Tag Archives: chelsea

First Day of School

What do Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Everton and Stoke have in common? New coaches.moyes

David Moyes (Manchester United): Over the past 20 years, Manchester United has consistently won domestic trophies, consistently filled stadiums, consistently scored stoppage-time goals, consistently mounted amazing comebacks, and consistently reached the Champions League elimination rounds. In short, United is awesomely predictable: both the best and the least interesting team in the Premier League.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement threatened that status quo. Jose Mourinho, the antithesis of everything that United supposedly stands for, was briefly rumored to be in line for Ferguson’s job, as was Jurgen Klopp, the up-and-coming German coach/rebel. But once it became clear that David Moyes – whose Everton team consistently finished in the top eight, consistently made the best of a meager transfer budget, and consistently caused United problems at Goodison Park – would succeed Sir Alex, Phil-Neville-to-United rumors began to outnumber Mourinho-to-United rumors and the dream of a genuinely chaotic season died.

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Ninety Minutes From The Sack

Last week, Manchester United unveiled a statue of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Bronze-Fergie’s hands are di matteofolded across bronze-Fergie’s chest, and while bronze-Fergie seems to be missing flesh-Fergie’s legendary watch, the sculptor looks to have done a pretty accurate job. Ferguson has coached United for more than 25 years. In that time, ten Liverpool managers have come and gone. Among the top English clubs (sorry, Everton), only Arsenal has a coach whose longevity rivals Sir Alex’s, and even he trails Fergie by a decade.

Ferguson is the last survivor of a dying era. Last month, Mark Hughes of Queens Park Rangers and Roberto Di Matteo of Chelsea were both fired after less than a year at their respective clubs. Hughes’ sacking came after a disappointing start to QPR’s season, but Chelsea won the Champions League earlier this year, and, at the time of Di Matteo’s dismissal, was only four points off the top of the Premier League. The team was also playing attractive football, which, for Chelsea – a club whose blunt, bullying, borderline-racist players[1] have been intimidating the West Broms of this world for about seven years – is not so much highly unusual as highly suspicious.

At least 90 percent of Di Matteo’s downfall had more to do with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and his bizarre, illogical management than it did with Di Matteo himself. Abramovich is an entertainingly shady Russian billionaire whose penchant for firing managers who probably don’t deserve to be fired has turned him into a bit of a cartoon enemy. There are probably lots of kind, humble Chelsea supporters who are deeply ashamed of their inability to hate Abramovich, and who spend at least a couple of minutes each day pondering this moral failure[2]. Without Ambramovich, Chelsea wouldn’t fire managers on a regular basis: his bizarre egomania forces the sackings, and his billions fund the big severance checks that departing managers take with them as a sort of consolation prize[3]. But remove Ambramovich from the equation, and Chelsea is a mid-table team. The Stamford Bridge faithful is obligated to love him.

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A Blue Revolution Powered By The Green Stuff

“In soccer, money is destiny,” Brian Phillips wrote in 2011. “And destiny’s not distributed equally.”

At its best, the Premier League is an exhilarating spectacle sustained in part by a moneyed elite that spends millions on superstar players. At its worst, the Premier League feels like a lame excuse for the moneyed elite to play for more money. In the early 1990s, English clubs broke away from the old Football League and formed their own competition designed to realize the commercial potential of a new, streamlined league that would fully embrace live television. Since then, a small band of financially empowered teams has dominated. Sometimes they’re a “Big Four;” sometimes they’re a “Big Three;” once in a while they’re even a “Big Five.” While those clubs vie for major honors, the rest of the Premier League invents and then competes in a series of phony battles, the most notable of which is “The Battle To Avoid The Drop” and the most banal “The Battle To Finish In The Top Ten If, By April, We’re Too Good For The Drop But Not Good Enough For Europe.”

Occasionally, it’s possible for traditionally weak teams to break into the top tier; however, such maneuvers require the type of money that Chelsea, traditionally a promising but never truly successful club, has enjoyed since 2003, when Russian billionaire and celebrity yacht-owner Roman Abramovich decided, virtually on a whim, that he rather liked Stamford Bridge. After a couple of seasons of steady investment, self-proclaimed “Special One” Jose Mourinho secured Abramovich’s team the Premier League title. And last year, after numerous failed attempts, Chelsea became the first London club to win the Champions League, or European Cup — as it was known before a certain fascination with the green stuff necessitated a rebranding.

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The Beautiful Weirdness of the Community Shield

Every August, one week before Premier League kickoff, the previous season’s FA Cup winner faces off against the reigning league champion in the FA Community Shield. Manchester United has won the annual curtain-raiser 19 times, more often than any other team, but Sir Alex Ferguson, who engineered half of those triumphs, doesn’t consider it a legitimate trophy. (Then again, Fergie can afford to dismiss ten victories; he’s the game’s most decorated coach.) The Community Shield is probably the most ambiguous thing football has ever produced, and, in a sport that still hasn’t settled the handball rule, that’s saying something.

Originally, the Community Shield wasn’t the Community Shield at all; it was the Sheriff of London Charity Shield, and instead of pitting two money-grubbing big-time teams against each other in a sponsored-by-McDonald’s spectacle, it served as a 90-minute diplomatic necessity, fought between a team from the Amateur Football Association and one of its professional counterparts. Scottish whiskey distiller Baron Dewar, an early promotional expert who also founded the Theatrical Sports Five Miles Cycling Championship Shield, is credited with conceiving the event. The first-ever Sheriff of London Charity Shield match finished in a tie: at the end of regulation, Sheffield United (the professional representative) and Corinthians (the amateur representative) had each scored a single goal. With United unwilling to play extra time, the two teams elected to “share” the six-foot trophy. It was all a far cry from Mickey D’s.

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Fearsome Chelsea Prepare for the Future

Marko Marin is not an elfin warrior. The pint-sized, blond German international may look more like an extra from a Lord of the Rings movie than a professional footballer, but his flashy talents have nothing to do with Middle Earth. Indeed, from the point of view of Chelsea’s many rivals, Marin and his fellow new signings, Oscar and Eden Hazard, are a little too real; their arrival at Stamford Bridge marks the beginning of an aggressive new era.

Over the past three seasons, Manchester City’s owners have routinely outperformed Roman Abramovich in the indulgent-spending stakes. That gradual power shift culminated in City’s Premier League title success. Now Abramovich is biting back.

While City triumphed in England last season, Chelsea saved their champagne for the Champions League final. The Blues’ undeserved yet brilliantly cathartic penalty shoot-out win over Bayern Munich — in Bayern’s home stadium, no less — capped a turbulent season replete with managerial controversy and several dressing-room revolts. Many critics dismissed Chelsea’s triumph, however, claiming the team had won the tournament by “parking the bus” and playing “catenaccio” (By the way, this is one of my pet peeves. Catenaccio is not a synonym for “defensive.” It is a system built around a sweeper and man-marking, two tactical devices that are almost obsolete in modern football). Some even went as far as to blame Di Matteo’s Italian ancestry.

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What’s Next For Andy Carroll?

Brendan Rodgers is one of an ever-increasing number of football managers devoted to the mystical Barcelona Way, the aesthetically pleasing football method that, after a couple of years of obscurity, suddenly popped into our collective consciousness in 2008. The Barcelona Way got Rodgers where he is now. Without the inspiration of Cruyff, Guardiola and company, he would never have succeeded in teaching a Swansea team composed of honest, lower-league professionals to “play football the right way.” And had Swansea employed traditional kick-and-run tactics, they would probably have been relegated. And had they been relegated, Rodgers almost certainly wouldn’t have been hired by Liverpool.

It’s a bummer for Andy Carroll that Barcelona exist.

The really frustrating thing about Andy Carroll is that he fooled us all. That six-foot something bludgeon of a center forward, that Anfield flop, that money-grubbing drunk: he had us. All of us. When he scored ten goals during the first half of the 2010/11 Premier League season, when he routinely scared the bejesus out of real-life European defenders, we all thought he was good. Not just good; good. Future-of-English-football good. Gonna-bring-home-the-2018-World-Cup good.

These days, the best you can say about Carroll is that he probably didn’t do it on purpose. No footballer can control tabloid hype. Carroll didn’t decide to have his potential international future elevated from “maybe decent” to “certainly brilliant,” The Sun decided for him. Even in his glory moment – and moment is certainly the right word — Carroll probably knew that the press was only praising him to the heavens in preparation for a precipitous trip back down.

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Retrospective: The Week That Destroyed A Season

When the bards sing of deeds gone by or poets write in remembrance, memory is always airbrushed. As an eager, fresh-faced boy desperate to fill my mind’s expanse of blankness, I noticed, interested, the holes in Manchester United’s rich history. The period for instance that some call the 1970s, is one afforded only a cursory sentence or two in all the unofficial accounts I read, seemingly, football hadn’t happened between around the time George Best lifted the European Cup and the day Ron Atkinson cleaned out his office.

What with decades disappearing, to misplace a week might seem a trifling matter, but here I seek to preserve one of the worst. Observed through the lens of glories since, the first seven days of April 2010 lose poignancy – victory’s narcotic effect blurring our understanding of what it means to lose. Pain, all too happily sedated.

The weather was nice, early Spring temperatures in Germany complementing early spring moods in Manchester – moods dictated by a script long since memorized.

Adjustment had been an overarching theme that year. The departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez kicked off a period of change. In came Antonio Valencia and Michael Owen, as a goalscoring burden of titanic proportions shifted onto the shoulders of Wayne Rooney.

Read more at Man Utd 24.

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Moment #2: Van Der Sar’s Moscow Heroics

This one is by me, The Chairman; David Yaffe-Bellany, editor of In For The Hat Trick.

The rain glistened off his head. Sparkling like the cosmos, the gloriously bald Nicolas Anelka took his first tentative steps. In the slightly blurred background, Van Der Sar beat his hands together looking, presumably, to inspire a last bout of energy. Twenty fellows anxiously waited, millions more consumed excitedly, all were transfixed by the action unfolding. 

I had always been a sucker for penalty shoot-outs. The sheer, almost manufactured drama inherent in these most ultimate of deciders is an addictive drug – pure, unadulterated adrenaline.

But here something was different. The grown men covering their eyes with scarves were my men, the sweat soaked victims of football’s fickle executioner were my players.  Everything was distinctly more personal.

A neglected, fast cooling box of pizza lay discarded in the corner, beside it, an untouched pitcher of water. ESPN’s transmission lit up a rather morbid setting, even Tommy Smyth’s inept analysis was met with no complaint. Laying prone on the couch was a rather unattractive lifeform, its steely gaze fixed on the television – as the nostalgic elderly might have it, a quintessential twenty-first century human.

As Anelka strode nervously to the penalty spot, the slumping figure straightened to attention. Expectation began to prevail, hope usurped negativity. Dressed in marvelous green, Van Der Sar looked the part. His arms waved menacingly, daring Anelka to score, daring him to deny United a third sojourn into European nirvana.

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The Premier League Continues To Excel At Its Own Kind Of Magic

It wasn’t tiki-taka. Geometric precision may have been lacking, but the Premier League’s latest serving beats the rest in spice. As tactical and ideological trends emanating from Catalonia continue to dictate the musings of football’s intelligentsia, the English game remains resolute and stubborn.

Never mind the intricate little noises coming from Spain and the revolutionaries in Italy, here we refuse to conform. Here penalties are better in the stands, strikers when they’re missing and artisans when flat on their faces.

Here the populace care not for immaculate technicians. It is in its parochialism that the Premier League has once again usurped the rest, claimed lost ground in a perpetual battle for perfection. The decline of an overwhelmingly cosmopolitan outpost, coupled with an influx of English talent to the country’s most recent European adventurers has seen the league regain a superiority once considered inherent.

The difference is in the drama. As Tony Evans succinctly put it on Twitter, “football is more poetry than maths.” In search of poetic meaning, hunters had not to look far, the story of Fernando Torres might as well have been penned by Thespis or Aeschylus, such was the distinctness of its tragedy; redemption wiped away by a moment of the utmost horror. Someone high up there clearly owns a Manchester United scarf.

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