There was nothing that gave me more joy in recent times than to watch you hold aloft the twin trophies of the Barclays Premier League and the FA Cup last season. What a difference one season makes, though! I think it’s now safe to assume that neither of us will be feeling especially joyous come the end of this domestic season.
I don’t mean to hold you entirely responsible for the fiasco unfolding at Stamford Bridge. In fact, there are quite a few ‘players’ in this entire sorry episode who deserve more blame than you ever will. And yet, I believe that you were the one who had the greatest opportunity to step up to the plate, and if not fix the situation, at least ameliorate it.
I agree that nobody likes having the Persian rug pulled from beneath their feet, especially when it involves their second-in-command finding himself without a job. But the manner in which the team has struggled in recent times, after the departure of Ray Wilkins, begs the questions – Was Ray much more than a translator for you? Was he, by any measure of imagination, the brains behind the whole operation? Was Ray the real architect of Chelsea’s record-busting run last season? Ray was, after all, a Blue through-and-through, and someone who understood the English game. Were you perhaps more reliant on him, than you should have been?
You do realize (don’t you?) that the slump in form after Ray’s departure can no longer be attributed to the psychological blow of seeing someone so close to the squad leave the club? After all, the same club (and dare I say, the same players) bounced back and gave Manchester United a pretty good run for its money under the luckless Avram Grant after the shocking departure of Mourinho. It will therefore hurt your legacy to no end, to hear that you haven’t been truly able to get over the scars of Ray’s firing.
It must be terrible to face the expectations of the Stamford faithful after having had such a successful debut season. And yet, there are some things that strike me as being characteristic in both your seasons in charge. In both seasons, you showed a reluctance to revert to the tried and tested 4-3-3 formation, despite it being evident the narrower formations like the diamond and the Xmas tree no longer cut it with the rest of the Premier League opposition. It took a player revolt last season (let’s not pretend it was anything else) to get you to abandon everything but the status-quo.
With the arrival of Torres, I can see the reason behind trying out the Spaniard in a pairing with Drogba. But it simply didn’t work against the likes of Liverpool, because the club severely lacked width – an Achilles heel for us, even during the Mourinho years. Everyone’s permitted one mistake, surely. What baffles me, however, is the decision to face Fulham with an even narrower Xmas tree formation! Surely this betrays either a fundamental lack of understanding of the demands of the English game, or an incredible intransigence when it comes to learning from one’s errors.
I was of the opinion the FA Cup was clearly one of Chelsea’s biggest targets this season. And yet choosing to field a half-strength side against Everton without Michael Essien and Nicolas Anelka, and the likes of Ramires, Mikel and Ferreira simultaneously in the starting line-up, seemed to indicate the club had either decided to throw the FA Cup to the wind or had underestimated Everton’s resolve.
Where others see coincidence, I see consequence. It was hardly any surprise to me that Chelsea’s opening goal came about with Nicolas Anelka in the front line, and not on the bench. And Michael Essien instead of John Obi Mikel. Should I be thrilled at the fact that Ramires’ performances have gone up a notch, or should I mourn the fact his performances are now considered the best in what was once the most imposing midfield in all of England?
Now a glass-is-half-full kind of guy would probably see this latest disappointing result as a godsend for the club, in the sense that Chelsea can now afford to concentrate on what’s truly important – a top-4 spot in the league, and getting as far as we can in the Champions League. But I’m not entirely convinced that’s the case, because bad results (regardless of what competition is) have a tendency to snowball.
When Frank Lampard is clearly at his worst, and Michael Essien no longer bullying teams into submission, the 3-man midfield clearly needs a dosage of quick-footedness and sheer talent. Cue the entrance of Josh McEachran, or so one would think. If Wenger, someone who’s sufficiently long in the tooth as well, can bring on Jack Wilshere against Barcelona, the most attacking side on the planet, I fail to understand why you hesitate to give McEachran a shot. The young star has wowed the global audience with mature, game-defining performances against even Premier League sides; and yet the Blues, under your aegis, choose day-in-day-out to feature a jaded, over-the-hill, misfiring midfield bunch.
Please tell me that apart from the demoralizing atmosphere that a string of poor results brings to any dressing room, everything is fine with the squad. I don’t see the camaraderie that characterized our amazing run last season, nor do I believe the squad is a hundred percent united behind you. Perhaps a ‘clear-the-air’ meeting might help again.
We’re in the final stretch here, Carlo. This is the time for the last roll of the die, for you to pull that last trick from up your sleeve. It’s time for the Hail Mary pass in American football, if you will.
Chelsea needs you to have an open mind, more than anything right now.