The intertwined tale of Chelsea and Claudio Ranieri.
Chelsea Football Club was formed in 1905 and fifty years later, they became Champions of England for the first time. The following year I was born, hence missing out by twelve months on the best year of the club’s existence up to that point. The next time they topped the domestic tree would be in 2005. Chelsea titles were just like London buses, regular as clockwork – one arrived every fifty years. Two years before the second title however, something happened at the club that would redefine perceptions of ‘success’ lifting the club to heights the like of which case-hardened fans such as me could hardly comprehend. Continue reading →
The weekend when the pendulum swung in the title race. But which way?
A long while ago, a former British prime minister once declared that “a week is a long time in politics.” Harold Wilson’s phrase was meant to encompass how the agenda and public opinion of a government can be influenced not only by the actions it takes, but also the way in which unforeseen events can sometimes change both the state of affairs, and the affairs of state. If Wilson’s description of politics is true, very much the same can probably be said for a weekend in Premier League football.
Very much not a beautiful day!
Football fans come in all shapes and sizes, and certainly many shades of opinion about the game and its environs. Forget even club affiliations for a moment. Some prefer the mile-a-minute thud and blunder of ‘route one’ whilst others may swoon at the intricate geometry of the tiki-taka possession game that bores opponents into conceding goals. Some think standing is the authentic way of watching live football, in all weathers with cold tea and Bovril so hot it would strip paint. Others however want the apparent luxury of sitting in a seat with legroom so restricted it would shame the lowest of low-cost airline cabins.
Such examples demonstrate the broad church of opinion that constitute the football community. In my experience however, there’s probably one thing that unites opinion almost without exception. Put in simple terms, it’s that ITV should not be allowed to anywhere near domestic football action – live or highlights. Having them broadcast England games is bad enough, but news that they are likely to bid for the highlights package from the Premier League next year – BBC’s Match of the Day is the current incumbent – causes concern and trepidation throughout football fandom. Continue reading →
DC’s move on Valencia would have been just comic.
Picture the scene. “Holy Logo Dilemma Batman!” cries the Boy Wonder. “We need to rescue our trademark.” Having curtailed with the cruelly comic cuts of The Joker, the somewhat fishy ne’er do well activities of The Penguin and figured out the contrived criminal capers of The Riddler, it now appeared that an altogether different sort of target is causing the lights to flash on the Bat-scope. Fortunately for the Dynamic Duo, the crisis was averted.
Hasselbaink’s gone for a Burton – and he’s loving it!
When Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink took the manager’s chair at Burton Albion, he increased the number of black managers amongst the top 92 clubs in English football by 50%. The Dutchman became the third member of the group, joining Huddersfield’s Chris Powell and of Keith Curle at Carlisle. Hasselbaink however is no fan of the Rooney Rule, a device to ensure more ethnic minority applicants for top jobs within the game at least get to interview stage. Whilst some would argue that it’s easier to adopt such a stance once you’re on the inside, the former Leeds United and Chelsea striker refutes such a view. Appointed from over 60 other applicants for the position at the Pirelli Stadium, he simply declares that “I wanted the job because I am the right person for it and got it because the chairman thinks I am.” Continue reading →
Stick or twist – Aston Villa’s dilemma.
A couple of years ago, Christian Benteke had burst onto the Premier League scene. Here was a player relatively unknown on these shores captured by Aston Villa for the princely sum of some £7million or so from Genk in Belgium. Muscular, blessed with pace and an apparent eye for a goal he seemed an identi-kit profile of a striker specifically designed to succeed in the English game.
In the 2013-13 season, the Belgian netted a striking 23 goals for the Birmingham club and in the July of 2013, he handed in a transfer request. Perhaps influenced by the siren whispers of agents, his head seemed to have been turned in search of richer pastures. It was a move the club were quick to rebuff and despite rumours of big money bids ranging up to the £30million mark at the time, manager Paul Lambert apparently convinced the player to stay in Birmingham and sign a new deal with the club. At the time many people, the writer included, thought it was a shrewd move by the truculent Scot. A mere eighteen months later, with injuries and long rehabilitation periods taking their toll, it’s interesting to speculate how many Villa fans think the club should have taken the money on offer. Continue reading →
Jose Mourinho appears to have won his battle of wills with Spain’s national team manager Vicente del Bosque over the fitness of Chelsea striker Diego Costa. The Rojas squad, announced last week for the European qualifier against Belarus and the prestigious friendly against World Champions Germany, noticeably excluded Brazilian-born Costa, and doubtless brought a smile to the Blues’ manager’s face. A long term hamstring problem, dating back to the tail end of last term’s La Liga season was hardly helped on the way to recovery by Spain’s albeit truncated participation in the World Cup. Add that to the physical rigours of the Premier League and Mourinho’s argument that a fortnight’s rest for the player, rather than playing a further two games, will be more beneficial for both club and country in bringing Costa to peak fitness, seems to gain a little credence. “I’m pleased about Diego [Costa], but I did nothing to make this happen,” Mourinho said at a press conference before the weekend. The decision however did not extend to Mourinho resting the striker against Liverpool, and when he netted the winner, it seemed that the Chelsea boss had won from every angle. Continue reading →
Stiliyan Petrov – A modern footballing hero.
Back in March 2012, Stiliyan Petrov made a call to his agents. In these days of commercial opportunities it was the sort of thing professional footballers do all the time. This time however the content was very different. When Base Soccer Agency took the call from their client, it was to receive a plain truth. Petrov simply said: “I have got leukaemia.” It was the very phlegmatic way in which the popular Bulgarian captain of Aston Villa decided he had to deal with the illness.
Following a game against Arsenal a few days before, Petrov had complained of feeling feverish. Fearing a virus was to blame, the club swiftly took blood tests, and then a bone marrow scan, which led to the startling diagnosis. For anyone, in any walk of life, the dread ‘C’ word delivers a harsh realisation. For someone like Petrov, living out the dream of millions with a comfortable lifestyle and financial security, it would have been easy to lash out at the perceived injustice. Petrov was not like that however. This time, cancer had picked on the wrong man. Continue reading →
Jose, we need to talk about Kevin.
Jose Mourinho’s rampant Chelsea squad top the Premier League with a number of opposition managers already apparently prepared to write off the title race with less than a dozen games played. Whether that’s more than a mite premature is something that will be revealed over time. For Blues’ fans however, it seems the ‘Special One’ can do no wrong. The summer transfer market saw the arrival of Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas, already two stellar names in the club’s performance to date, plus the redoubtable tyro goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and Brazilian Felipe Luis who is already offering genuine competition to Cesar Azpilicueta on the left flank of Chelsea’s defence. Add this to big money sales of David Luiz and Romelu Lukaku that balanced the books with an eye to FFP, and it’s bordering on genius dealings. Back in January however, Mourinho countenanced the sale of player who, current statistics reveal, is at the top of the creativity stakes in European football.
Everyone can be wise after the event of course, but back In January, accepting a £18million bid from Bundesliga outfit Wolfsburg for Belgian wide player Kevin de Bruyne appeared eminently sound business. The player had after all cost a mere £7million when Chelsea secured is services from Genk. Although now distant from the blandishments and promptings of Mourinho, de Bruyne has however had an exceptional start to the season, and currently is the main reason why unfancied Wolfsburg are tucked nicely into second place in the Bundesliga, behind perennial champions Bayern Munich. Continue reading →
The rise and fall of Roger Johnson
Football has a particular habit of throwing up matches that can highlight an otherwise forgotten situation, or player. Such a game occurred early afternoon on Saturday when Wolverhampton Wanderers entertained Birmingham City in a SkyBet Championship match. It was of course a Midlands derby, bur for one particular player, the significance wet much further than that.
Forgotten centre-back Roger Johnson has played for both clubs and statistically has almost mirrored records for them. He turned out 76 times for the St Andrews club and 69 times for Wolves, netting twice for each club. That however is where the similarity ends. Wherein Johnson’s time with the Blues saw a highlight of his career to date, ironically wearing gold and black has very much been a case of the blues as his prospects have nosedived to the point where it’s difficult to see where his next first team game will be. Continue reading →