It hasn’t always been easy to stand by his judgement, but is the world outside Chelsea steadily coming round to his viewpoint? Pat Nevin explains further in this week’s column…
One of the clichés often used when you have a raft of new players at the beginning of every season is that you have to hit the ground running. Clearly Chelsea have managed to start the season scarcely breaking stride from the successful race to Munich. Maybe a bit of realism is needed however, the fixtures fell very kindly and that has certainly helped, but to stretch the metaphor to the limit, we all know that it is a marathon not a sprint.
Nonetheless it has certainly made others take notice of Chelsea when considering the ultimate destination of the league title this term. I will admit that I even thought that chasing Manchester United and City all the way this season might be a long shot, but there is no doubt the odds have come in a bit, even if we are still outsiders. Actually that is not a bad place to be, it certainly relieves some of the pressure that has weighed upon the club over the past few years. Now it is hope rather than expectation, for the fans as well as the players.
With slightly less pressure the players can be just that little bit more relaxed and I certainly believe that helps, especially if you are the creative type. Playing for the joy as opposed to playing out of fear is the best way to maximise the contributions from the likes of Mata, Moses, Oscar and Hazard. Having said that, Eden has brought down a fair bit of pressure on his own head already.By playing so exceptionally well in the first three league games, everyone in English football expects him to continue this rich, ultra-productive vein of form. I suspect he can cope because even at the tender age of 21 he has already lived with it for a few years in France with little obvious negative effect.
Looking closely at the three games so far, they have each contained sections of fabulous play followed by less impressive periods, so we will not be carried away simply by the results. Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool have already slipped up but in the case of the first two particularly, they were in extremely tricky fixtures. Just over the horizon in the league there is a run when we face Spurs, Man United, Man City and Liverpool in fairly quick succession. If we are still top of the pile then, maybe it will be time to get a little bit more excited.
I have to say I was particularly pleased with Fernando Torres’ contribution against Newcastle United. Those who read this page regularly or listen to me on TV or radio know that I stand by the idea that our striker has been very unlucky in his Chelsea career so far. In the past the team wasn’t set up for his particular style and as such the expected avalanche of goals never quite arrived last season. He did however keep making the runs, he continued to selflessly work for the team nearly all the time and he regularly sacrificed his own strengths by working wide when he and Didier were on the pitch together. While many in the media, ex pros included, called him a flop and a spent force, like many Chelsea fans I continually disagreed, in the face of mounting ridicule.
On Saturday evening I was on ESPN where the game was being transmitted live. On the show Kevin Keegan and Chelsea old boy Craig Burley once more disagreed with my synopsis of El Nino before the game. I tried very hard not to look too smug when our striker made the penalty and then scored a cracker right on the half-time whistle. Give him his due, Kevin Keegan who is the loveliest of men, accepted that Torres had had a productive first half but rightly underlined that his link-up play was less impressive. Craig also correctly noted that this one half of football was not enough to judge the contribution of a player who cost £50million.
I will however continue to stand my ground, but there is a general agreement that if our striker stays fit and contributes over 20 goals this season, then my one-man media campaign will have been proved right. It is no surprise then that no one will be celebrating his every goal more than me! The good thing is that these debates almost always take place in a friendly environment, even if there is a bit of banter surrounding it.
In the meantime there is so much to look forward to. The Champions League draw this week is a huge moment for the club. There is never really an easy group, but there are usually some that are more straight-forward than others. Then of course there is always one group of death. The fixtures were kind to us in the league and I hope the same will be said about our draw when it happens. Just like the domestic campaign you want to hit the ground running with so many new players and more importantly with such a totally altered style of play. There is also the fact that as European champions every team in the competition is desperate to beat you.
With that excitement to look forward to on Thursday there is the small matter of the European Super Cup on Friday night against Atletico Madrid hot on its heels. It is an odd statistic that of Chelsea’s last eight competitive games, four of them have been for trophies. The FA Cup, the Champions League, the Community Shield and now this showpiece event in Monaco.
Once again this is a less-pressured match, but still one that you would want to win. Trophies and medals are always significant, even though of the four, we already have the two we would prefer. Atletico are a fine side who I watched a great deal last season, with Falcao in particular a revelation up front. If you can’t manage to swan over to Monaco, (we haven’t all got yachts anchored there) this is one to sit back, relax and enjoy on TV. After all we have nine points in the bag already while Arsenal or Liverpool (or both) will drop more points when they play on Sunday and United have a tricky tie away to Southampton, ah happy days!
In last week’s quiz I asked who were the first players to be bought and sold for £1million at Chelsea? In those days it sounded like a lot of money, now I just sound like Dr Evil from the Austin Powers movies when I write it. For those who thought it was myself, the answer is no, I was sold for a paltry £925,000. There were lots of good guesses but as far as I can work out the first player we sold for over £1m was Tony Dorigo (£1.3m) to Leeds United in June 1991. Gordon Durie left later that summer to Spurs for a far higher figure. The first player we bought for over £1m was Dennis Wise (£1.6m) on the 5th of July 1991; Andy Townsend arrived soon after that for over £1million as well.
There can only be one winner of the Champions League DVD signed by one of the players involved and it is Stephanie Post from Dundee who was chosen at random.
To stand a chance of being the lucky winner of a similar prize this week, could you tell me who did Chelsea beat when they last won the trophy we are playing for on Friday?
Answers as ever to firstname.lastname@example.org
Good luck to you all and KTBFFH in Monaco lads.