Saturday 19th May was the greatest night in the history of Chelsea Football Club and gave all fans of the club the best day of their lives.
Five days later the glow burns as bright as ever and it is unlikely that this feeling will fade for months despite the legion of detractors queuing up to diminish the achievements of the new Champions of Europe. The manner of victory seems to have upset many who have bemoaned the fact that the defensive tactics adopted by Roberto Di Matteo ultimately prevailed over the fluid attacking football exhibited by Bayern Munich.
I can certainly sympathise with Bayern supporters on that score who will be bewildered and angry at how such a dominant display could not yield victory and whom will undoubtedly sling barbs as a way of finding some peace with the outcome. But for those not directly connected to the German club I have no such patience.
For starters, there has to be an argument that the tactics that win the game are the best available as long as they stay within the confines of the law. Had Chelsea opted to kick the likes of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery off the pitch, it would be fair to pour scorn on negativity but instead the match was played in an excellent spirit with not a single bad challenge committed by either side. Nobody would advocate that their team should set their stall out so blatantly as Di Matteo did on a regular basis but surely when faced with the titanic task of defeating the mighty Bayern Munich on their own ground without your totemic captain and most dynamic midfield player it is acceptable to look towards protection rather than productivity.
Those that are unhappy that defensive football outwitted attacking football should perhaps take this into consideration: which was the most clinical team on the night? The one that had upwards of 30 attempts at goal and 20 corners or the one that had a handful of shots and won just a single corner? Chelsea combined the resilience of a dogged defence with a ruthless cutting edge whereas Bayern fielded a striker who didn’t know where the goal was and a Dutchman who lived up to his countrymen’s reputation for being useless at penalties.
With the trophy in the bag what difference does it make how it was won? As Alan Hansen revealed, Liverpool’s three-time European Cup winning manager Bob Paisley used to say: “win the game first, worry about how we played earlier”. Sound advice.
Sticking with Liverpool and it seems that as per usual much of the abuse that has followed Chelsea’s maiden Champions League win has come from the supporters of that club. Now I do not want to tar all the club’s fans with the same brush as I have received many congratulations from Reds in the aftermath of Saturday’s win but social media and fan sites have been ablaze with contempt and a large portion of that has stemmed from that particular half of Merseyside. Among the petty parochialism there has been the risible claim that Chelsea were still small time as they only had 80,000 at their homecoming parade (forgetting how many supporters were still in Germany and anyway since when did size decide which club should win a trophy); the familiar yet vacuous assertion that Chelsea still had no history has also been aired on several occasions. Perhaps Chelsea don’t have a history that can compare to Liverpool FC but they have a present and a future that has the club marked indelibly as European champions and as Champions League participants next season. Give me that over the faded glories of the 70s and 80s every day of the week.
I suppose it is too much to ask for objectivity from other club’s fans given the tribal nature of supporting your team in this country but it would be refreshing if credit could be given where it was due. When Manchester United beat Bayern Munich and Liverpool beat AC Milan, I was impressed by both victories despite neither being deserved on the balance of play. It would be nice if the same courtesy was extended towards the Blues on this occasion.
Still, whatever the nonsense slung from those who despise Roman Abramovich and his club at least it can be understood in the context of territorial rivalries that has grown more hateful over the decades. What is much harder to fathom is the criticism directed at John Terry for taking part in the post-match celebrations while wearing his full kit. The comical musings that have seen Photoshop used to devastating effect to place Terry at such occasions as the royal wedding, the moon landing and the release of Nelson Mandela have shown excellent humour but in addition there have been several ‘respected’ journalists voicing their displeasure at the suspended player’s presence.
Why? Has Terry not contributed to the team’s success this season? Did his goal against Napoli not have any bearing on the destination of the trophy? Did his almost flawless performance in the first leg of the semi-final against Barcelona automatically vanish from memory because he got sent off in the return match? Yes, he made a stupid mistake at Camp Nou but to suggest he is not worthy of celebrating a famous victory is utterly pathetic. In any case, I do not know of a single Chelsea fan who is even remotely bothered by it and I would be very suprised if any of the players were.
The justification given for this sanctimonious stance from the anti-Terry brigade is the sullen reticence displayed by Roy Keane and Paul Scholes who found themselves in a similar situation in the 1999 final when they moped around rather than join in the revelry. Ask yourself this, would you prefer your suspended team mates to sulk in self-absorbed misery and disregard the massive achievement of your club or would you prefer them to put their personal disappointment to one side and get into the spirit of things?
Irrespective of any criticism and denigration, one fact remains. Chelsea ARE the Champions of Europe. Just let us enjoy it.