If you’d said a year ago that by early January 2008 we’d have lost the best manager in our history and spent the Christmas period largely minus Cech, Cudicini, Carvalho, Terry, Lampard and Drogba, I’d have thought taking four points over Christmas would have been generous. If you’d then told me the remaining team was being managed by Portsmouth’s ex-director of football, I’d have placed advance orders of Prozac there and then.
So it’s with a feeling of disbelief that the Christmas period saw us take ten points out of a possible twelve and if it wasn’t for two 90 minute equalisers from Everton (earlier in November) and Villa, we’d be level on points with Man United, a team with the same manager and essentially a full team of fit players (Neville doesn’t count as he’d make them worse).
In fact, our away record is the best in the Premier League and it is only those careless home draws to Fulham, Villa and Everton and a dodgy linesman against Blackburn that prevents us being top of the league. If that’s not team spirit, I don’t know what is, especially after what has happened this season.
Credit has to go firstly to John Terry. When Mourinho left, Terry rallied all the players together and basically said we can either allow things to go majorly tits up or we can band together and get on with it. In fact, he demanded the team put their differences and upset aside and play for Chelsea Football Club. Now that’s a Captain.
Secondly, the team itself gets ten out of ten for effort and has put in 100 per cent each and every game. Yes, there have been a few duff individual performances and Ben Haim’s display at Old Trafford still has me waking up in a sweat at night. Yet, even during poor personal displays, there hasn’t been one player who has looked like he wasn’t up for giving it their all. Perhaps Drogba had a dodgy spell but he wasn’t 100% fit so he can’t be targeted either.
The team effort, especially for what are excessively paid and pampered stars has been exceptional. Yes, we should expect and demand it for £1,000 a week, let alone £100,000. But look at other teams and see how their stars stroll around the pitch waiting for the full time whistle. Berbatov springs immediately to mind.
Thirdly, the manager: the man who looks like a bulldog chewing a wasp and has all the Premiership experience of Brian Laudrup i.e. not much. I thought the chances of the team passing a smile his way would be a dead bet after the way he sidled up as Director of Football and slowly manoeuvred his way into being manager. Subtle he wasn’t.
To Grant’s credit, he’s steadied the ship and the stunning away victory at Valencia was followed by a fourteen game unbeaten run. Crisis? What crisis? Only a manager who has got respect from his players could possibly go on this sort of run.
Grant has shown intelligence by not changing things too much and by his own admission he’s ‘added a few things here and there’ to improve us further rather than undertake a root and branch destruction of Jose’s brand of football.
Has the football got better? That’s hard to say, but it certainly hasn’t got worse and a few diehards in the Matthew Harding Upper will whisper quietly that they are enjoying attending Stamford Bridge once again. The 6-0 defeat of Man City was the best day at Stamford Bridge since we won the league under Fergie’s nose eighteen months earlier.
Critics might say that Grant inherited a winning team and a winning mentality created by Jose Mourinho. They’d be right of course, but Grant has done well even to maintain it given all the upheaval and injuries.
Finally, the crowd have been amazing. The Atmosphere Committee led by our very own Jerry Kendik and fellow fans from Chelsea Supporters Group and others, have done a fantastic job with the Shed campaign. There’s been little booing and overall the crowd have put in some almighty performances in some games. Perhaps the only blot was Shalke 04 away which was dire, the worst ever, but as Trizia at Chelsea Supporters Group told me, “look, it’s Germany, lots of fans were pissed”. She had a point if Toby’s lunchtime display in Cologne’s bierkellar was anything to go by.
All told, given what might have happened and what we expected to happen post-Mourinho, this season has turned into something very special and everybody connected with Chelsea deserves praise, especially the players. The bottom line is that with a full set of fit players we are still the best team in the Premiership. It’s that simple.