in 2012 – the instinctive touch to simultaneously escape the attention of Leonardo Bonucci and a nonplussed Andrea Pirlo, and the subsequent curling finish into the top corner past a flailing Gianluigi Buffon – was a thing of beauty. The goal came in Oscar’s first start for Chelsea and ranks as one of the club’s best ever European goals.
It was no surprise, then, that following the Brazilian’s £60 million move to Chinese Super League club Shanghai SIPG, Chelsea fans chose to relive that particular moment. The goal was significant not so much in the context of the match, which Chelsea drew 2-2, or indeed the season’s Champions League campaign, which ended in humiliation for the club, but in that it was seen by some as Oscar’s ‘peak’ for Chelsea.
Oscar for supporting actor in the 2014/15 title campaign
Viewed in retrospect, often during a spell of poor form for Oscar, it birthed the bizarre sentiment that the Brazilian’s Blues career went on a downwards spiral ever since that magical strike on his full debut. However, if several weeks of the 2014-15 campaign could be condensed into a 10-second YouTube clip, that rather than the Juventus goal should be the supporters’ enduring memory of an extremely talented footballer who didn’t quite fulfil his potential at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea’s title-winning 2014-15 Premier League campaign had a lot of heroes. Diego Costa was the club’s top scorer and had a stellar debut season. Cesc Fabregas was the conductor of an attacking orchestra that produced some of the club’s best football under Roman Abramovich. Eden Hazard added more game-defining impact to his mesmeric dribbling and deservedly claimed the PFA Player of the Year award for dragging his team over the line.
John Terry defied his critics and time itself as he played every single league game and arguably the best football of his career at the age of 34 to lead Chelsea to the title. Jose Mourinho, of course, received high praise for putting it all together.
However, Chelsea would not have won the 2014-15 Premier League title without Oscar. That is not to say that his impact over the course of the season necessarily matched that of the players mentioned above, but he was a crucial piece in the jigsaw during the Blues’ dominant spell in the first half of the season that arguably won them the Premier League title.
When Cesc Fabregas made his shock move to Chelsea from Barcelona in the summer of 2014, there was a lot of debate over how he would fit into Mourinho’s plans, and whether the Portuguese would consider playing him in the central midfield position.
Oscar in the No. 10 role
Above anything else, it was Oscar’s unique skill-set as a no. 10 that allowed that to happen. While on the surface, the Brazilian’s Chelsea career appears to be a collection of rare ‘YouTube’ moments interspersed with seemingly anonymous displays, Oscar was the very antithesis of a ‘YouTube player.’
Oscar is an extremely intelligent footballer in a tactical sense, which partly explains why Mourinho was so convinced that he should be the team’s no. 10 ahead of Juan Mata, who was sold to Manchester United. In the 4-2-3-1 system Mourinho primarily used during the 14/15 season, Chelsea’s best football often came from forcing turnovers in the opposition’s half due to Oscar and Diego Costa’s relentless pressing.
The Brazilian’s intelligent pressing, tenacious tackling and willingness to cover ground allowed Mourinho to play Fabregas in a deeper role. The Spaniard, in turn, acted as an effective conduit between the Blues’ defence and attack, and was able to find Diego Costa with incisive early passes time and again during the course of the season.
Oscar was indispensable in maintaining the balance of a side that, even during the first half of the season, often betrayed signs of deeper systemic flaws. His role in Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1 was not that of a traditional no. 10, the creator-in-chief of the team, although he was judged as such and criticised as a result for not contributing enough by way of attacking output. Instead, the Brazilian was the facilitator who enabled the more creative players to thrive and play without inhibition.
However, it was not just his defensive contribution that stood out in 2014-15. Oscar was also crucial to much of Chelsea’s attractive football in the first half of the season – the quick combinations, swift counter-attacks and clinical finishing.
For a player often accused of lacking creative output, his stunning goals against Crystal Palace and Queens Park Rangers, or his assists for Fabregas and Hazard against Palace and Manchester United respectively suggest that he was more than capable of helping break down opposition defences.
The title-winning campaign was far from perfect and the team often showed symptoms of an underlying problem, primarily the lack of mobility and defensive ability in the midfield double-pivot of Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic. Unfortunately for the club, Mourinho’s fix to the issue was typically short-term and involved throwing a third body in midfield at the expense of Oscar – Ramires at the start of the season and occasionally Kurt Zouma towards the end.
By that time, however, the Blues were well on their way towards winning the title. In a very real sense, Oscar’s protection of the central midfield duo of Fabregas and Matic allowed Mourinho to successfully attempt, temporary though it may have been, a very fine balancing act that laid the foundations for the club’s first Premier League title in five years.
No place in Conte’s new formation
Antonio Conte has since come in with a fresh philosophy that has brought much optimism after the club’s worst ever season under Abramovich. However, much like Juan Mata and Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1 at Chelsea, Oscar had no real place in Antonio Conte’s 3-4-3.
The Italian did try to use the Brazilian as a central midfielder, mainly in pre-season, but realised he did not quite fit that role. The ‘inside forward’ roles of Eden Hazard and Pedro/ Willian do not suit Oscar either, and the Brazil international was unfortunately the cloth that was not needed in the Conte-tailored suit.
There is no question that Oscar’s time at Chelsea is a tale of unfulfilled potential, although it is difficult to put a finger on why the Brazilian was unable to consistently produce his best football. The sheer amount of football he played in his first three seasons at Stamford Bridge, all without a summer break, could perhaps be an explanation. So too his role within the team, which involved hard graft and compromise to accommodate better attacking players, or the fact that he was never truly the primary playmaker in any Chelsea side.
Whatever the case may have been, Oscar’s contributions to the club, particularly during the 14-15 season, are not to be scoffed at or dismissed without thought. As the Brazilian bids adieu to Chelsea, his career at Stamford Bridge is deserving of not just a look back at the few seconds of magic against Juventus and a momentary wistfulness at what might have been, but also a celebration of what was a successful Blues career.
(Video Courtesy: TVAT Blue YouTube Channel)