Part of the price ‘big clubs’ pay for their status is greater scrutiny of every win, loss, piece of individual genius and mistake.
Up until recently, Chelsea experienced a very specific type of scrutiny. A huge 2010 saw Chelsea not only win the double, but also become utterly ruthless in front of goal. A high scoring second half of 2009/10 continued into August.
Chelsea started getting uncommon praise from all comers: Ancelotti had added style to the substance. Chelsea could pass it like Arsenal, score more than Utd and rack up more points than anyone along the way. The squabbling and turmoil that had become the norm at Chelsea disappeared, and journalists discovered Chelsea as their new second favourite team. Chelsea had cut its mammoth and expensive squad to size but were even better than last season. Winning the league at a canter was a certainty, and younger players were finally getting their chance. Alex gave an interview in the Chelsea magazine saying the team played like Brazil.
Rumours that Chelsea were considering a big money move to a new stadium at Earl’s Court only fed a general belief that Chelsea were once again on an relentless forward march.
Us fans? Well we probably bought into the hype a little bit too. I think Chelsea fans, unlike maybe Utd supporters, still harbour a fundamental pessimism on the whole: we don’t typically consider ourselves heirs to every trophy or assume success. But, almost like never before, I reckon crowds at the Bridge started to expect big wins every time they turned up.
Even the disappointment at Eastlands didn’t dampen spirits. Man City played a negative game, Chelsea didn’t really turn up and Tevez did what he has it in him to do: win a game on his own. It wasn’t a fluke, but these things happen.
But the tide started to turn after the Liverpool match, with fans bemoaning a slothful first half showing and pretty much everyone picking up on some very inconsistent away form. Then, last week against Sunderland, a mauling reversed opinion entirely.
Now the hype has lurched from one extreme to another. Chelsea’s wheels are either falling off or, having fallen off somewhere between Liverpool and West London on 7th November, are lying splintered in a roadside ditch somewhere between Birmingham and Watford. A very real injury crisis is fuelling a general expectation that the attempt to recover those wheels is doomed to failure.
Talk now isn’t of Ancelotti’s genius at having dominated the league, bringing youth through and cutting the wage bill. What was once a virtue is now a sin: the media – and fans - now attack the club for not spending money in the summer. Why wasn’t Carvalho replaced? Why was a recognised forward bought to supplement – or ultimately replace - Drogba or Anelka? Perhaps the ludicrous transfer gossip they spewed all over their back pages throughout the summer was less journalist gossip to sell papers, and more the media helpfully putting forward a strategic proposition to Abramovich and Gourlay.
And, as if on-the pitch issues weren’t enough, Ray Wilkins’ controversial departure fuelled a very Chelsea-like sense of behind-the-scenes turmoil (no crisis at this club would be complete without it), and Drogba’s malaria added to the sense of ludicrous melodrama that seems to follow Chelsea in its darker days.
The truth, of course, is that neither sets of hype should be believed. Chelsea were in a rich vein of form, but that did not make them Brazil or Barcelona. The club is in a bit of a mess at the moment, but that doesn’t make them Bolton or Blackburn (or Liverpool). Injured players will return, results will improve – there’s too much talent in the squad for that not to happen.
Winning the league isn’t a foregone conclusion – but it never was. But neither the loss at Anfield or to Sunderland was terminal. More draws and losses will certainly follow, and probably in December – but that’s the nature of the beast.
I’m as pessimistic as the next fan (actually, more so) but this time, despite the obvious issues Carlo is undeniably facing, I’m preaching patience. Today, at least…