Abramovich’s roman empire

Published : Oct 27, 2012 00:00 IST

Roberto Di Matteo, definitely, has carried his squad admirably , rotating players, taking into account Chelsea’s heavy schedule of games. The aged warriors are being saved for the biggest of games. Ayon Sengupta analyses.

Vitality is often considered more important than beauty. And though, as homo sapiens, we have this inherent penchant for admiring anything exquisite, our reverence for success supersedes it; the result remains more important than the path to its achievement. And though the world has whickered that artistry be expressed in full, it is the winner we remember, not the brave, skilful swordsman who is slain by musket fire.

Very much like life at large, even in the realm of professional sport, matter rises above substance as we tend to forget the vanquished with lightning quick speed. It is the title that matters, not the game they played.

But there have been occasions when a team or an individual has been able to bridge the divide and excel in winning hearts as well as engendering fear and contempt. The Magical Magyars, or the Total Footballers from Holland or the ever choking Proteas in cricket, all have flirted with our emotions but have failed to leave a lasting “winning” legacy. But there have been others — Clive Lloyd’s West Indies, Brazil of the 1950s and 60s, Barcelona among the clubs — who have seamlessly joined the two worlds, thus gaining what all aspire for — immortality.

So after years of waiting in patience, against his will, Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, buoyed by his club’s first Champions League success, has now decided to stake his claim to make his team legendary.

And although that May night of 2012 at the Allianz Arena will be etched in the hearts of every Blue buff, the account needs to be wiped clean and the show must proceed, as Abramovich has raised the bar further above.

Roberto Di Matteo, belatedly appointed Chelsea manager, a good 25 days after he took a stuttering team past European obstacles to the greatest night in its history, now has to prove his detractors wrong (he is often called a one-time wonder) and lead Chelsea into a newfangled period of success, as long envisioned by the club’s owner. His job is to bring in energetic entertainers who can be alluring as well as prize-winning.

In good faith, the Russian has tried making Di Matteo’s job easier (contrary to his difficult public persona) as the London club has splurged GBP65 million of his oil money on procuring delectable assets such as Brazilian Oscar (playing for Internacional last season he had 13 assists and 13 goals in 44 starts), Belgian Eden Hazard (Player of the Year the last two seasons in France) and Germany’s Marko Marin.

The trinity under the guidance of the indomitable Frank Lampard and Spain’s Juan Mata (it is a shame he can’t make it to his national squad despite the consistency of performance), has brought in a new-found artistry to Stamford Bridge, which the fans and the owner have long longed for. Di Matteo, however, can ill-afford to take such generosity for granted and he will be afforded few excuses should the team fail to produce affirmative outcomes conveyed in an aesthetic manner. To the Italian’s relief, so far, this new-look Chelsea side has made a promising start to the campaign. Disappointing results in Europe apart (against Atletico Madrid and Juventus), the team has been near flawless on British grounds, winning six of its seven Premier League games. Chelsea sits atop the league with 19 points and a healthy goal difference.

While the draw has indeed given it a relatively kind start (compared to other top clubs in the EPL), Chelsea has made the most of it. The team has refused to be sidetracked by the confusion and public clamour around the John Terry-Anton Ferdinand racism saga and brushed past an impressive Arsenal side at home (its most testing game so far).

The new players have remarkably found their feet in the more physically, intimidating English game (making an exception to popular perception), with the side making a smooth transition from the thrusting, power game built around Didier Drogba to a more fluid, short passing structure.

This Chelsea side has indeed been impressive and increasingly entertaining to watch. Hazard has sparkled immediately, notching up two goals and six assists in just 12 games so far. Oscar (two goals and three assists in eight games) has also been equally impressive, while Mata continues on his rich vein of form that made him the side’s standout performer last season.

Though the team is slightly short of options in front, Fernando Torres, thankfully, has enjoyed a decent start to the season. Burdened by the fact that his every move is dissected, the Spaniard has looked to have at last emerged from the shadows of the prolific Drogba, enjoying the delivery system of the team, which lays less emphasis on physical prowess and towering aerial presence.

Torres has got a new-found vigour and has been seen making darting runs across and into the area (that made him so effective in Liverpool), drawing play, and has already scored six times in 12 appearances. Clearly enjoying the fluid, brisk passing style (modelled on the world conquering Spanish side), Torres has been good, but not yet at his best. Chances have been wasted because of indecision, and the lack of confidence underneath his delicate shell is palpable. The manager, for his part, has reposed his ultimate faith in the striker, thus helping his re-emergence.

Di Matteo, definitely, has carried his squad admirably, rotating players, taking into account Chelsea’s heavy schedule of games. Lampard and Terry have been used sparingly despite not having any immediate injury concerns. The aged warriors are being saved for the biggest of games. Di Matteo’s team, even against odds, has fanatically stuck to its newly acquired colourfulness, drawing praise from fans and critics alike.

With this sheer substantiation the season ahead for the ‘Men in Blue’ look nothing but exciting. However, we will do well to concede that the team is a work in progress.

It may waver and not every match will go Chelsea’s way. But hopes can be pinned on the ability of this talented assembly of players to respond in the appropriate way when the going gets tough as the season progresses.

Chelsea is perhaps as strong as any other Premier League aspirant, but in recent years has shown a heady fondness for self-annihilation, which is often top-driven.

Manager after manager has fallen by the wayside because of an oil oligarch’s fickle ways. Stability is imperative to success. Even Rome took its time.

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