Are Soulless Chelsea turning into Manchester City?
On the BBC, Chelsea Alan from Twickenham is worried that the soul is being “ripped out” of Chelsea. He fears the Blues are becoming “a Man City who are full of mercenaries”.
“I look at Hazard and I look at Costa and I don’t like what I see, I don’t like their behaviour,” says Alan. “I look at the team and wonder where’s the soul of it?”
Did the soul of Chelsea vanish when Roman Abramovich bought the club and tossed a billion pounds of interest-free cash at it? Those millions bought great players who won lots of cups. Is City’s soul a concern for the club’s fans who watched that brilliant homemade Old Trafford clock click the years over and over since the Citizens last won a cup – the fans who stuck with their team, waiting for the sublime moment when Sergio Aguero would score that goal to win the title on the final day of the 2012 season?
A few years back I went to a FA Cup even sponsored by Budweiser. At a Q&A session with John Barnes, a prosperous looking man asked a question. He had a broad US accent. The compere, also an American, invited him to speak. “Hey, Barnsey,” he said, “What do you think of The Blues’ chances this time?” Another journalist sat beside me muttered, “More chance than you have of recognising John Hollins.”
It was easy to see that new Blue as part of the problem, a soccer fan who’d adopted the winning club as his own. But so what if he had? This new globalised Premier League is exciting. As Gary Lineker put it after Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck had scored a last gasp winner against Leicester City, “There is nothing quite like football for filling you with joy one minute and tearing your heart to shreds the next.”
Who can blame the American for wanting in to all that emotion?
Alan the Chelsea fan you can hear in the audio above is a whiner. At one time or another, most fans are. He wants his team to win. When they don’t, he looks for the problem. Right now he wants soul. But Chelsea have only the Belgian Hazard, a player unable to recapture last season’s brilliance. Ask a fan of the once mighty Leeds if they’d swap Hazard for a local lad who can run and play a bit, who sleeps under a Leeds duvet and can give you the name of Billy Bremner’s milkman, and they’d not refuse the offer – even the player’s mother, if she were a true Leeds fan, would wish her lad well as he packed his bags.
Hazard and Costa are not hollow-eyed mercenaries here to kill the game. They’re here because football fans pay to see them play.
Fans come to see the thrilling and the unexpected. Did Chelsea look like future Champions’ League winner when they were relegated to the then second division in 1988? Was that night at an expectant Anfield in 1989, when Arsenal won the title with pretty much the last kick of the match, more or less thrilling because it was so utterly unexpected? Arsenal fans who made the journey didn’t go to see their team win; they went because something extraordinary might just happen.
And the unexpected has been happening with increasing frequency. The Economist revealed that up until December 19 2015, the Premier League had the highest number of games won by underdogs in history:
Last season’s Blues were the first team in EPL history to lead the league wire to wire: they held at least a share of first place every day from start to finish. They were often compared to the unbeaten Arsenal “Invincibles” side of 2003-04 and Manchester United’s treble-winning squad of 1998-99, albeit without emulating either feat. In fact, most gambling companies wouldn’t have offered the bet: you could have taken 250 to one for Chelsea to finish in the bottom half, or 7,500 to one for the club to be relegated. Perhaps a generous bookie might have staked a mere 1,000 to one against Chelsea dropping into the bottom six in the depths of December…
Leicester’s improbable rise and Chelsea’s unprecedented fall have certainly been the biggest shocks of the 2015-16 season. But they are far from the only ones. Plucky West Ham have beaten Arsenal (at odds of 11 to one), Manchester City (11 to one) and Liverpool (eight to one) away from home. In the last fortnight, tiny Bournemouth have vanquished Manchester United and Chelsea, whilst struggling Newcastle have beaten both Tottenham and Liverpool—combinations that according to bookmakers were respectively 3% and 2% likely. Perhaps the only predictable feature of the Premier League in 2015-16 has been the regularity with which pundits have described it as the most unpredictable season ever. According to the betting lines, 42 of 160 games (26%) thus far have been won by the underdogs; since the turn of the century, no Premier League season has ended with the unfavoured teams winning more than 23% of matches.
It’s great when your team wins. And when they win when you least expect it, it’s magic. Will Chelsea come again? Sill Spurs rekindle those glory glory days? Are Leicester on the cusp of a coruscating victory?
We don’t know. And that’s that makes the Premier League so captivating.