Columnist Giles Smith returns, facing a few weeks that are all about concentration – for both the players in this stop-start period, and for fans like him as well…
One of the great old adages of football, which I’ve just made up, is ‘win the games that matter and never mind the rest.’It has done the heart good to see the team so far following that canny and time-honoured piece of wisdom to the letter in 2012/13.
Three victories in the league games against Wigan, Reading and Newcastle; and two mildly surprising but ultimately negligible defeats, in the Community Shield and the Super Cup – none of us, surely, would have had it any other way. Or none of us, certainly, would have had it the other way around.
I’m not saying it wouldn’t have been nice, in a casual, not-doing-anything-else-on-a-Friday-night kind of way, to win the Super Cup the other evening. And even lifting the Community Shield, all those weeks ago, might have raised a smile.
At the same time, one has always thought there was something slightly vulgar about those events where they give you a trophy for winning one match. It feels unearned, in a way, and the natural sense of decorum that one inevitably has, as a Chelsea fan, along with the intimate knowledge that one has gained, over the years, of what it really takes, in terms of graft over the longer term, to win genuinely important trophies, reacts against it. I’m sure something like that will have been going on in the minds of the players, too. It’s only human.
By performing well when it matters, on the other hand, we have ascended to the top of the Premier League and, oddly, are one of only two teams left in the league with a 100 percent record, the other being Sunderland who (like Reading) have only played twice.
Meanwhile ostensible rivals for top four positions have been variously dropping points in surprising places, failing to score for hours on end, flapping about in panicked and unsuccessful attempts to secure strikers on the final day of the transfer window and coming from behind to produce streaky 3-2 victories over relatively humble opposition. So far, the ‘winning when it matters’ stratagem, seems to be genuinely paying off.
It was less than fortunate that the suspension of proper football caused by the Super Cup ran straight into the now ritual period of finger-drumming induced by the September international week. The short-term effect of this diary collision will be to produce a situation wherein, as far as Chelsea are concerned, three weeks will have gone by between one league game and the next.
Three weeks! You could hold an entire Paralympics in that time. Indeed, some people appear to be doing just that.
Incredible to think that the last time our players saw meaningful action, Kenneth Clarke was still Justice Secretary, MC Harvey and Julie Goodyear had yet to enter the Celebrity Big Brother house and the new series of Dr Who hadn’t even started. What a different place Britain was in those days.
Inevitably, people are worrying about what a big break like this is likely to do to the team’s focus and momentum. For example, Queen’s Park Rangers are next up for us in the league, and, given a gap like we are just experiencing, how many of our players will even remember that QPR are still in the Premier League?
The fact is, though, that disruption is going to be the theme of the first half of this season, whether we like it or not. With another international weekend to come in October and with the Club World Cup taking out a weekend in December, we might as well regard it as useful training in the recovery of concentration. And if we keep winning when it matters and disregarding the rest we should be all right.
As is completely traditional, the draw for the third round of the League Cup handed us a home tie, and I don’t suppose any of us are complaining, an extra night game at the Bridge in early autumn being one of life’s great pleasures, even if it goes to extra time and penalties.
This season’s added challenge, of course, for which bonus points are available, is to stop referring accidentally to the competition as ‘the Carling’ and to start giving it its new title, the Capital One Cup, in honour of the trophy’s latest sponsors. It’s going to be tough in the early stages, there’s no question about that, but I’m backing myself to put the work in, muster the necessary concentration and, by careful and steady application, to get there eventually – certainly in time for the quarter finals, should our interest extend that far.
Unlike the gift of a home tie in round three, the arrival of a credit card company in the sponsorship role really does represent a break with tradition. For a quarter of a century, England’s second oldest professional club knock-out cup competition has had strongly liquid associations: with the exception of the Rumbelows and Littlewoods periods, the cup has gone hand-in-hand in our minds with Coca Cola, two different types of beer and, of course, back in the day, milk.
But, again, we’ll get used to it. Right now, I can’t see the phrase ‘Capital One Cup’ without thinking of a London-only five-a-side tournament – probably at Wembley Arena and featuring a guest appearance by Rodney Marsh. But it all comes down to familiarity in the end, and no doubt we’ll all be comfortable enough with the title eventually to adopt an abbreviation for conversational use – ‘the Capital’ most likely. ‘The One’ is also an option, obviously, although it may sound a slightly wrong note about the position of the competition among the season’s priorities.