WHY ARE YOU SO SURPRISED?

By Richard Micallef
Feb 8th, 2009

A look at the league table this Sunday morning does not make pleasant reading. Forget the Premiership, forget the Champions League, forget being title favourites up till just a couple of months ago. The scrap is now on to cling on to the fourth and last Champions League spot for next season.

We have not been in this situation since season 2002/2003 when we were tottering on the brink of a financial meltdown. A last day win over Liverpool at the Bridge saved our bacon as far as Champions League qualification was concerned. Roman came in with his billions a few weeks later and the rest, as they say, is history.

I swear I am not being wise after the event but I argued with my fellow Chelsea fans at our local supporters club after Scolari’s appointment. Most were elated with his appointment but I had this strange, nagging feeling about him. It’s all very well being a world cup winning manager but with Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho in their prime, it is hard to imagine not winning a world cup.

Besides a look at world cup winning managers over the last few decades will reveal that very few, if any, were successful at club level. Marcello Lippi is perhaps an exception who won the world cup with Italy and brought trophies to Juventus, but then most managers have done that with Juve. Add the scandals Juve were implicated in during Lippi’s days and his achievements at club level take on a less glamorous tinge. (The Juve sporting director once locked the ref in the dressing room because he didn’t like the way the referee had controlled the game).

Winning the world cup is a matter of having the right players and then moulding them physically and tactically into a unit for a month in which at the most the team gets to play 7 games. It’s a totally different kettle of fish to managing a group of players through the hard slog of over 60 games over the course of 9 months.

I said it at the time of his appointment and I will say it again now. Scolari’s record with Portugal does not hold up to scrutiny. In England he got himself noticed because he dumped England out in three successive competitions. But that is just about it. In Euro 2004, at home, Portugal scored a last minute equalizer against England and then went on to win on penalties. In the mists of time people seem to forget that Wayne Rooney, together with Frank Lampard, was probably the player of the tournament till then. In the quarter final against Portugal he was off injured after just a few minutes of the game and yet England should have seen the home team off quite comfortably.

Fast forward two years. This time Rooney screws up and gets himself sent off early in the second half. Again England were the better team right up to the final whistle of extra time and again went out on penalties. To top it all Portugal failed to win the trophy having been presented with possibly the easiest final in a European championship ever, when on home soil they succumbed to Greece.

My one abiding memory of that final is that although Portugal had most of the ball that night they created very few chances on the night. It was the same story in the two England encounters. Now does that ring a bell somewhere?

I for one failed to get excited even we got off to a flying start early on in the season. At Wigan, on only the second day of the season we were fairly abysmal, as was the case at home to Spurs in the next game. In September Man United came to the Bridge and outplayed us for the first time in living memory, while the away at Cluj we were absolutely awful.

We did have the odd sparkling performance thrown in between but only against teams who were stupid enough to let our full backs have a field day. Against the more astute coaches we have struggled. The Plan A and Plan B thing has been brought up time after time and it now sounds stale. But it is a fact. If we don’t get an early goal, which we haven’t done for ages, we struggle and panic creeps in. Now even the substitutions have become predicable. On come Drogba and Deco with 20/25 minutes left and things go from bad to worse.

In his defence, things haven’t panned out the way Scolari saw it squadwise. Missing out on Robinho through no fault of his own was a blow. As was the injury to our best player of the last two seasons, Essien. Injuries to Carvalho, JT and Joe Cole further exacerbated the matter. In fairness also, Scolari did not bargain for the fact that the world’s best centre forward was going to turn into the pathetic, whinging, listless prat that Drogba is now.

What gets me most is the fact that while we ordinary fans all seem to know what the problem is but our highly paid management team seems totally oblivious and clueless about the whole thing. It surely isn’t a co-incidence that our decline started with Steve Clarke’s departure. Just a few weeks into their tenure, Clarkey and Zola have got West Ham performing way above what one could expect from their group of players.

The big question is what next? Champions League qualification is a must, though far from a certainty. I am not one for changing a manager halfway through a season. But this time it is different. We have played 25 games this season and clinging on to fourth spot by the skin of our teeth. Our last 12 league games have seen us win just 4 times and all to teams in the relegation battle. We have drawn 5 and lost 3, averaging 1.4 points per game. That, my friends, over the course of a whole season does not even get you anywhere near a UEFA Cup place.

So who to turn to? Two names spring to mind. Frank Rijkaard is sitting around twiddling his thumbs doing nothing so if I were Peter Kenyon I’d be on the phone to him pronto. The other is the Roma coach Luciano Spalletti. He has done a lot with limited resources at Roma but the language might be a problem. We’ve gone down that road before with Ranieri and it took the bloke ages to learn the language properly. On the other hand we could get Spalletti in with me as his interpreter (I speak fluent Italian) ala Robson and Mourinho. And look what’s become of the interpreter now.

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