I know, I know, it’s been nearly five months since my last post. I could offer a bunch of reasons why I stopped posting, but like I said from the beginning, this is a work in progress, and I needed to assess where I was going with all of this. For all my readers, I apologize for the prolonged hiatus, but I’m back in the saddle again, and now I have a sidekick. TheChelseablog.org, one of the most widely read Chelsea FC sites in the blogosphere, decided to run this post, YAY! But don’t fret, F4D is still my baby, and stay tuned for a post on the inaugural Korean GP in a few weeks. Ciao!
“He is you. Your opposite, your negative. The result of the equation trying to balance itself out.” – The Oracle, The Matrix Revolutions
June 2, 2004 – Less than a week after his Porto side is newly crowned as European champions, Jose Mourinho stands before the football universe and announces his new title as manager of Chelsea FC and annoints himself as “special,” giving birth to the singular moniker “The Special One.”
In retrospect, that day hailed the beginning of a new era in modern football: a star was born, and after only perhaps Phil Jackson, the most cerebral manager in all of sport declared himself king of the world. Fast forward to today, and you know how this story played out: Wunder-manager motivates his cast of talented but estranged players, instilling an us versus the world mentality, and they go on to redefine the way the modern game is played. In his first year as manager, Mourinho led Chelsea to their first Premier League title in more than fifty years, setting English football records along the way. But after three years and six trophies won, Mourinho abruptly parted ways with his boys in blue and waved goodbye to the Bridge. Fingers were pointed, feelings were hurt, and a team poised to become a tItan in european football was suddenly without their talismanic field general. In comes Avram Grant, and in a season riddled with turmoil and upheaval, manages to guide Mourinho’s band of brothers to their first ever Champions League final. And if it weren’t for a John Terry slip(banging head on the wall), Grant would have completed one of the great renaissances in the history of English football. Despite his valiant efforts, Grant was a lame duck manager from the beginning and was sacked at the end of the season.
In comes Luiz Felipe Scolari, and after just 8 months and a near player mutiny, he was sacked midseason with immediate effect. Out goes Scolari, in comes the Wolf Guus Hiddink, and he manages to salvage a lost season by winning Chelsea’s second FA Cup in three years. But just like Grant, the writing was on the wall for Hiddink, and after four managers in a span of just 21 months, Chelsea was once again managerless. Sensing the lack of stability within his Russian oil-funded side, our young padawan owner Abramovich signs four time european champion(2 as a player, 2 as a manager) Carlo Ancelotti to a three year deal, who promptly restores peace and order to the Bridge, and in a one-up on his predecessor and arch-rival Mourinho, brings home a Premier League title in his first year and the first true domestic Double ever for our beloved Blues.
On paper, one would normally think after reading the above, “Wow, what a great story with a happy ending!” Then how come for Chelsea Nation, the story feels incomplete, and despite the hundreds of millions of pounds spent, countless kegs of Guinness drank, and the endless sweat and tears poured on and off the pitch, there is more to be done? Because it’s one thing to be King of England, and it’s another to be King of Europe, and by extension, the World of the club football sphere. To illustrate, ask any knowledgeable fan which club has won the most Champions League titles and they will hopefully answer Real Madrid. Ask the same fan which club has been runner-up in the Champions League the most times and chances are they’ll be stumped(FYI, it’s a tie between Benfica and Juventus at 5). The point is no one really cares, if not remembers, who’s 2nd best(at least American sports fans don’t). To finally cement its place in the Pantheon of footballing royalty, Chelsea needs to win the Champions League.
Abramovich has made it clear that he wants his coveted Champions League trophy, and he is not willing to settle for less. To be fair, considering all the money he’s invested into the club, wouldn’t you feel the same way? The truth is Chelsea should’ve won one already by now, but it seems the football gods deemed we were not ready yet. And last year’s exit to Mourinho’s Inter squad showed that despite Chelsea’s world class quality, sometimes our boys can look a little lost at times out there on the pitch. And despite the fact that this year’s first team is practically identical to last year’s, sans the departure of Carvalho and Ballack, Joe Cole and Deco off the bench, and the tragic retirement of Hutchinson, the return of Essien, continuing growth of Sturridge and Kakuta, signings of Benayoun and Ramires, reappearance of Zhirkov, and emergence of McEachran should be more than enough to reinforce the team for the season’s haul. And judging from all the sound bites uttered by Chelsea’s prinicipal players this season, it’s clear they have set the bar at the highest rung, and if they fall short, then this season will be a disappointment, and I wholeheartedly agree(wince).
It’s now mid-October, Chelsea is at the top of the Premier League table where we belong, undefeated in their CL group, and most importantly, the team is clicking. Yes, Lampard and Alex are injured, Bosingwa has been out of commission for nearly a year now, there’s a lack of depth in the back line, the point being one could nit-pick for hours. But Malouda is in the best form of his life, Drogba is relatively happy(fingers crossed), Essien is relatively healthy(fingers doubly crossed), Ashley Cole is a force all over the left side, and Anelka, despite his atrocious summer, or rather because of it, is playing with fire and passion. On a quick tangent, for all of the TCB readers who are also NBA fans, I’m convinced that Anelka and Lamar Odom are long lost twins, both in their physical and sporting personas, and if you don’t understand what I’m talking about, think of both players as the Batmans of their respective sports: one minute they’re there, the next minute they’re not. But I digress…
But in the back of every Chelsea fan’s mind looms one man, a larger than life cosmopolitan figure who stands between Chelsea Nation and immortality. You know who he is, he is undefeated at the Bridge, and he is now leading a cast of equally talented footballing mercenaries who currently reside in the heart of Spain, and they are poised to lay siege to this season. He is the Special One, he is heavily armed and dangerous, and he is Public Enemy #1. Sir Alex may be more revered, Capello may be more prolific, and Guardiola may be younger, but Mourinho is the top dog. He strikes fear into every side he faces, and he arguably has the strongest team he’s ever had to work with. He’s already publicly announced that he intends to defend his CL title, and he is a master at both motivating his players and antagonizing his opponents.
Oddly enough, in a show of goodwill and sportsmanship, he and Ancelotti publicly announced they have buried the hatchet, and that despite their prolonged feud, they have come to a delicate truce. But if Chelsea and RM happen to meet in the elimination stages of the CL, the stakes will be high and the gloves will be off, and if they somehow manage to converge in the final, the football world could very well implode. Ali v. Frazier, (pre-2010 ill fated comeback)Schumacher v. Hakkinen, and now the Special One v. Carletto.
To be as objective and fair as humanly possible, Mourinho is in large part responsible for fueling his very real and at times childishly petty rivalry with Ancelotti. It started when the two were managers at crosstown rivals AC MIlan and Inter, but after Ancelotti jumped ship across the continent to Mourinho’s old stomping grounds, it reached a fever pitch. At first after his departure, our Blues were in danger of floundering without the magnetic yet mercurial Mourinho, and the damage done was deep and lingering. But all wounds eventually heal, if not disappear, with time, and Chelsea has moved on with Ancelotti, but it seems Mourinho hasn’t been able to do the same. You’ve all heard the jabs of “Stamford Bridge will always be my fortress” and “Ancelotti’s winning with my Blues.” It’s as almost if Mourinho believes he is still the manager of Chelsea, and that they are merely on loan Ancelotti, e.g. his puzzling quote before last year’s CL matchup, “But I don’t hide that Chelsea ARE an important part of my life.” Mourinho might as well have professed “Chelsea, I’ll never let go!”
In contrast, Ancelotti has been classy in both victory and defeat, and even went as far as to acknowledge Mourinho’s lasting impact at Chelsea, admitting that “he made history at the club where I work, his archive of training has been useful to me more than once, and so he deserves total and rapt attention.” And despite the fact that Ancelotti won his silverware with a nucleus that was largely Mourinho’s vision, they’re not the same team, nor are they playing the same brand of football, illustrated by last year’s squad that scored a record 103 goals in Premier League play, in contrast with Mourinho’s 2005 team that gave up a paltry 25 goals all season(the parallels and contrasts between the 2005 and 2010 squads is uncanny). Ancelotti has repeatedly voiced his long term commitment to Chelsea, and there is no reason to believe he isn’t being completely genuine. It’s safe to say that as much as we want our Blues to win their first CL trophy, we want them to win it with Ancelotti at the helm, and if they beat Mourinho’s Blancos along the way, then it will be extra “special.” Because the ugly truth is that if doesn’t happen soon, and by that I mean this year, if not next, then we could be saying ciao to our dear Uncle Carletto.
This season could end up being a tale of two teams and their respective managers on the brink of becoming legend. For Mourinho and RM, they are trying to reassert their place as the best in the world, and if they do win it all, then there is little to dispute they are just that. For Ancelotti and our Blues, they have the opportunity to write the final chapter in a century long epic of a footballing phoenix.
As optimistic as I am about this year’s chances, I fear that if we are eliminated yet again by a Mourinho-coached team, Abramovich will clean house, and he’ll start with Ancelotti. In contrast, if our Blues do win it all, then Uncle Carletto will cement his position as the patriarch of the Chelsea family, and Jose will likely continue to chip away at sculpting his next masterpiece in Madrid. But what if both teams somehow fall short? In that case, it’s again likely both managers will stay put. But as much as both managers have everything to gain, Ancelotti has more to lose at this point. But underlying all this intrigue is the fact that Mourinho wants to return to England; not one to bite his tongue, he’s repeatedly voiced his preference for the English game, and he recently threw a whiny fit over the intense pressure and scrutiny from the Spanish media. Oh waaa, would you like some manchego cheese with your tempranillo red?
If and when Mourinho returns to the Mother Country, it seems more than likely he’ll end up succeeding his peer and close friend Sir Alex at Man U. And if that happens, Mourinho will go from the being the Special One to the The Devil in Red, and he’ll officially be dead to me. And it’s not absurd to think he could end up at Man City, who have the financial firepower to buy whoever they want. For a long time I romanticized over the idea of Mourinho coming back to the Bridge and finishing what he started. But as time passed, I realized that was a pipe dream, and that for all his footballing genius, he is a mercenary and journeyman of a manager, and his loyalty remains only to himself, which makes him the perfect coach for Los Blancos. Take that!
This is my first post for the TheChelseaBlog, and as a blue bleeding Chelsea fan for life, I hope to continue contributing to what I think is the best Chelsea site in the worldwide blogosphere. In closing, i’d like to share a sound bite given by the Special One, which he gave after leaving Porto for Chelsea back in 2004, and after six years, it’s prophetic clairvoyance has withstood the test of time.
“I hope everything goes well for them. If I meet them in the Champions League it will be the only time I wish them to lose. It was a wonderful story but the story has to end.”
But for who will the story end, and how?