IT’S A TEAM GAME
On the day that the PFA Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year nominees were announced, a worrying truth was revealed to us Chelsea fans.
Examine the names of the players eagerly hoping for enough of their peers votes to award them the individual honour (or at least second place behind Cristiano Ronaldo). As well as the Portuguese prancer, Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Adebayor, Portsmouth’s David James, and Liverpool’s Fernando Torres and (the usual, ‘can’t think of anyone else so we’ll just say…) Steven Gerrard will battle it out for the main award.
Meanwhile, Ronaldo, Torres and Fabregas are eligible for the young ‘uns trophy, and they are joined by the English trio of Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor of Aston Villa, and Micah Richards from Manchester City.
Right…So where our any of our lot?
The answer is simple but a contradiction to boot. In a Chelsea squad which reached a League Cup final, has made it into the Champions League semi-finals, and currently sits just three points behind the superlative-laden Manchester United with all still to play for, has anyone actually played that well?
Certainly not well enough to be considered for honours by the PFA, but it seems, strangely enough, that some have not covered themselves in glory at all so far in this campaign, yet we are still challenging on the two biggest fronts possible.
The goalkeeping situation has been bizarre to say the least, with all three ‘stoppers getting a share of the games between them due to the now customary injury-crisis we seem to get year in, year out. First-choice ‘keeper Petr Cech has seen his form blighted by injuries (the latest saw him collide with Tal Ben-Haim in training, where the Israeli must have turned up to Cobham wearing ice skates considering the damage he did to ‘Big Pete’s’ face) and some costly mistakes (Arsenal away and Tottenham in the League Cup final for instance). Stand-in Carlo Cudicini has helped out immensely but seems to shrink game by game, conceding from set-pieces at an alarming frequency, while third-choice Hilario is still Hilario at the end of the day. One great save could always be eradicated by two big mistakes.
The defence has also been destroyed at one point or another through injuries, with John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho particularly absent during the middle of the season. The aforementioned Ben-Haim deputised and swiftly left the side never to return again, while in the full-back positions, summer signing Juliano Belletti seems determined to prove his Brazilian-ness-attacking with fluidity but defending like a pub player-and even Wayne Bridge has had a few stinkers despite a good start to the season.
The African Cup of Nations also prevented some of our stars from cementing a place in the first-team, with Michael Essien and John Mikel Obi away in Ghana at the start of the year and returning jet-lagged and out of form, while Steve Sidwell was given an opportunity to battle for a spot in the Chelsea XI during their absence. He lost that battle spectacularly. Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard both had injuries and have returned to near-untouchables, however the odd period of inconsistency still creeps in, while Shaun Wright-Phillips is still Shaun Wright-Phillips, wherever he plays.
Florent Malouda, well where did that go wrong? Such a reputation, such a price tag, but so frustrating! Almost makes me wish we still had Arjen Robben and that’s saying something. Salomon Kalou, also a player to get the Bridge moaning and groaning, despite an improved scoring record and impressive collection of assists, was off in Africa at a key time for the team, along with the enigma that is Didier Drogba.
He wants to leave, he wants to stay, he hates us, he loves us, we hate him, we love him. Perhaps the confusion explains his inconsistency and lately his grumpy demeanour on the pitch. The remaining strikers haven’t exactly pulled their weight though, with Nicolas Anelka still settling in, and Andriy Shevchenko and Claudio Pizarro a few years out of date.
However, the perverse fact is, we are where we are right now because of all of these players. Each and everyone has contributed in some way, leaving the paradox of a team playing well despite the players playing averagely.
They all deserve our lavish gratitude (even Kalou before you naysayer’s ask) and if you are wondering why I have missed out a few names, it’s because the likes of Alex, Claude Makelele, Paulo Ferreira, Ashley Cole and, my vote for our player of the season, Joe Cole have all been the most consistent and constantly improving squad members during what has been a typically turbulent campaign.
But a feature of our squad in recent years has been the unrivalled depth we can boast. In that way, our team is more than a few flashy individuals like Ronaldo, Rooney and Rio or Fabregas, Flamini and effing Emmanuel Eboue.
So I’m raising two-fingers to the PFA and their selection panel, because we don’t place the importance of one above the importance of the squad.
And that’s why we’re where we are right now.