Thursday, September 20, 2007

No Way Jose

"Football fans across the country were in mourning tonight following confirmation that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho..."

No, no that's not right, we're not mourning at all because it's a rare victory for true football lovers. Not that I have anything particular against Mourinho, indeed unlike Wenger and Benitez for example, at least he has a personality, even if it had morphed from the ironic to the self-absorbed long before the end.

It's a moment to rejoice because of everything that Chelsea represent, and everything that tonight's announcement implies. Despite having taken Chelsea to 2nd and a semi-final in the Champions League, the much-loved Claudio Ranieri was cast aside to make way for the chosen one, a former Champions League winner who would surely take Chelsea not only to Premiership glory (as if Roman cared about that), but to European glory too. Abramovich was used to getting what he wanted; Mourinho was his executor, and he didn't expect to be disappointed.

As it transpired, Mourinho's final game in charge summed up the truth about Chelsea.....a medium-sized club pumped full of egos, shorn of fans and unable to cast aside the very best that Norway had to offer. (There were nearly as many at The Valley last night against the very best that Norwich had to offer.)

Chelsea were the first example of real foreign money being pumped into the game (and from one of Europe's richest men no less), but more worringly for genuine fans, the first concerted attempt to create a football 'brand', that unlike say Liverpool or Man Utd, was not rooted in a century of trophies and glory nights. Winning was the only goal, style was irrelevant.

As an away fan, when you walk into Anfield for example, the sense of tradition and passion is overwhelming. The fact that the stadium lies bang in the middle of one of the most deprived inner cities in the country merely adds to the aura of the place. Compare this to Stamford Bridge, as you stroll down the well-to-do Kings Road, past the half-empty hotel complex and into the characterless stadium that, at least when it hosted a dog track, had the semblance of some soul. Anfield brings memories of Hansen, Highway and Hunt; Stamford Bridge, Gordon Durie. Christ, even Kevin Lisbie scored a winner there.

There's nothing inherently wrong with this approach per se. After all, Charlton's 'brand' development has been a cornerstone of its own success, focusing on family values, affordable tickets and community spiritedness. But Chelsea appeared to decide that nastiness would be their cornerstone, from Peter Kenyon's unfathomably large ego to their flamboyant transfer policy that, as is now obvious, focused on the size of the fee, not the size of the heart.

Even Frank Lampard, apparently deep down a decent and philanthropic type, has been turned into an utterly charmless figure, booed even by fans of England. Now I can't even watch him celebrate a goal without wanting to wretch. That's what Chelsea have brought to English football.

For most of the 1980s and 1990s, Chelsea were a yo-yo club, their fans bowing to QPR in bragging rights, and playing their football in one of the most unpleasant and fearsome 'stadiums' in the land. As recently as the late 1980s, they played a midweek Division One fixture in front of less than 10,000 fans. Who could forget that vital 1-1 draw Charlton had against them in 1988 when Carl Leaburn went bonkers, and Paul Miller looped home an equaliser? I can't, I was sat in the Chelsea end (and a charming lot they were too).

They are not a big club, but by chance they happen to be situated amongst the most expensive real estate in the world. Cue a ticketing policy that was firmly focused upon attracting those that can pay, rather than those that cared. Last night's attendance was the inevitable result.

This is a pivotal moment for Chelsea. Abramovich has made it clear that he will not (and probably unbelievably cannot) continue to bankroll the club to the same degree. Whilst there are plenty of managers that would jump at the chance, why should they be any more successful than Mourinho, whose players patently adored him? Blackburn and Villa have already proved that you no longer have to go fear Chelsea, so Milan and Barcelona are unlikely to be quaking in their boots.

The newspapers in the coming days will no doubt be full of gossip about behind-the-scenes bust-ups and dressing room interference. It would be wildly optimistic to hope that Abramovich would walk away and leave the club destitute, but then again who could he sell it to who would take on the debt he is owed? Either way, let's just assume he's lost at least a sliver of hope that he can fulfil his footballing dreams in this fashion, and may one day spend his money elsewhere. In the meantime, let's revel in a rare moment of schadenfreude because tonight, football is the winner.


At 5:32 AM, Anonymous Ken J said...

Amen to that !

Nice one, NYA

At 10:47 AM, Anonymous sillav nitram said...

to be honest new york i quite liked him, i didn't like what lay behind him but for me he was a breath of fresh air compared to the, neil warnock apart, type of boring, dull, "game of two halves, light at the end of the tunnel", english manager and clearly made better comment even if it was inflated, than "snore, yawn", shearer, hanson, lawro and lineker", brigade who often used to send me to bed early.

At 2:23 PM, Blogger Chicago Addick said...

Welcome back NYA :) Great piece


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