Thursday, 15 March 2012

Enemies of football 4 Napoli 1

A quality night of tension, frustration and elation which must rank as one of the most memorable Chelsea nights on the European stage. The result was well deserved and hopefully has poked a huge v-sign towards those who would have preferred no English teams left in Europe if it meant Chelsea reaching the quarter final stage. It was interesting to hear that the ITV commentator shouted, “take that!” when Napoli pulled a goal back.

The opening twenty minutes were pretty woeful and worrying. Chelsea missed a glorious opportunity to open the scoring and then Petr Cech kept us in the game with some stunning saves.

We scored against the run of play but it only reinforced a view I have had for a while – we still have quality in the side but have simply lacked direction and confidence.

Although the comeback was fantastic this really was a team who we should have (on paper at least) not have struggled against so it is hard to put it on a par with previous famous nights against Arsenal, Barcelona and Liverpool… but this was chalk and cheese compared to some of the dross that was served up earlier on in the season.

Drogba, Lampard, Terry, Cech and Cole in particular were outstanding. Substitutions were perfectly made too with Torres coming on for the hapless Sturridge well timed. The ball seemed to stick to his feet like glue (although he still appears timid in front of goal). And as per usual as soon as I started moaning at how ineffective Ivanovic had been he popped up with a stunning winner!

Well done RdM – so far the romantic vision of hoping you succeed is working a treat which obviously means we will now fail to beat Leicester (only kidding!)

As long as we steer clear of the Spanish sides we should have a good chance of progressing to the semis which is where the real action begins. We are behind you Chelsea – come on you Blues!

Monday, 12 March 2012

Chelsea 1 Stoke City 0

The romantic in me would love nothing more than to see Roberto di Matteo succeed at Chelsea Football Club and the managerial rhetoric from him since he took the role of caretaker manager has been exactly right. The team needs wins at the moment and that is the objective we should aim for. Pretty football for the “neutrals” who would realistically rather see us relegated than succeed can come later.

On the pitch Chelsea were extremely unlucky not to have scored a hatful on Saturday having hit the post and bar three times. The confidence is not quite there yet and in the first half I counted at least five “unforced errors”. This is where you have to draw the line at how much blame can be apportioned to a manager when mistakes occur. A few stray passes here and there plus a silly offside from a throw-in broke up the tempo of the side after a very bright start. We then had to grind out a win but the main thing was to obtain the three points.

The trouble with playing teams like Stoke is that their main aim away from home is to escape without a loss – so going down to ten men did little to change their tactics. I was very pleased to see Roberto change to a more attacking formation after this.

Am looking forward to the Napoli game and I believe that we can turn it around. We need the Chelsea fans to get behind the team and despite all the negatives behind the scenes at Stamford Bridge on the pitch the players need our support. Against all odds we may displease those who want us to fail. It’s us against them. Noone like us and we don’t care.

Come on Chelsea!

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Valky's Rant Part 2

Timing, as they say is everything. If someone could find a football club that was worse at this special skill then they should show me the evidence. Whether it was the building of the East Stand which nearly bankrupted the club just when we were in the middle of one of our most successful phases on the pitch in the early 1970s to implementing price hikes for tickets during our current poor run of form (£70 to watch Napoli at home!) the list seems long and endless.

Just as Gavrilo Princip’s assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was seen as the symbolic watershed incident that caused the First World War to break out, so the turning point on the pitch this season was the QPR away game. In both instances fundamental long-term problems that had been bubbling under the surface came to a head and lead to hugely negative consequences.

Chelsea had been on a decent run up until that point – but the red cards for the Chelsea players seemed to drain the energy out of the side in subsequent games despite a valiant effort on the pitch at Loftus Road (and yet again a match which contained more dubious decisions against our club). Even worse, the John Terry incident with Anton Ferdinand has overshadowed our season (no pun intended) and cast doubt on the decision making of our players.

It is also hard to fathom why we are announcing a stadium move when the club is moving backwards and struggling to fill out Stamford Bridge for our less lucrative matches. Also, why even discuss such a matter when the season is well under way which only causes unnecessary distractions? The murky wording of each statement from the club regarding the CPO not only makes the administrators sound like they do not trust the fans but increases the apathy of those regulars who love Chelsea towards those running our off-the-field affairs. To say that the club promises not to move outside a three-mile radius from Stamford Bridge before 2020 immediately only makes one think that the club actually wants to move further than three miles away from Stamford Bridge after 2020!

Although it seems the club wants to start adhering to the Financial Fair Play rules (whatever that means in this day and age) it is difficult to understand how this will possibly work when we keep spending money on average players who are unlikely to recoup their worth in shirt sales. Torres has become an embarrassment – probably not his fault (last season for instance I found it quite obnoxious of us to play him against Liverpool on his debut – he has not recovered since and there was little upside for him to be in the side against his old club) and one really has to question what the long-term aim of the club is.

And this brings us on to another dilemma – do those who run the club really understand enough about footballing matters? What are our long-term aims on the pitch? We seem to have lost our way and part of the problem is the secret shroud that seems to surround our owner who says little in public. I still have images in my mind of Bobby Campbell continuously sitting near Roman Abramovich in his box and dread that we have relied on his advice – it would be akin to my grandmother advising me which computer I should be investing in (and most likely being told to use a pen and a piece of paper instead).

I strongly feel that if the club stopped this policy of always looking for the big name signing and looked closer to home; developed our youth team and gave youngsters more of a chance in our first team then fans would accept the odd failure. (Speaking of which – why are our reserves and youth team doing so badly?) In fact, if we announced that we would not be making any major signings for the next few seasons and aimed to grow organically then moving one step backwards to go two steps forwards could be a popular decision. If we do have to sign new players then we should not be aiming for big names (look how Real Madrid failed in their hunt for trophies five years ago despite having the players such as Beckham and Zidane capable of selling thousands of shirts on their books) but should be concentrating more on men who are team players and have potential (and pace!)

The moral of the story is this – don’t try to make big plans for expanding your stadium when the club is going backwards; don’t try to find short-term solutions to long-term problems; when working at a football club have the majority of those in charge have some idea about footballing matters; and finally have a long-term strategy in place that focuses more on what we need to do to be successful on the pitch! (Oh, and don’t get rid of managers like Jose Mourinho!)

Valky's Rant Part 1

Football is a fairly unique job. It is one of the few where managers are likely to earn less than those they manage and where serious misdemeanours from those at the bottom end of the food chain are most easily forgiven. You only need to look at players like Carlos Tevez (I have so little respect for the player that I find it hard to even type his full name) to see that you can even boycott attending training sessions and move to another country but still have the door left open for you to return to the first team. Closer to home, it seems strange that our currently injured captain is still in contention for the first team considering he has a court appearance looming for alleged racist behaviour that we all hope is just a huge misunderstanding.

And here lies one of the biggest problems with modern day football – the huge contracts players demand result in clubs being forced to bend to their every whim for fear of causing alienation. A player who has pound signs in his head rather than passion in his heart for what is ultimately a sport (and should never be classed as a business) knows that all he has to do is toe the party line when he is out of favour for team selection, see out his time and he can effectively retire or join another club on similarly ridiculous terms on a free transfer. Witness some players who would not grace the pitch in The Championship who have managed to attract huge salaries in vastly inferior leagues in Asia. Clubs also fear that if a player is alienated and makes his feelings known out loud (footballers have an excellent way of letting the public know when they are unhappy) then there is no way they could recoup cash from the original transfer fee should they wish to sell him. Who in their right mind would realistically wish to sign a player like Tevez at the moment? That is why Manchester City is forced to bend over as at the very worst if he returns to the first team he may be a more marketable sell and the club can cut their losses at a better level.

So the point I come to is this – with the model that Chelsea have at the moment there is little scope for serious progress for all but the strongest of managers. You still look towards Sir Alex Ferguson as the best example of how to deal with players who spoil the applecart – from Beckham to Stam (to Tevez!) there have been few sales that he must regret. Look how he has managed the longevity of players such as Giggs or Scholes who put the efforts of many younger Chelsea first teamers to shame!

Of course we can only speculate what is really going on behind the scenes at our club. Ultimately AVB was inconsistent in his strategy and probably did not realise what he was letting himself in for. It probably did not help that he inherited a squad with many players in the twilight of their careers who are still popular with the fans despite not quite producing on the pitch (with the exception of JT).

From a psychological point of view it is unlikely that many senior players would find it easy to take orders from someone who is the same age as them. But above all I strongly feel that the depth of the squad is not good enough. Chelsea has always needed decent wingers and we have never quite managed to replace that Duff/Robben combination that worked so well with Joe Cole keeping them on their toes. After a promising start at the club Malouda has faded away and our central midfield feels very weak with Meireles adding little to the side. Ramires has lost his way (although this probably reflects the lack of confidence in the team as a whole) and Lampard is not the same player he was – but still manages to be our top scorer! Luiz seems to be popular only because he has silly hair and there has rarely been a defender who needs his job description renamed to a more suitable title.

Mata has been the only bright light in the side this season. Sturridge has failed to impress and I still do not understand why the admittedly perennially sour-faced Anelka was let go with a goal scoring ratio of 1 in 3.

Farewell then AVB… he thought he was Jose Mourinho but ended up with a worse record than Scolari (and yet interestingly still managed a better managerial record in his first forty games at Chelsea than Mancini did in his equivalent debut at Manchester City).