Following Chelsea’s victory in the Champions League final, Europe’s collective media has fallen over itself to praise the character and resilience of their performance on the night, as well as their run in the competition which saw them topple Napoli, Benfica and Barcelona. While they are right to marvel at the improbability of their victory and their resilience, this is to forget the fact that Chelsea adopted some very negative tactics which is the antithesis of all that is good about the beautiful game.
Although the grit and fight displayed by Chelsea has to be admired, one has to lament the fact that football is now played with such a negative approach. Gone are the days when teams would just try and put as many past the opponent as possible. Teams going out and playing with reckless abandon and a childlike enjoyment of the game are truly a relic of times past.
At the 1982 World Cup, Brazil set the tournament alight with their exquisite, attacking football which mesmerised onlookers. They were expected to win the tournament because they were capable of the best play, yet were eliminated by eventual winners Italy. The Brazilians played gorgeous football but ultimately didn’t get the job done and are considered the best side to have not won the World Cup. After the match, Brazil captain Socrates declared that ‘To win is not the most important thing. Football is an art and should be showing creativity…You have to enjoy doing the art and not think, “Will I win?”.’ That encapsulates what football is really about and one can only wistfully imagine what the game would be like if everyone shared that philosophy. By all means, applaud Chelsea’s spirit and doggedness, but also feel disappointed by their lack of creative ambition.
Against Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Roberto Di Matteo’s side simply sat back deep in their own half and defended for the entire match, hoping to at some point nick a goal here or there (which they did). To do this is to admit that you are the inferior team, and that the only way you can win is to ‘steal’ it from your opponents against the run of play. This is anti-football. Bayern, to their credit, approached the game in a positive manner and tried to force the issue, and should be commended. Although they lost, Bayern entertained us. The same was true against Barcelona. In both legs the Catalans, although not at their best, enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and had virtually all of the chances. Yet Chelsea somehow, inexplicably got through. Those who love watching football must have wished they could have seen Barcelona in Champions League final, not the West Londoners.
Professional footballers are supposed to love the game. If this is true, then why do some of them not play the game the way it is meant to be played? The joy of the game is to express yourself and to be creative with the football, to do things that amaze and inspire. There are no children who dream of one day reaching the pinnacle of club football, only to hold on for dear life and wait for penalties. It’s a cowardly way to play and there’s no glory in it. Why emulate the hard-nosed rigidity of Stoke City when you can play a beautiful, fluid game like Arsenal or Real Madrid?
I wish I could end by at least saying that the club deserves the honour of winning the Champions League, but I don’t want to lie. Captain John Terry is a case study in good things happening to bad people. Aside from the racism, marital infidelity and general foulness of his character, the thing that sickened me on Saturday night was how, when his team won the match, he whipped on his Chelsea shirt, complete with ‘Terry #26’ on the back, and celebrated with his teammates as if he had just scored the winning penalty himself. How he can just disregard how his thoughtless sending off in Barcelona could have badly cost his team is beyond me. It is also hard to feel happy for the rest of the team, most of whom are only playing for Chelsea to satisfy their own greed and self-interest. Watching the Chelsea players during the trophy presentation was a laughable experience, as they jostled for a prime position at the front, and then proceeded to grab the trophy off one another so they could have their special moment with it. Although at least now Roman Abramovich has finally got his hands on the prize he coveted for so long. My heart is warmed by the thought of him looking back on his team’s triumph this summer, while he sails the seas on the world’s largest yacht, purchased with his ill-gotten gains.
So, although they won it all, Chelsea haven’t covered themselves in glory. The great tragedy in this is that they have taken their place in next season’s Champions League at the expense of Tottenham Hotspur, a team many consider to have justified inclusion in the competition.