Friday, March 24, 2006

Divine Right of Big Clubs?

This article I wrote appeared on Chelsea FC unofficial fansite CFCnet earlier this week. I will be writing regularly for CFCnet but will put all the articles here for all the non-CFCnet-ters of you a few days after they appear. Here is the first of those. Enjoy...

Many opposing fans – and the media - have accused Chelsea and even their fans for being arrogant. That they are so carried away with their own success, money and new status that they think they will be on top forever, that they have the ‘right’ to make bold statements about their expectations. Somehow thinking that Chelsea will be the dominant force for years to come, a fact which is staring most in the face, is arrogance. Certainly our manager, Jose Mourinho, and Peter Kenyon, chief executive, make bold statements of ambition and intent and in Mourinho’s case his own self-worth. What’s more much of this criticism comes from the fans and even the management, in an oh so subtle way, of some of the other big clubs. I believe these clubs are forgetting to look at themselves, and this attitude smacks of an attitude of what I like to call the “divine right of big clubs’ – the traditional big clubs should share the trophies, not rich upstarts.

Our manager Jose Mourinho is always the first to be criticised. I think people are confusing arrogance with confidence and a willingness to state the facts and not worry so much about what is the politically correct thing to say – as they often did with Brian Clough. On his appointment as Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said he was European Champion – and he was. When Tottenham famously ‘parked the bus’ in front of the goal and defended for 90 minutes against us last season, he was right. Last season he compared himself with Frank Riijkard, the Barcelona manager, saying that while as a player the Dutchman may have won everything, as a manager he has won nothing (at that point anyway). He was right. This season, when discussing the tackle on Michael Essien and comparing it to the tackle which got Essien his two match ban he was spot on. The injury Essien sustained was far worse and yet there was no punishment. It sounds petty but it was true. More recently, the sending off of Del Horno and talking in particular about Messi’s play-acting, he was right. He speaks his mind and what he believes is the truth.

He is not perfect. He can go over the top sometimes. Yes he does defend his team to the hilt, even if the evidence sometimes points to the contrary. But does not any manager do that? Is it a crime to speak your mind? Unlike Arsene Wenger for example, he is not afraid to criticise his team when they have played poorly. He admitted that Chelsea deserved to lose against Middlesbrough and rightly condemned his players for their poor performance. He famously gave Joe Cole a public dressing down in order to get the best out of him, which worked.

Let’s get some balance here by stating some facts about a manager of one of these traditional ‘big clubs’, who never seems to be criticised and who many people – in particular his own supporters – hail as a genius - Arsene Wenger. No doubt was he has achieved at Arsenal is admirable. However, he is proclaimed as a great spotter of young talent. A myth. Anelka, Van Persie, Vieira, Flamini, Walcott and Fabregas are or were always regarded by many managers and coaches across Europe as highly talented prospects. He did not ‘pick them from nowhere’. He just did what good mangers should do, and got the best out of them. Does anyone remember Richard Wright and Francis Jeffers, both of whom are now either on the bench or in the reserve teams if their respective clubs? Wenger, despite having a team far superior than Mourinho’s Porto who won both European trophies in successive seasons, has never in a decade at Arsenal even got to the semi-finals of the Champions League and never won the European Cup in his managerial career. Jose Mourinho has been a manager six seasons and won every trophy he’s contested - apart from the FA Cup – at least once, including in all probability four successive league titles, with different clubs.

Anyone who knows football knows that success goes in cycles. Man Utd have been the dominant team over the last 10 -15 years and before that it was Liverpool for about the same length of time. Chelsea are emerging, whether Arsenal fans like it or not, as the next dominant force. They are on their way to a second successive Premiership title, something Arsenal have never achieved despite having the great Arsene Wenger (who obviously can do no wrong) as their manager for around a decade and having some of the best players in the world in their team. Certainly two seasons ago they were a great team and looked like they could dominate. But then Jose Mourinho came on the scene and we all know what has happened since.

Chelsea do not have a divine right to success, no club does, and just because we have money does not make that so. I would argue that the traditional big clubs – (i.e.: the G14 clubs) and their fans seem to think they have the monopoly on success and are the only clubs ‘allowed’ to win the major trophies and that having a history entitles them to that. I have met many a fan like that. They think that somehow because they’ve won the big trophies on a regular basis and earnt their status ‘on the pitch’ that entitles them to win them forever and juggle the trophies between them and to sit in judgement on other clubs and their supporters. If that is not arrogance then what is? They don’t like the fact that suddenly from nowhere money from outside football and not generated by football (therefore dirty) has made a top six team into a championship team. The facts are that Chelsea’s money has saved at least 3 clubs – directly or indirectly – from going into administration, and broken the duopoly people hated at the top of the Premiership. How is that a bad thing? (Unless of course you’re part of that duopoly and don’t want it broken thank you very much).

The criticisms from fans regarding the source of the wealth that Roman is some sort of criminal or Mafioso figure - has some but not very in depth factual evidence to support it, and the shallowness of this argument is shown up by the fact that – as has been pointed out elsewhere - no fans were as concerned about Russian ‘exploitation’ of resources or knew hardly anything about it before Roman Abramovich turned up. They jump on their moral high horse when it is the likelihood that is most fans would love their club to be taken over by a billionaire and have huge amounts of money invested in their team to make them more successful. If it had been their clubs taken over, they would not be saying a word in criticism - no matter what they say.

Money is important in modern football to getting success and to think it isn’t is to misunderstand football nowadays. AC Milan, Barcelona, Juventus, Man Utd, Real Madrid and now Chelsea have all achieved a high level of success in the last decade by spending big. It may not have used to be that way but thanks to the big clubs and their idea of forming the Premiership and enlarging the Champions League to get themselves more money it has become that way.

Money on its own cannot, however, guarantee you success – Real Madrid spent more than Chelsea last summer and look how it helped them - but it does help. Chelsea have every right to use it to better themselves – as does any club. Fan who argue it’s the money that won us the trophies obviously have no understanding of football. It’s a flimsy argument to be ignored.

People should stop believing everything they read in the media about Chelsea. It is largely speculation and misinterpretation motivated by a desire to bring the best down a peg or two. They did it with Man Utd but not in such a vindictive and malicious way.

Some criticism of Chelsea is justified. Chelsea and Jose Mourinho may not be perfect and have done and said things maybe in hindsight they shouldn’t.

However, to use the old arguments about arrogance and money concerning Chelsea and their fans are starting to get as old as the traditional big clubs themselves. Yes, Chelsea may have lots of money – but the facts show they are the best team in England at the moment. They may not always be that way no matter how much money they spend. But certainly they are now a club forming a history of their own that are breaking the monopoly of the so-called ‘traditional’ big clubs and becoming one themselves. If people don’t like that then that’s not Chelsea’s fault. But to criticise it based on flimsy arguments so old they should be on vinyl and have only a vague basis in the truth, and accusations of arrogance which themselves come from the arrogant attitude of ‘the divine right of traditional big clubs’ cannot be right.