There is a period of time that exists beyond the scope of clocks, a period so transient it can only be expressed in human terms. It’s that time it takes you to get to the loo after you’ve fumbled the keys in the front door. That time it takes from you casually peering out of a mate’s flat window to getting down to the car and moving it before the warden can slap the ticket on your windscreen. Dare I say it, it’s that time it takes for the palm of your hand to slap your forehead after you’ve realised you’ve put a hot cup of coffee on an antique lacquered table at Sotheby’s. It’s a miniscule fragment of time, fleeting, immeasurable, but during which your mind can conjure somewhere between sixty to ninety thousand thoughts.
This was the period of time that existed between the ball bobbling free in the area deep in injury time and Frank Lampard rocketing in the winner on his four hundredth Chelsea appearance and saving the season. In that instant an evening, a weekend, a week were turned around. Whereas before they had been blinding and squawking, now the sun was shining and the birds singing. All was right with the world once more.
Even news that Berbatov had scored at the death against Bolton to ensure another Man U one nil win wasn’t enough to sour the mood. Who cares? the important thing is that we saved our season and learnt a valuable lesson on the way: the show ain’t over till the fat lady sings, and at the moment the lady is still at Burger King packing in the cheeseburgers.
Man U have now equalled Chelsea’s record of consecutive clean sheets in the Premiership. It’s a significant fact that critics have overlooked. We’re so busy picking on a lack of attacking variety and creativity we’ve forgotten what it is that wins leagues: a solid defence. And a solid defence is built on two things: good players and unquestioning self-belief. With any luck last weekend’s result will go some way to restoring this not only to the players but to the fans as well.
You see, self-belief is not something that just exists on the pitch, it’s a club mentality. When fans abandon hope – maybe they leave early, I don’t know… – then why should we expect the team to act any differently? Stamford Bridge used to be a fortress, an overwhelming place where one thing was certain: it doesn’t matter where you come from, you don’t win here. Let’s remind visiting teams of that belief. Let’s get behind the team and remind them of that belief. We’ve got the players for an impregnable defence, it’s time we remembered that.
Lastly, a lot has been said in the press lately about the fickleness of players in light of the Kaka speculation; that there’s no such thing as a club player any more, that money is the driving force, that football is becoming a triviality. Frankly, unless this opinion is expressed by a priest or a nun, I find it displays a level of hypocrisy that borders on delusional. There was a time when a correspondent wrote exclusively for one publication, but no one expects that any more. If the difference between that and footballers is financial, then I can safely deduce that it is jealousy driving such criticism, rather than sense.
What is a club player anyway? is it someone who doesn’t accept advances from any other club? ever? even for half a million pounds a week? If it is, then I find it hard to tell the difference between a club player and a club fool. If however a club player is someone who works hard for his side, who respects the fans’ commitment and who understands how privileged he is to be in such a situation, then I think there may be one or two still left in the world.
In a nutshell, if you, whoever you are, wherever you are, if you were asked to quit your job tomorrow and join Manchester City for half a million pounds a week, on a five year contract, would you accept?
I think we’ve already contemplated the length of time it takes to think through the answer.