Memo to Abramovich… halt the Stamford Bridge revolution
07:04 GMT, 7 May 2012
The problem with Chelsea is that nobody can quite get to grips with the problem with Chelsea. So here's what it isn't. The problem with Chelsea is not Didier Drogba who, at 34, scored his eighth goal in eight visits to Wembley on Saturday, including four in four FA Cup finals.
The problem is not Frank Lampard, who made arguably the best pass of the match to allow Drogba to continue that remarkable run. The problem is not age. The problem is not player power. The problem is not 4-3-3 or its baby brother 4-2-3-1.
The problem is not the absence of a stellar, household name manager, capable of crushing the will of the dressing-room and changing the way Chelsea play. The problem, most definitely, is not Roberto Di Matteo. The problem with Chelsea, in all likelihood, is that there is not much of a problem at all.
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There never was, really. It is the refusal to accept this that was the biggest problem all along, because it has left the club in a ceaseless quest for revolution, when all that is required is evolution. And gentle evolution at that.
This is not to devalue the job done by Di Matteo in the interim. Andre Villas-Boas had the club halfway to ruin and Di Matteo saved them, largely by recognising that there was not a whole lot wrong.
Yet Villas-Boas wasn't the problem with Chelsea, either. He was more a symptom of it: a manager brought in and clearly left under the impression that the best, indeed the only way forward was a wholesale restructure of Chelsea's methodology.
It became an exercise in doublethink. How could the need to replace Lampard, still Chelsea's top Premier League goalscorer this season, despite playing in midfield and not always making the team, be a pressing issue
How has Drogba been allowed to drift to the end of his contract when he remains among the most devastating big occasion strikers in the world How can a pattern of play that has brought more concerted success than at any time in the club's history be afforded such negative scrutiny
How could a headstrong, resilient, proud dressing room, capable of knocking out the most gifted club side in the world by scoring twice despite having 10 men for an hour, be seen as a point of weakness
Chelsea are at their best playing a version of 4-3-3 – Di Matteo favours the hybrid with two guarding midfield players and two high forwards – and until Lampard and Drogba stop scoring goals, John Terry stops making the sort of tackles that freeze the blood and Ashley Cole stops being the best left back in the world, that is how it should be.
The reason Manchester United are best with wingers is because that is Sir Alex Ferguson's preferred method. It worked well from early on and it is easier to replace aging bones like for like than reconfigure the entire team shape.
That is why the job done by Di Matteo has been outstanding. He rejected the notion that Chelsea required overhaul and instead acknowledged the immense quality at Stamford Bridge, regardless of advancing years. He then put players where they were best suited and worked hard building confidence.
Petr Cech, the goalkeeper, is in his best form since Jose Mourinho left; while John Mikel Obi, Branislav Ivanovic and Ramires are turning in the peak performances of their Stamford Bridge careers.
Flying high: New life has been breathed into Drogba and Co since Andre Villas-Boas departed
Yes, the leaders of this group are old at heart, and there will come a time when they will no longer be able to monster Liverpool at Wembley, almost unopposed. Chelsea's management must prepare for that day, but not with the reckless urgency of AVB's brief time in charge.
Chelsea had a bald tyre and the response was to scrap the car. This group of players can last at least two more seasons, with sympathetic refurbishment. A continuation of the AVB project is not necessary.
And, right there, is the problem with Chelsea. For the inescapable conclusion is that the owner does not agree, almost that he is restless unless the club is moving forward, like a dead-eyed shark. Hence the ever-changing roster of managers, the constant transfer market activity, the sense that nothing – and certainly not Saturday's FA Cup final triumph, the fourth in six years – is good enough.
Di Matteo's wonderful ability to build confidence in a group of players that looked to have lost their way, should make him a shoo-in for the permanent manager's job right now. Yet few would place a penny on this, not even after landing a trophy in his first season. And that, right there, is the problem with Chelsea.
Dalglish singing for Carroll's England future
'Every time he plays, he puts in a reference,' said Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish, eloquently, of Andy Carroll's international prospects. This is not, however, the whole story.
Carroll's references are very much like Liverpool's season, in that they are hard to evaluate convincingly as either positive or negative. Just as the 'Liverpool under Dalglish – success or failure' debate endures, with one trophy, one lost final and a horrid league run, so does talk of Carroll's England potential.
He almost altered the direction of the FA Cup final on Saturday, no doubt of that. Liverpool were no match for Chelsea until he arrived and few forwards have the ability to turn John Terry inside out, as Carroll did for his goal.
Yet equally, the header that Petr Cech pawed back from the line should have been the equaliser. There is no argument over whether it was a goal – it wasn't – but if Carroll is England's man for the European Championship, he should have buried it, just as he should have scored from Stewart Downing's cross in the semi-final with Everton, before erasing that memory with the winning goal.
So faith in Carroll remains subjective. He is certainly a more potent force for Liverpool, but if England get one chance against France on June 11, would you want it falling to him
Net result: Carroll should really have buried the effort which would have brought Liverpool level
Hodgson's record is not so Fab
Disrespectful. The word leapt out of the Football Association's overprotective statement on manager Roy Hodgson last week. And indeed there is no degree of respect that is too great for football managers these days.
Amid the financial scandal that saw George Graham banned from the game for a year, Jeremy Paxman attended one of his press conferences at Arsenal and remarked that he could not believe the degree of reverence extended at such a time.
A politician in similar circumstances, he said, would have been under siege. Respect is not altogether a national trait, though. The American comedian, Reginald D Hunter, identified this in his early visits.
'The higher universities in this country, they teach people how to think the opposite way,' he said. 'Even people who are not highly educated do it – it's called taking the p***. And y'all take the p*** out of everything. You take the p*** out of the Queen, you take the p*** out of yourselves, you take the p*** out of the government – you even take the p*** out of your friends. I've met people who say, “This is my mate Barry – bit of a t***”.'
Yet once an England manager is appointed, irreverence is no longer allowed. Worse, we become unable to handle the truth, which is that – like any 64-year-old football manager, certainly one about to embark on his 20th job – Hodgson has had a varied career. No harm in that.
Sign of the times: Hodgson's record at Switzerland deserves careful attention
Harry Redknapp would have been no different, even Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have blemishes. Yet increasingly these last few days, any negatives – his recent time at Liverpool aside – have been airbrushed from Hodgson's picture.
We hear about his first season at Blackburn Rovers, but not his second; we hear that he only lost five of 22 matches with Finland, but not that he won only six. Most frequently, we hear that Hodgson took Switzerland to third in the FIFA rankings and the 1994 World Cup finals, but stop short at the details of that campaign.
Switzerland had an outstanding 4-1 win over Romania, but as for the rest, here's an amusing coincidence. The first game was a 1-1 draw with the United States, the last a defeat by a margin of three goals at the first knockout stage.
Switzerland's record at the tournament overall was one win in four. Now, funnily enough, an England manager had a very similar run at a World Cup quite recently, and nobody seemed very pleased; or was that just lack of respect
Another tradition bites the dust
A lot of people were upset by the booing of the national anthem at Wembley on Saturday. I felt sadder at the fate of the FA Cup final hymn, Abide With Me. Maybe the memories are rose-tinted, but I recall a time when the whole stadium joined in, as one.
It was a proper coming together, not some meaningless pre-match players' handshake, now a mere branding exercise for the television cameras. Abide With Me showed that, while we may support different sides, we are all here because we love football.
Now it has been lost as just another turn in the preamble, sandwiched between dull rock bands, duller dancing troupes, jets of fire and some idiot shouting, 'Wembley – are you ready for the FA Cup final' to which the only answer should be, 'We were ready at 3pm, mate. Same as we always are. You lot are the ones who have kept everybody hanging about.'
The words to Abide With Me were on the big screen, but few bothered to look, even fewer sang. And so another of English football's great traditions bites the dust. The FA Cup used to have its own style, but all finals look the same these days.
The game's changing: Little respect was offered to the traditional hymn Abide With Me
Rowley Douglas has lost his appeal to be reinstated as the cox of Great Britain's rowing eights. Good. Too much of the business around this London Olympics is being decided by lawyers or in the Home Office. Team selection is a matter for coaches and nobody else.
AND WHILE WE'RE AT ITWatch your speed
Colin Nicholson, chief executive of British Wrestling, says that the drug for which Myroslav Dykun tested positive is an amphetamine and therefore not performance enhancing.
Oh, really Amphetamines are speed and Dykun's tainted sample was given in competition. Is Nicholson really saying that a little jolt in those circumstances might not be advantageous
Equally, as northern soul boys will confirm, many prescription diet pills are amphetamine based, too. So in a sport governed by weight classes, would it not be of assistance to take an appetite suppressant
Pull the other one. It rattles.
It rattles: Dykun failed a recent drugs test
Tackling the No 2 dilemma
So, having lost a first-choice backroom option, Andy Farrell, England rugby coach Stuart Lancaster has now been rejected by another candidate, New Zealander Wayne Smith.
If the RFU were not fussed at losing Farrell, thinking they had a blue chip appointment lined up, that plan has backfired.
At Lancaster's interview, the RFU wanted to know how he would go about introducing more experience to his staff. A show of strength in securing Farrell might have helped.
England cycle out of sync
The most puzzling aspect of the Football Association's appointment process is why the new manager received a four-year contract, lasting until after the European Championships in 2016.
Steve McClaren's dismissal, having failed to qualify for the 2008 tournament, skewed the cycle because it meant Fabio Capello's opening campaign was a World Cup.
This was a chance to get on an even keel again, European Championship first, World Cup second. Obviously, Roy Hodgson gets a bonus competition this summer, but England managers should be appointed in two-year cycles, with an option.
There is no absence of faith in such an offer and if the fear is a successful England manager departing too soon, surely that problem is fixed with the appointment of a domestic candidate.
Hired hand Capello may have been tempted mid-term but if Hodgson, for instance, has a good tournament in 2014, why would he want to quit And, if he doesn't, why would the FA want two more years
Hodgson needs to settle Rio/Terry dispute
Rio Ferdinand says he can play with John Terry. John Terry says he can play with Rio Ferdinand. Not good enough.
It has to go deeper than that and when Roy Hodgson eventually finds time to speak to both players, he must let them know. What cannot be allowed to happen is that two factions develop within the England camp.
That a player comes down to breakfast and finds Ferdinand and friends in one corner, Terry and pals in another, and is forced to make a choice. It is not just about lining up together on the pitch.
How Hodgson mends the personal divide is more pressing, because that is where the real trouble will start. Does he force them to become dining companions
A high-risk strategy, but failing to personal divide: Ferdinand and Terry address these issues could be worse.
Enough is enough: Hodgson needs to calm any tensions between two major players in his camp
Ken gets red carpet treatment
Once we stop laughing at Ken Livingstone decrying personality politics and media smears for his London mayoral defeat – as journalist Andrew Gilligan pointed out, having broken the story of Livingstone's tax complexities, it's not a smear if it's true, mate – we must turn our attention to an even bigger crisis. Ken's Olympic tickets.
Tessa Jowell, Livingstone's senior cheerleader during his doomed campaign, says her priority now is to make sure the former mayor secures entry to the big event, having missed out in the ballot.
Why Livingstone is no fan, or even friend, of sport. 'I couldn't care less about it,' he once said. 'The nearest I've been to sport is a snooker table at college.'
So why should he get a place that could go to a genuine enthusiast, when his prime motive for attendance would be self-aggrandisement Athletes get a lap of honour at the Olympic Stadium; rejected politicians don't.
Red carpet for Ken: Livingstone will be at the Olympics, despite his dislike for sport