Everyone Hates Chelsea

Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea won its first Premier League title in 2005 and its second in 2006. In 2007, Mourinho lampdsresigned after falling out with owner Roman Abramovich[1]. Of the players involved in the two title successes, only Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, John Terry, and Petr Cech still play for the club, and Lampard is almost certain to leave this summer. The Mourinho-era Chelsea was a ruthless winning machine; today’s Chelsea recently lost to QPR – Harry Redknapp’s latest project, bottom of the Premier League — at Stamford Bridge. These days, Rafa Benitez – who was once a potent symbol of the Chelsea’s Got No History movement, which, yes, was as stupid as it sounds – sits in the Stamford Bridge dugout. The Chelsea fans hate him and express their hatred in chants and songs whose lyrics are unprintable, even on the Internet.

During Chelsea’s rise to championship contention, the traditional powerhouses of English football – Manchester United and Liverpool — were too busy recovering from the financial train wreck that is American ownership to launch serious title bids. Manchester United’s management is renowned for its efficiency, professionalism, and general excellence in the field of everything, but in the early 2000s, it made a series of uncharacteristically thoughtless administrative decisions that opened the door to outside investment — and the Glazers were never going to knock. Liverpool was fading, thanks largely to the idiocy of Tom Hicks and George Gillette, businessmen who epitomize everything that’s bad about sports, business and the United States of America.

Since Chelsea’s whole identity as a top-level, trophy-winning sports franchise is founded on Abramovich’s probably ill-gotten oil money, and since ill-gotten oil money is increasingly prevalent on certain football-crazy continents, some other club was always going to surpass the “Blue Revolution.” It was just a question of when. When turned out to be 2008. On the final day of the summer transfer window, the Abu Dhabi United Group bought Manchester City, kick- starting Blue Revolution 2.0, which turned out to be more like Blue Revolution 10.0. City’s spending made Chelsea look positively frugal.

Which could have elevated Chelsea from obnoxious upstart to totally legit, totally accepted football aristocrat — fans always hate the Team With Money, and only one team can fill that role at any one time. But this is Chelsea’s problem: Abramovich will never receive widespread thanks/admiration/trust because his players are about as spoiled, greedy, and generally obnoxious as football players get.

The press should never have ridiculed John Terry for his mother’s shoplifting or his father’s cocaine-selling. After all, Terry is a hard-working adult – he doesn’t have time to look after his parents because he spends his days roaring like a lion and leading like a true hero and slobbering all over the Chelsea FC badge, which probably gets more JT action than even Vanessa Perroncel, the lingerie model who fathered Wayne Bridge’s child and with whom Terry, who used to be Bridge’s best friend (like, they played PS3 together), conducted an affair that made The Sun very rich indeed. Just as people started to forget the Bridge-Peroncell-Terry love triangle, Anton Ferdinand accused Terry of racial abuse, and the ensuing trial, FA investigation postponements, England captaincy furor, England coaching furor, FBC[2] hashtags, and shagging gesture.gif files turned the life and times of John George Terry into the stuff of legend.

Ashley Cole, who was also involved in the Terry trial[3], is routinely booed because of a scene in his autobiography in which the hero of the story “tremble[s] with anger” when Arsenal offers him a mere 55,000 pounds a week. Outside The Emirates, there’s a huge poster[4] on which every footballer who has ever signed an Arsenal contract smiles for the camera, and guess who’s face is the only face that no longer looks like a face because at least half of North London has vandalized it? I haven’t even mentioned Cheryl Cole, which is surprising — this paragraph is dedicated to Ashley’s various misdemeanors, and his extramarital activity is pretty high on the list. Of course, clubs shouldn’t be held accountable for their players’ sex lives, but you can see why fans continued to hate Chelsea, even after the initial Hate Chelsea Because They’ve Got Money phase ended. The Blues – which, in 2012, won the Champions League after a series of miraculous comebacks – have become a sometimes wonderful football team, but fans still associate them with everything that’s bad about modern sports.

And that’s why Chelsea should do everything it can to keep Frank Lampard at Stamford Bridge. Among the Terrys, Coles and Drogbas, Lampard was always the Good Guy, the team’s vice-captain and most consistent player. The pundits used to claim that Lampard “guarantees you 20 goals a season,” and while that sounds like your typical football pundit cliché, it’s really not — for a couple of years, it was statistically accurate. Moreover, it spoke to Lampard’s essential Lampard-ness: he was always someone who made the clichés seem weirdly incisive. Pro-Lampard analysis is one of the few things color commentators do well.

So I hope Chelsea doesn’t sell Lampard, and I especially hope that he never plays for a team like the LA Galaxy, which, whatever Alexi Lalas[5] says, is not a big-time club in a big-time league. Lampard’s potential transfer tells us something about the state of Chelsea Football Club, something that Terry’s antics hinted at in a we-probably-shouldn’t-judge-his-team-but-still kind of way, and something that events this season – Roberto Di Matteo’s sacking, Torres’ struggles – may be starting to confirm. There’s something poisonous about Chelsea. I can’t quite put my finger on it (not everything’s JT’s fault), but I know it’s there.

[1] Even if you haven’t heard of Abramovich the Chelsea owner, you’ve probably heard of his yacht, which is basically a yacht turned up to 11.

[2] There’s no doubt that John Terry used the words “fucking black cunt.” The whole case hinged on the question of whether he used them pejoratively, or whether he told Ferdinand that he hadn’t used them earlier in the game – you know, “hey, mate, I most definitely did not call you a ‘fucking black cunt.’” Even by Premier League standards, neither Ferdinand nor Terry is particularly intelligent, and the case quickly spun out of control. Unfortunately, Jon Obi Mikel’s midsection blocked a camera angle that might have settled the argument, so no one actually knows for sure whether Terry was in the wrong.

[3] Apparently, Cole’s witness statements “evolved,” which I didn’t know statements could do. That was just one of a lot of things I learned during the Terry trial.

[4] (At least, there was when I last visited, in 2011.)

[5] I shouldn’t be too hard on Lalas. After all, I’m an American soccer fan, and Lalas has done a lot for American soccer. But the man doesn’t know when to shut up, and his bloviating analysis has turned a lot of European football aficionados into American soccer haters who assume that all MLS-watchers agree with Lalas, or at least subscribe to his worldview, which is basically bullshit plus a lot of exclamation marks. So I’ve never liked Lalas, and I always mute the TV during his ESPN halftime show, usually sponsored by Kia Motors or its ilk, which is increasingly ridiculous, I think — although of course I only ever watch with the sound off.


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