All the Sinners Saints: Chelsea Robbed in Europe

606 was group therapy last night. Chelsea fan after Chelsea fan heard their own voices slurring under an unsuspected weight that, the future gone from them, they could suddenly feel.  There was a lot of anger spoken of unfelt. Tiredness and resignation masqueraded as rage. Lovejoy called for vengeance, but his “I want United to beat them into pulp” was said like it was read from a list and told you he no longer had the energy to care.

It was hard not to sympathise. But I would have to admit to the following: turning the radio off after the Chelsea goal; turning in early; turning the radio on again at about ten o’clock, hearing the news, and abruptly getting up again; running to turn the television on; dancing around the room. Not, I would agree, the actions of a patriot or of a passionate Londoner.

And Chelsea were robbed. There’s no doubt that the tie was theirs on balance. But consider what it would have meant had the football gods (and let’s hope it was just the football gods and not bribery or UEFA as well) not intervened in the dying moments of the game.

We’d have had last year’s final all over again. With all that entailed. Just imagine:

Three weeks of self-serving, self-pitying mockney bullshit from England’s captain John Terry. Tedious speculation about penalties. Replays from Moscow on Sky Sports every day. The hideous ramping-up of the pressure on Guus Hiddinck to stay. Poor Frank Lampard’s mother getting wheeled out for inspiration. Mourinho hassled about his legacy. And all that Triumph of the Will stuff about the manifest destiny of the blues. 

Instead, we get United v Barcelona, a game that might just interest some neutrals and be good to watch. Messi and Ronaldo in Rome. What a way to start the summer.

To be as fair as possible to Chelsea, they have rescued their season from what might have been much, much worse. But an FA Cup Final and third place in the league is about right. It’s still achievement, but there was a moment in April when they might have gone on a run to the treble, and that would have been unjust. Remember Liverpool, who look like winning nothing now.

 It’s interesting how a club carries its essential identity into different times. Chelsea were a cup side and many people’s second team of choice for many years. They were known on the one hand for fan violence and on the other for attractive football and a certain kind of London glamour. The ghost of all that has run on into the Abramovich era. The top’s not yet their home but Liverpool still carry so much momentum from their past, hard-won momentum, that they can feel quite comfortable in the late stages of the Champions League. Result: no league titles for Liverpool, but two Champions League finals in four years. 

I wonder now if Chelsea don’t have some of that colourful mediocrity left in their bones, still to be grown out of. I wonder if that didn’t have something to do with the last twelve months and what now looks like their Leeds 1975 season.

When Mourinho left, I predicted a slow, but definite, decline. There’s still time for a great manager to stop it, to begin rebuilding from a position of strength. But not much time. Some of us who have been watching all this from the beginning think that Chelsea have a portrait in the attic, and that portrait is one of Jody Morris, and if they don’t get the next appointment right, some of us can see that picture brought out and paraded down the Kings Road in front of everyone before 2010 is too old.

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