SOTN 93 - Feet on the Ground
The long-ridiculed cliché our scouse friends come out with is well known to most of you I expect - "this player is the final piece of the jigsaw."
Daft as that is, and we`ll talk more about that in a minute, it is not hard to feel that there is an element of puzzle building going on at Chelsea right now. I am going to go out on a limb now - bear with me. We`re a big club now. Even when we won the title three times over the last few years, I always had the feeling that we were still "my Chelsea" - the Chelsea of old that was always smaller and less successful than the Liverpools, Arsenals and Uniteds of this world. Indeed, I`ve written at length about this in the past: that I and many others among my fellow Chelsea of a certain age still have this mentality, which does not necessarily tie up with what we achieve on the pitch. It wrong to say I had a small club mentality as we`ve never been a small club, but probably better to say that I didn`t have a big club mentality. Well, something changed that glorious, balmy Saturday night in Old Munchen. We have always been a big club. Winning three Premierships and a load of cups made us bigger - this makes us massive. Yesterday`s signing of Eden Hazard (barring any very Chelsea-esque late screwups) is a hugely exciting signing. Did anyone seriously think he`d go to Arsenal or Spurs or Liverpool? No of course not. The fact that he chose us over Citeh and United merely goes to the Champions League winner tag if you ask me. Would we have signed him had Drogba not stuck that late, late header away to take it to extra time? No. But the club took a quantum leap forward as soon as that penalty left the Drog`s left foot and arrowed past a stranded Neuer. Now, several days ahead and still basking in the glory, it feels different now. Chelsea feel different. We`re not the same club any more. Not different in a bad way. In a really good way. I almost hate myself for saying it is good, so reticent I am to let go of the not-big club tag.
Things have changed. We`re doing our transfer business early. We`re paying market rate and we`re signing genuinely top-rated world class talent. We`re blooding a few kids now and the futures of the likes of Ryan Bertrand look very rosy indeed. We`ve signed three top class wingers who will provide genuine pace and width, who can actually pass a football and knock a cross in. We`re determined and organized in our transfer dealings. We`re signing players like Ramires, Luiz and Cahill for reasonable money who are making the step to being absolutely top shelf world class at Chelsea, not anywhere else. We`ve got some savvy footballing brains (and I`m thinking Michael Emenalo here) making the decisions behind the scenes now, no matter what the press would have you believe. There are signs that the club is trying to build a dynasty in a sustainable way, rather than throwing money at the programme and hoping something works.
In short, the signs are that the club is moving forward. Getting rid of AVB was not a decision I supported at the time but as with Grant, Scolari and to some extent Ranieri, can you really say things would have turned out ok had they been retained? No. Good decisions all four. The 850 pound gorilla in the room of course is the lack of a manager at the club right now. I`m pleased at least that the club is taking its time and getting the decision fully understood and discussed before they leap. My personal view is that RDM deserves our loyalty and should at all costs be retained at the club, but that had we gone out of Europe without winning it last season, that people`s views might not be as positive on him as a manager as they are now. I think we`re getting Joachim Loew and that the club have already spoken to him and outlined the plan. I think a deal is in place but we can`t announce it until after the Euros. I think he`s been the number one target all along, and I think the club is trying to find a way of retaining RDM and Eddie Newton alongside him. I`d be tremendously surprised if the club had been able to lure Eden Hazard to the club with no managerial appointment in place, so I think the club will be announcing Joachim Loew as soon as Germany go out of the Euros. My gut feeling is that they`ll actually win it.
So back to the jigsaw puzzle metaphor. Building on what is the best defence in Europe, we`re not far away from being Premiership challengers in terms of squad even before the Hazard signing, especially as we`re pruning back a lot of the dead wood and big salaries. Discounting managers, I honestly think we`re one right back and one top class striker (who can play up front on his own) away from being the complete puzzle.
Whilst it is certainly a good time to be Chelsea, spare a thought if you can for Liverpool. No manager, getting turned down left right and centre by every vaguely decent Premiership standard managers with zero hope of getting anyone better. Only two genuinely world class players (one is a cheating, diving, unpleasant scumbag and the other is Luis Suarez) and a pack ahead of them pulling away from them in terms of squad and overall quality. Arsenal, Newcastle, us, United, City and T*ttenham all have better squads and will strengthen again in the Summer. Seventh is about the best they can hope for next season. Many people have accused and joked at us that we are the next Leeds in waiting, but I was never worried about that. Going the same way as Liverpool have was a real possibility last season but what a difference a Champions League makes.
Liverpool must be absolutely gutted. We win the European Cup, get Champions League football for next season and spend money on tweaking the squad to make it competitive at the very highest level, signing one of the top world class prospects in all of football in the process, with the promise of another couple of world class players coming in as well. Meanwhile they sack "King" Kenny, get turned down by Swansea and Wigan managers and even the papers stop linking them to decent players as they know nobody will believe them that the club will sign them. Meanwhile their fans bleat on about challenging for the title next season, thereby guaranteeing the new manager whoever he is has an impossible task. Who in their right minds would go there knowing they have basically zero chance of keeping their job past the season`s end, trying to feed the 5,000 with two loaves and a fish? They need a miracle. How the mighty have fallen. And fallen. And fallen.
So yeah - safe to say we`re enjoying life at the moment. Safe to say also that we have had enough misery and heartbreak to last a lifetime in the last few years, so maybe we deserve this. Let`s just keep in mind that even the mighty can fall. Let`s keep our feet on the ground, take every day as it comes and not burden the new manager with unrealistic expectations. It will take a season to bed in the new buys and to get the team playing as we all dream it will. Dynasties were not built in a day.
Just sit back, enjoy it and thank the lucky stars you aren`t a Liverpool fan.