Archive for August, 2012

CHELSEA: It was written

CHELSEA: It was written.


Six months ago, Chelsea was in complete disarray. They had just lost 3-1 to Chelsea in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League 2nd round and had entered into a full blown crisis. AVB paid the price and his assistant Roberto Di Matteo was brought in on an interim basis to steady the ship. It took him just three months to succeed on a stage where Ranieri, the Special one (or the ONLY ONE), Ancelotti and others had failed in the past. He won the UEFA Champions League. Under RDM, Chelsea’s style of play was far from exciting. Sometimes it was annoyingly cautious and unadventurous. There was never a moment of “Jogo Bonito” or “Tiki Taka”. But who really cares? It got the results needed and also earned him the job on a full-time basis.

Chelsea was hit hard like a featherweight boxer fighting against a heavyweight champion in Naples. They rode their luck and kept the score line respectable before finally overcoming the Italians 4-1 at the bridge. Against Barcelona, they scored three times in 180 minutes from only three attempts on goal. Even Messi somehow conspired with the “gods” and missed a penalty at Camp Nou. Barcelona probed and probed, searched endlessly for an opening but there was none in sight with Chelsea’s defensive style and shape frustrating them continually. They lost four key players (Ivanovic, Terry, Ramires and Meireles) through suspension after the game at Camp Nou. Surely, without these men, it was going to be tough or nearly impossible. Many had doubts. I had doubts too. Surely they could not make it against the Germans. How wrong we were!

At the Alianz Arena, eleven blue buses driven from London were parked in front of Chelsea’s post at all times. They rarely attacked, only relying on infrequent counter attacks which later dried up and became non-existent. They also benefited from some inept play and profligacy from Bayern, with Gomez, Robben and RIbery the major culprits. The usually lethal Germans who had scored 77 goals in 34 league games and 25 goals in 12 UCL matches before that final match left their scoring boots at home, always finding a way to miss time and time again. Gomez even missed when it was easier to score than miss.

So when Muller scored in the 83rd minute, you could sense the relief in the German camp. I even erroneously believed it was over. Then the German coach did the inexplicable, pulling off the reliable and lively Muller for Van Buyten. Moments later, Bayern were dealt the lethal dose of the “Drogba-magic”. He stepped up and equalized with a powerful header. The subsequent penalty miss by Robben showed that the heavens had decreed that was going to be Chelsea’s night. They finished off Bayern Munich during the penalty shoot-out.

Winning Barca and Bayern while been just as defensive as the Greeks were at Euro 2004 may never happen again. Robben and Messi both missed penalties. Even Lavezzi, Cavani, Cardozo, Messi et al all conspired to miss chance after chance when scoring was an even less complicated option. And don’t forget, they defeated the Catalans despite playing with ten men for a very long time after Terry’s utterly needless and ridiculous challenge on one of the “Oscar Nominees” Alexis Sanchez, leaving his team at a disadvantage against one of the greatest sides ever seen. Then you consider a coach who was sacked over a year ago by West Brom. Now he is European Champion. This is a fairytale.

It is important to state that a loss for Chelsea would have been disastrous. Their season been a success or a failure rested on that game. If they had lost, they would have been relegated to Europa League mediocrity, a notoriously difficult competition to win (ask the two Manchester clubs). That would have also led to Hazard signing for one of the Manchester clubs. But they didn’t. Didier inspired them and left the club at the perfect time when the ovation was loudest. He will now be remembered as that special player whose last kick won the UCL for Chelsea.

They were underdogs for a long time. They may have defended for over 300 minutes against Barcelona and Bayern beating both sides when we thought they would lose. But their spirit and belief saw them through. Who would begrudge them this victory? It was their season. They fought for it and turned around a season which had been a calamity for long spells. CONGRATULATIONS THE BLUES. CHELSEA, it was written.



Uche H. Okafor

When John Utaka scored the 2nd goal for Montpellier against Auxerre on the final match day of the French league, you could see the joy on the faces of the Montpellier fans. History was about to be made. Following that 2-1 win, they succeeded in winning the league for the first time in their history. They had won a title we all expected PSG to win easily and comfortably considering the amount of money invested in the squad. PSG had gone on a spending spree totaling about €96 million bringing in Pastore, Motta, Maxwell, Sirigu and others.

For Montpellier, no one gave them a chance at the start of the season. Only a lunatic would have bet on them winning the league. The odd for them winning the league was put at 80/1. After all they were still playing in Ligue 2 just four years ago and had finished the 2010/2011 season in 14th place. That odd and those stats meant they were never going to be bookmakers’ favourites. The target for the club was to avoid relegation or maybe challenge for a top half finish. In fact, avoiding relegation certainly would have been seen as a success.

During the summer, funds were also in short supply. Montpellier spent a meagre €2million bringing in Henri Bedimo from relegated Lens. Experienced players like Utaka, Diawara and Hilton were expected to take the bull by the horn and lead by example. No one, including myself, expected them to win a league that had PSG, Lyon, Marseille and Lille. Surely not after spending that little on transfers. However, they achieved the unexpected beating PSG to the title. Players like Giroud, Bocaly and Belhanda all performed admirably providing a platform for their team’s success. Their fighting spirit, desire and determination to win were never in doubt. They defied the odds.

Compare Montpellier’s triumph with Chelsea and Man City recent successes and you will notice the difference in philosophy. Chelsea became the first London club to win the UCL and Man City has broken the duopoly created in recent years by Chelsea and Manchester United in the EPL. But it must be said that these two clubs are backed by foreign billionaires and are built upon a foundation of money not seen within the economic means of football clubs and in the process turning in losses consistently without any remorse.

Chelsea won the UCL after over £1 billion investment by Roman Abrahamovic spread over nine years. They have somehow managed to spend more than they earn and have recorded an average loss of between £70-86 million annually over the past six years. Hazard and Oscar have joined this summer following big money moves not in line with the current economic climate. The City owners too have spent over £930 million in four years to deliver their first league title in forty-four years with losses of over £90 million in the last financial year. The vast wealth of their owners has led to clubs been bullied repeatedly into selling their best players, with Arsenal being the major victims having lost Toure, Adebayor, Nasri and Clichy to City. Players are offered three to four times what other clubs can afford. So, when you consider that both Chelsea and City have funds from rich owners which are far greater than the resources available to anyone else, it makes their victories morally unimpressive and very “plastic”. Certainly, financial doping and cheating was rewarded in the UCL and EPL last season.

However, they are not the only culprits. Liverpool’s Carling Cup win came at a cost of over £100 million spent over eighteen months. Even Barcelona is £400 million in debts and may need to borrow more. Manchester United’s debt stands at a staggering £500million and have bought Robin van Persie for a fee of at least £22 million, an injury-prone player they do not really need at the moment. Also the demise of Glasgow Ranger and Portsmouth should be a warning for everyone. Portsmouth is gradually in danger of moving into extinction while Rangers has been heavily punished. They now play in the Scottish third division.

It is important to note that clubs like Bayern Munich, Dortmund, Lille, Everton, Newcastle, Spurs, Arsenal and many other clubs all try to live within their means and have done relatively well after spending a small fraction of what City, Chelsea and PSG has spent. PSG has gone a notch higher this season signing Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Lucas, Lavezzi and others at very exorbitant rates. With this continued high but unsustainable spending by these three clubs, talented players in the academy of these clubs who hope to play for their boyhood clubs will never be able to achieve that.

Montpellier’s league win is a victory for honesty over cheating, good over evil, financial control over recklessness, common sense over bad judgement and gives hope to underdogs all over the world. In a football world consumed with teams spending millions trying to buy and win trophies, it is an excellent feeling seeing a team that spent so little on transfer and wages playing excellently and winning the title. PSG with their limitless financial backing from Qatar are primed to dominate over the coming seasons with all the resources at their disposal. But Montpellier has reminded us that money can’t always buy success and that there is hope for the not so-super rich in football. Thank you, Montpellier. You have given us hope again.


Uche H. Okafor.

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