The Chelsea Civil War – Night Of The Long Knives

A civil war erupts between Chelsea fans globally on various forums, with questions been asked about the team’s disastrous outing against Sunderland at Stamford Bridge – the erstwhile fortress, where the same club had scored the previous 39 goals by itself, without a reply from its hapless rivals. With the club suddenly plunged into disarray, the knives have come out and Chelsea fans find themselves in two warring camps – one, comprising the Ancelotti loyalists, and the other comprising fans who still hark back to the Mourinho era.

Editors’ Note : This piece is designed to reflect a debate between two representatives – Mr. Keep-Your-Faith, a die-hard Blue and a firm believer in Ancelotti’s ability to leave a legacy at the club, and Mr. Snide-Forked-Tongue,  a critic of the club’s current direction and a fan hell-bent on reestablishing the Mourinho doctrine. The debate takes place after the events of November 14th, 2010, and centers around a few select topics that reflect the broader issues. Carlo Ancelotti’s role as a manager, as well as the abilities of Zhirkov, Ramires, Ferreira and Mikel, are not spared.

Snide-Forked-Tongue: I hold Roman and his advisers completely responsible for the fiasco. There we were – with the wind in our sails, at the top of the Premier League – when the board decided that stability was overrated, and threw out the club’s single longest-serving individual and quite possibly the only member of the coaching staff who could speak English. The disarray at the top was all too evident, and Ancelotti looked like a clueless deer in the headlights on the touchline. Ancelotti has been found out; he has no Plan B, under duress.

Despite the sheer despondency, Ancelotti did make me laugh though. Substituting our best performer on the field, Florent Malouda, with the hapless Kalou was comic relief of the highest order. It’s high time for this clown to return to that dairy farm of his in Italy.

Guus Hiddink Manager last game at Stamford Bridge jokes with Assistant Manager Ray Wilkins during the Celebrations at Stamford Bridge Chelsea 2008/09 Chelsea V Blackburn Rovers (2-0) 17/05/09 at Stamford Bridge The Premier League Photo Robin Parker Fotosports International And then, like that… he’s gone

Keep-Your-Faith: Say what you want about Roman’s decisions, but hold your horses when it comes to criticizing Ancelotti. I’m appalled you refer to Ancelotti as both tactically naïve and a clown.

This is the same person who was hailed as a midfield general during his playing days, and was renowned for his game-reading skills. There goes your argument that he’s incapable of adjusting to the vagaries of the modern game. He has won the Champions league – a competition solely depended on tactics – as a player and twice as a coach, reaching the final three times. In his first season in the English league, he managed a double over Liverpool, United, and Arsenal, and for the first time in the history of the club, we won the double – a feat even your beloved Jose couldn’t manage. He has single-handedly changed the image of the club – from being hated the world over to being more likeable – by his graceful demeanor and calm presence. He is 51 now, and has a long coaching future in front of him;  if it’s with Chelsea, then nobody else would be better for us than him.

Snide-Forked-Tongue: His insistence that the club did not need new blood in the summer was the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard uttered by someone close to the game. Injuries to Alex, Terry, Lampard and Essien, and an illness to Drogba, are not the problems – their replacements are the problem. I’ve never seen such a huge gulf in talent between the first XI and the reserves in any other side. Ancelotti must hold up his hand and take responsibility for failing to gauge the depth of the team.

I’ve always maintained that Ancelotti’s ability to make substitutions under duress is very poor. Couple that with having nobody to call upon, and it’s a recipe for a disaster. While “clown” was a poor choice of words, the fact remains that substituting Malouda for a newly-returned Kalou can only be termed “clowning around”. 40,000 odd Chelsea supporters agreed with me, that fateful day at Stamford Bridge. I don’t expect the manager to make stupid tactical decisions and crazy substitutions. Had I wanted that, I’d have settled for Benitez.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA. OCTOBER 19, 2010. Chelsea FC manager Carlo Ancelotti watches a UEFA Champions League game Spartak Moscow vs. Chelsea. (Photo ITAR-TASS / Alexei Filippov) Photo via Newscom
Not everything he’s cracked up to be

Keep-Your-Faith: I know it will take time for fans to accept his often hard-to-digest tactics, but times have changed at the Bridge. We plan to fill in all positions on the pitch slowly, by blooding youngsters while making one around-20-million-purchase (an established player) each year. All I ask of you is to be patient; we are down, we have been hurt, but we are certainly not out. Have faith in your players and in your coach.

Snide-Forked-Tongue: You ask me to have faith in these players. But you conveniently leave out mentioning which players it is whom I need to repose my faith in. The way I see it, the football pundits are overrated. I’m usually the one with blue glasses on, and even I was hoping at best for a draw against Sunderland. But the pundits (I use the term loosely) insisted Chelsea would win 2-0 and 3-0. Whatever they’re smoking is clearly detrimental to mental health.

I’d like to break it up for them – so that they don’t embarrass themselves with other such predictions in future. If the players in the right column ever feature on the same field together at the same time, consider Chelsea relegation material.

Les IrreplaceablesLosers Inc.

Keep-Your-Faith: Ferreira is as good a squad player as you find in any other team. He is a team-man to the core, does whatever role he is assigned to do, and keeps his tongue on a tight leash in the media. However, his main position is at full-back, where he has acted as a standby for CFC for a long time now. He is not a centre-back, and Carlo shouldn’t have played him there. But maybe he was left with no other choice.

Steven Gerrard Liverpool 2010/11 Ramires Chelsea Liverpool V Chelsea (2-0) 07/11/10 The Premier League Photo: Robin Parker Fotosports International Photo via Newscom
Will the Real Ramires please stand up?

Kalou is as good an impact player as anyone else. Since coming to Chelsea, the lad has averaged 12 goals per season, in addition to 7 assists. Considering he rarely starts and at the same time is happy to come off the bench, I wouldn’t exchange him for anybody.

Zhirkov is not a central midfielder; for the sake of the team, he is playing out of position. He is a left back who can play on the left wing. This is the same player who had powered the Blues to a victory over Bolton last season, and played the games despite cracking his skull midway through the game.

I agree with your contention that Ramires has disappointed so far this season. But why do you forget that he is new to this league, and for a midfielder it might take at least a season to adjust to a new style, and that he has never played in such a physically challenging league before? Ancelotti had hoped to gradually make him a part of the team, but the untimely injuries have thrown the young Brazilian straight-away in De Jong’s way (harm’s way). I have been frustrated by his constant falling over and losing possession, but I will never label him a loser. Give him time; if after a season he shows absolutely no improvement, then I will have no problem with you calling him a failed signing.

As for John Obi Mikel, your derision smacks of bias and doesn’t seem rooted in facts. Against Liverpool, it was only due to the naiveté of Zhirkov and Ramires that the Nigerian couldn’t pass the ball forward down the centre. Ergo, he had to look to fullbacks to galvanize Chelsea’s attacks. The combination of Mikel-Zhirkov-Ramires was clearly not working and yet you choose to put the blame on Mikel.

On Sunday, he found out Drogba and Anelka on at least 4-5 occasions with an inch-perfect long ball, but the forwards could not capitalize. The lad still has among the highest percentages of short and long pass completion. His only weakness as of now is his lack of speed, but he covers for it by his composure and eye for a pass. Once Essien and Lampard are back, we will get our best-ever midfield formation back – Lampard-Essien-Mikel. It does not get better than that.

Snide-Forked-Tongue: I wish I shared your rosy-eyed view of the future. But I think I’ve based my opinions on having watched these players long enough to refrain from knee-jerk reactions.

Ferreira may have a heart of gold. But let’s not confuse his willingness to play any role, for a sacrifice on his part. He knows that he hasn’t carved a niche in the team, and can be given the pink slip any day. What would you and I do in such a position? Pretty much do any role asked of us. It’s the age old adage of “beggars can’t be choosers”. Now, I’m not comparing Ferreira to a beggar, just pointing out that he remains after all his years in the club – a glorified water carrier. Is he built for top class football? No, he’s living on borrowed time.

Salomon Kalou Chelsea 2010/11 Liverpool V Chelsea (2-0) 07/11/10 The Premier League Photo: Robin Parker Fotosports International Photo via Newscom
KALOU – Seemingly without a clue

Kalou is an impact player – when he clicks. More often than not, he and Sturridge contribute to waste a dozen chances between themselves every month. An impact player would be the likes of Benayoun, who has a fantastic ability to deliver when it’s most needed; not Kalou, whose ability to find the back of the net or muscle past defenders or dance his way through is severely limited. In fact, I’m going to take a step further and call into question Anelka’s contributions as well. The latest run of results has proven beyond any doubt that Chelsea succeed because of its imperious midfield and not because of its offense.

We do not have the luxury of blooding newer players into the team. This is real professional football, not the Ligue 1 or the MLS. Ramires does not fit in, because he’s a Brazilian, and those players tend to be unmitigated disasters in the English game. Ramires needs to be given the boot, and packed off to Italy where he’ll prosper – and then you’ll probably tell me we were wrong to let him go. Let me preempt you, a la The Bush Doctrine, and refute any comparisons with Malouda. The Frenchman went through a rough patch, but it was evident for all to see that a guy who scores on his debut was a diamond in the rough. Let’s not hold our breath waiting for Ramires to improve along similar lines.

For someone like Zhirkov, who threatened the club with a move to Russia, if he wasn’t given more first-team opportunities, he sure seems quite complacent now. If he’s not a central midfielder, he knows better than I do how to drift outside to the flanks. Yet, he managed to be completely undone on the left – often getting in the way of Ashley Cole and Malouda. He was saluted when he played that game with a cracked skull. But in football, and at Chelsea, you are only as good as your last game.

Wembley Aston Villa v Chelsea (0-3) FA Cup Semi-Final 10/04/10 John Obi Mikel (Chelsea) Photo Roger Parker Fotosports International Photo via Newscom
MIKEL – Eternal man-child?

Mikel is doing a fabulous job – by his erstwhile standards. His youth can no longer be used as an excuse. We’ve been told over and over again, that his natural game is that of an attacking midfielder. I saw nothing to corroborate that, in his performance against Sunderland. Did Mikel, technically speaking, do his job in the 3-0 slaughter? Yes, he did. He was a defensive midfielder. Period. But did he step up and take charge like Ivanovic did? No, he did not.

Have you ever heard the likes of Alex, Ivanovic or Terry criticized so? Is it because they never bungle on the field? I’d like to believe it’s because they give it their heart and soul. Ivanovic let in three goals, but I salute him for at least trying to be more than a stationary central defender. He played in every position on the field against Sunderland.

Keep-Your-Faith: I stand by Carlo’s decision to replace Malouda that day. The Frenchman cut a forlorn frustrated figure on the field, and was clearly not adding any value. He seems to be going through a rough patch, and no matter how big a star you are, at the end of the day, you must be subservient to the team’s interests.

You talk about “goal on debut”, well that my friend was considered a curse by CFC fans, until Malouda came good. In the recent past, almost all players who had scored on début have been disappointments – Shevchenko, Pizzarro, Deco, etc.

Why on earth would we want to sell our third-choice right-back? If the ploy of featuring him in the centre of the defense failed, it does not in any way indicate his weaknesses on the right. Short of a forgettable day at the office against Bale last season, he has been a decently performing member of the squad.

Kalou currently features as one of the league’s highest goal scorers, putting paid to your insinuation that he is overrated. On one hand, you contend that Zhirkov and Ramires were shoddy in their performances, and on the other hand you accuse Mikel of being solely concerned with his defensive responsibilities. What else must the Nigerian have done, when the defense is in tatters, and he receives no assistance from his midfield compatriots?

Finally, I disagree with your condescending attitude towards Zhirkov and the haughty dictate that a player is only as good as his last game. We are not that kind of club anymore. We’re a club that believes it’s human to stumble and fall, but what’s truly important is that you dust yourself and get back on your feet. Redemption is the word.

7 Responses to “The Chelsea Civil War – Night Of The Long Knives”

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  1. Eric says:

    This post is funny and interesting. But you can’t be serious. It’s too early to even talk about a Chelsea debacle. It was just an one off game. That’s it.

  2. Bryington says:

    It has been a great enjoyment reading your piece. It was a funny read. As a sincere football fan, hope you will come up with more such articles to your incredible collection.

  3. dave98 says:

    Loved all the opinions expressed here! Certainly different from the espn/guardian lectures and an enjoyable read:)

  4. Deacon says:

    Very good post. Actually it’s very different in taste compared to the so called football articles. Myself being a Chelsea/Carlo fan, I enjoyed the funny read. I am surely going to come back to your site to read such wonderful posts.

  5. Chris says:

    Hello, this is unquestionably a amazing blog post. You have brilliantly moulded a serious discussion in a humorous manner. Thank You

  6. Dibakar says:

    All said and done… its all Mr. Abramovich’s fault.. or to be more precise Mr. Eugene Tenenbaum…many regard as teh right hand of Abramovich and the one influencing Abramovich totake these knee jerk decisions.. it is also believed that the guy was also behind the fall out between mourinho n abramovich. even Mourunho once said while managing inter milan that abramovich was really passionate about the club and soccer, but the probelem was his close aides who did not give a dime’s worth of concern about the club but was only interested in filling their pockets…
    In short, no wonder the sacking of ray wilkins and teh injuries to all the big players couldn’t have been synchronised any worse… but in the first place, why was wilkins sacked.. about teh injuries.. well nothing can be done.. but why screw up the team morale when everything is just goin so right…I am pretty sure wilkins wasnt half as bad as the treatment doled out to him.. Ancelotti cant be blamed for all this.. U cant expect the man to work as well as he did in the first year while doing everything to make it difficult for him.. its like hitting Usain Bolt right on the knee with a baseball bat and then asking him to clock the record once again…. its a shame.. that’s not the way to treat a man like Ancelotti who gave the so much in a single year… Looking at what the club has come to… i wont mind or crib a bit if chelsea won nothing this season… and teach abramovich a lesson….