Barring the biggest FA Cup Final upset since Sunderland, god bless ‘em, beat Leeds in 1973, a week from today we will have won the double. Over the last few years there has been talk of trebles and quadruples but for one reason or another we have failed in our attempts. Carlo Ancelotti will have led Chelsea to their most successful season ever. The ghost of Jose’ Mourinho will be banished for ever. Not from our hearts, that will never happen. More importantly it will be banished from the manager’s office.
The day Jose’ Mourinho waltzed into Stamford Bridge in the early summer of 2004 the manager’s seat at Stamford Bridge was never the same again. His now famous quote that he was a special one, not one out of a bottle, broke a mould. As a Chelsea fan what made me even more excited that day was his other bit of brashness. When asked if Chelsea would win the title the next season there was no pussyfooting around. Yes we will, because we have the best manager and the best bunch of players. Very refreshing after a year of listening to Claudio Ranieri talking about learning to walk before we could run and all that crap.
Once the trophies were delivered as promised, the deification of Jose’ was complete. Every other manager in the Chelsea hot seat would have Mourinho as an albatross around his neck.
I admit to having had my doubts when Ancelotti was appointed. His last league win was in 2004 and he had endured an abysmal last couple of seasons at AC Milan. But from the day I saw him crack a couple of jokes with the assembled press in his broken English I thought straight away that we were on to something. It was a complete metamorphosis of the image he gave in Italy.
At the end Carlo showed three qualities that have led us to success this year. First of all he came in with little fuss and decided, or perhaps accepted, to work with what he found. No entourage of backroom staff and no barrage of new signings. He had a go at getting Andrea Pirlo but once that came to nothing he just got on with the job. Yuri Zhirkov, Daniel Sturridge and Ross Turnbull were not his signings so it was really a case of making do with what was available. In January, with four players at the African Cup of Nations plus a few others out injured, he still didn’t go to Abramovich for money to sign new players.
Secondly he had a Plan B. No manager anywhere in the world is ever going to win anything sticking to just one system. He started with a midfield diamond, moved on to a Christmas tree formation and ended the season with a 4 – 3 – 3. His ego didn’t prevent him from, in a way, admitting he was wrong. We started off like a house on fire but very soon, as had happened with Scolari, teams sussed the system out and came up with counter measures to cope with it. Our full backs were blocked from making their runs and we started to look predictable. No problem, just change the system, the goals flowed and we were back on course.
Thirdly he knew how to pick the team up after a difficult time. The first came in December during which we were knocked out of the League Cup and won only two out of six league games. In January we won five out of five. Even worse was the period when we got knocked out of the Champions League, lost at home to Manchester City and drew at Blackburn. But that was followed by eight wins in nine, winning the league, getting into the FA Cup Final and scoring thirty six goals in the process.
Forget the rubbish that this wasn’t a great Premiership season qualitywise. So many points were dropped not because the top teams were weaker but rather because so many of the so called smaller clubs got better. Fulham in the final of the Europa League was testament to this. This really was the year were there were no easy games and the fact that we scored so many goals was proof of our quality and not the other way round. In the Champions League both United and Chelsea were unlucky. We were as usual denied clear cut penalties in both legs against Inter, and as much as Robben’s goal against United had me jumping out of my seat in joy, United were by far the better of the two teams over both legs. So while no Premiership team made it to the semis it could and should have been two.
Yes we all wanted to win the Champions League but there is always next year. For the time being we can content ourselves with being champions of the strongest and most competitive league in the world. And of having at last found a manager big and good enough to fill Jose’s boots.
At last we can say – the king is dead, long live the king.
(Article by Richard Micallef)