Two little words, the key to a world of dreams. Just twelve years ago we celebrated like mad having won our first major trophy for twenty six years. At the risk of incurring Ken Bates’s wrath, I have conveniently forgotten that we won the Simod Cup and the Zenith Data Systems trophy. And the Cross Channel trophy against our great rivals, the mighty Le Havre. Was it just me yesterday that once the post match euphoria wore off, it was life as usual, not quite the earth shattering experience of putting Liverpool out of the Champions League, or quite what I felt after Bolton in 2005 and against Man U a year later? Or after the 2007 FA Cup Final.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed yesterday’s FA Cup win, but the two words that kept coming to mind were “What if?” Even more so, those two little words came to me last Wednesday, when Abysmal United threw in the towel 10 minutes into the Champions League final, and handed Barcelona Europe’s most prestigious gong.
So after a moderately successful season this is what I found asking myself:
What if Guus Hiddink arrived had arrived six weeks earlier?
11th January 2009. For the first time in my life I looked at our fixture at Old Trafford with trepidation. And by god, was I proven right. We didn’t just lose, we were stuffed. In the next Premiership game we beat Stoke at home by a whisker. Mathematically we were still in the Premiership race, but in our heart of heart we knew we didn’t have a hope in hell. Two games later we went to Anfield, got a dodgy referee’s decision against us, and threw in the towel with a whimper. Then, the crowning glory, a 0-0 draw at home to Hull. The problem with Scolari’s teams was that you not only knew the line up beforehand, you knew exactly how each and every player was going to play. Even Tony Pulis and bloody Phil Brown had us sussed out, and our world cup winning manager didn’t have a clue how to change things. In stepped Hiddink and it was like someone rewound the clock a couple of years. Back were the fighting spirit, the resilience, the organisation and the flair. Twenty three games, one defeat. We put out Juventus and Liverpool in the Champions League, get cheated out of a Champions League final, stuff Arsenal twice and win the FA Cup. Just six lousy miserable weeks, what price the treble?
What if Joe Cole and Michael Essien had stayed fit?
Injuries are par for the course for any team in the Premiership. Some players you can replace, others no. With our current squad make up, four fall into the category of irreplaceable – Cech, Lamps, Essien and Joe Cole. Each brings a unique quality into the team that no one else can replicate. Malouda came good too late to make up for Coley’s absence and Essien is …Essien, a combination of power, skill and tactical nous that put him amongst the top five midfielders in the world.
What if Drogba had given his all for the whole season?
Five years down the line and we still don’t know if we love Didier or not. Sometimes I honestly think that he has an indolent twin brother who he sends out to play instead of him when he feels like a day off. On second thoughts that cannot be true because sometimes he is terrible and unbelievably good in the same match. The fact is that love him or loathe him, at his best Didier is unplayable and I wouldn’t swap him for anyone in the world when he is playing well. He has played in six finals for us and scored six times. No other Chelsea player can come remotely close to that record. But he must shoulder a good portion of the blame for what went on under Scolari, reaching his nadir in the match at Old Trafford. As for his outburst after the Barca game, he did what every single Chelsea fan wanted to do at that moment. Only we would have probably lynched the ref for good measure.
What if we had signed Robinho?
Scolari seemed to put all his troubles on the club’s failure to sign Robinho. While that is a very simplistic and naïve way of viewing things, Robinho would have made a difference. I cannot understand how the club left it so late to tie a deal on a player who wasn’t wanted by his club, who wanted to play for us and who had been available for the best of three months. If there are any lessons to be learnt from this farce it is that you have to get your signings in early, not least to get your squad together for a proper pre-season.
What if we had a decent referee for the Champions League semi final?
Never has a match been the subject of so many column inches and debate. The Chelsea hating brigade conveniently focused on the post match shenanigans but we were robbed big time. If anyone anywhere in the world has ever seen four penalty appeals in favour of the home team turned down, please come forward as you are one of a very rare breed. While Pique’s hand ball was the most blatant one which only Stevie Wonder could have missed, the worst one was Alves’s off Ballack’s shot after Barca had scored. That was also a clear pen (arm raised and all that) and it would have made up for the other three. But the fat bas***d decided that he wanted Barca to go through to give the world its dream final and not another all English one. No doubt that he has a whole mantelpiece full of thank you cards from the purists of the game such as Andy Gray, Patrick Barclay, Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini himself. As a tiny consolation we can keep on telling ourselves that we were better than Barca, who didn’t have a shot on target for ninety minutes.
What if we had taken more points against Liverpool and Man U?
Liverpool had the best record against the other big four teams while we were way out worse. Putting Arsenal aside, who are the fourth best team and not one of the big four, we got one point out of four games. In a normal season I would expect us to get at least seven points against the North West whingers. Two home wins and at least one draw. Say this year we beat United at home and lost at Old Trafford and beaten Liverpool at home and drawn away. Not beyond the realms of possibility is it? The final table would be: Chelsea 89 points, Man U 88 and Liverpool 81. What made it worse was that in the direct encounters we hardly had a shot on goal in all four games.