At long last, five years of rebuilding, re-structuring, re-planning and re-focusing has come to end at Chelsea Football Club; as the wait for our fifth English league title has finally come to end, we can at last say that this tantalising, though increasingly expertly managed, period of transition is over. It might have been a frustrating journey at times, marred by some expensive mistakes in recruiting (both players and managers), but now, it is so gratifying to look back upon with satisfaction all of the steps taken and moves made, to transform us from the aging, directionless side we appeared in 2011, to the phenomenally well organised (from the youth team to boardroom) sporting entity that we are today. And of course, most of all, after today’s win against Crystal Palace, it is a wonderful relief and pleasure to the feel the pride once again that comes from knowing yours is the best team in the country.
The deciding game might have lacked the excitement or the definitive nature of our 3-0 win against Man Utd in 2006 and certainly of our 8-0 edging of Wigan in 2010. But at the same time, and in a nice way, this afternoon’s defeat of Crystal Palace was perfectly emblematic of all the things which we’ve simply been better at than everyone else this season i.e. fashioning chances against resolute defences, staying cool to take these chances (though Hazard’s coolness might have involved a bit of luck this time around), and most importantly of all, our ability to hold on the lead, manage the game and wind down the clock until the final whistle. When Mourinho used his second substitution to bring on Zouma to help shield Mikel, who was brought on to shield Matic who was in his usual position shielding the defence – there really wasn’t any doubt what the final score would end up being. It was the most typical Mourinho victory imaginable, to conclude a campaign in which the Portuguese’ talents and efforts have emphatically dwarfed those of his rivals, and in which his team have stood head and shoulders above its competitors since kick-off, all the way back in August.
Once again there were those present who (most certainly in vain) attempted to spoil the occasion with some unified vocal accusations of being subject to a rather ‘boring’ spectacle. I think it must be hard for supporters of rival clubs to imagine just how much we don’t care if whether or not they’re entertained by our performances. If they had any kind of grasp of our imperviousness, I’m sure they wouldn’t waste their breath. It’s been wonderfully entertaining to watch literally everybody with any standing or authority as an expert on the game laugh off the idea that Chelsea are boring to watch, with Gary Neville (as usual) supplying the most bluntly honest rebuttal of this stupidity, by claiming what has been boring, has been the ‘pathetic’ attempts of our rivals to sustain a serious challenge for the league since January.
The average British hipster football fan might like to fancy himself a ‘purist’ or some kind of connoisseur of aesthetics (I don’t know), but ultimately, when being honest with himself, he is powerless to deny the truth in Jose Mourinho’s words: Chelsea are and is, what everybody wants their football team to be. They are clear and secure in their own identity, they are tirelessly resilient, they are respectful of the opponent in each and every game; they are endowed with the talent, the intelligence and the humility to adapt their approach to the circumstances; they are almost uniquely committed to winning every possible piece of silverware on offer and most importantly of course – they are winners. Show me a man who says he’d rather see his team play pretty football always and at any cost, instead of exhibiting these qualities – and I’ll show you a pretentious dick (or I’ll show you a liar).
Though there’s no need to take these criticisms seriously at all, maybe it is interesting to consider to what degree football clubs are obliged to be entertaining. It is true to say that without constant funding from those who pay to be entertained, professional sports would cease to exist, but does that mean managers (who, ultimately, are paid to win) should be obliged to coach their side to be as entertaining as possible? My opinion is that if the home fans are happy, then that must surely be enough. Nobody need feel compelled to watch it. It is the height of unjustified self-importance to assume that you have a right to be entertained which should factor in to the work of a rival’s team coach.
At the root of all this I also feel there is a fundamental misunderstanding about what it is about football that entertains us so much, which is to say, what it is about football that brings half a million Brits and millions of others to their local stadiums, every weekend. People turn up to see competition – to see two reasonably evenly matched teams, fighting for points, where either one could win, potentially until the final few minutes. If this competition can involve fast paced, creative attacking football then that’s an added bonus, but that’s all it is. The essence of the game is not undermined by one side deciding to prioritise not conceding.
In my opinion sometimes the most fascinating, riveting games are the ones in which both sides are desperate not to lose, and the game becomes akin to a calculated and conservative game of chess in midfield, as was the case in the Madrid Derby in CL quarter final this year, and was also the case in the second leg of our League Cup semi final against Liverpool – and both were fantastically entertaining contests.
The final, most obvious point of objection to being called boring or overly-defensive, is that by and large, we just simply haven’t been, by almost any standard. As Mourinho has pointed out, we have had the second most shots on goal all-season, scored the second highest number of goals (a high % of which were from open play), we’ve completed more take-ons and more successful dribbles than any other team also (largely thanks to one small Belgian). As many others have honestly pointed out also, in the first half of the season, we were almost relentlessly exciting to watch, as each week we produced by a distance the most fluid, creative, and ambitious football of all the teams in the PL. That’s a fact I haven’t heard anyone even try to deny so far.
I shared the following opinion, in a discussion board on The Times Online this week and was largely criticised by other posters, but I’m still convinced of its accuracy. What these accusations of boring football are confirmation of, is that when someone dislikes a football team, or has decided they are worthy of contempt, often they get so much enjoyment out of actively disliking them, and pointing out their faults, that even when this team become close to wholly admirable, they would rather make up some ridiculous and hollow criticism, than actually contemplate beginning to praise them. This is such a deeply unflattering quality of mind and it’s intellectually dishonest too. Needless to add, making an assessment on the title worthiness of a side based on their approach to their final handful of matches is so shallow on an intellectual level, that quite frankly, it’s just weird.
Anyway, my favourite quote surrounding the build-up to this afternoon’s game, was Jose’s estimation that his title celebrations would conclude approximately five minutes after proceedings at Stamford Bridge had ended. Whether or not this was truthful, you just know that the sentiment behind his words was being delivered with complete seriousness. All manager’s claim to regard the most important challenge/trophy as the next one, but only with Jose can you infer total authenticity when he delivers a proclamation to this effect. He may be an obsessive, bizarre character, but the man is a relentless winner and his fixation on delivering success to Chelsea FC makes me feel extremely secure in our short to mid-term future. We will, without question, be the team to beat for the next couple of seasons for sure.
The ‘Champions Chelsea’! There’s a beautiful assonance to that phrase. It just fits. I’m looking forward to hearing it for the next 12 months.
Congratulations all Blues fans – enjoy your celebrations. All the very best. Champions were blue in 2015.