Offside, 7 August
Teams should stop moaning about Chelsea’s Russian cash, and start beating them at football.
Temperatures are soaring, railway tracks are buckling, naked ramblers are roaming the countryside and once again a young man’s fancy is turning to football. And thank heavens for that.
The back pages of the papers have been a barren and desolate place for football-hungry men in the past two months. If you were bored with Beckham – and frankly who wasn’t apart from pre-pubescent kids and gay men? – or fed up with Chelsea being linked with every registered footballer on the planet, then the new season couldn’t arrive too soon.
But now football is back where it belongs: unhealthily dominating our lives. On Saturday it was off to see Crystal Palace entertain rouble-enriched Chelsea in a pre-season friendly. Thousands of Chelsea fans swelled the 21,000 crowd to catch a first glimpse of their expensively assembled team. ‘What a waste of money’, the Palace fans chanted at £17-million Irish ugly boy Damien Duff. A little premature, I felt, but in fairness our abusive instincts are a tad ring rusty after the summer break.
Ironically, the biggest waste of money of the lot was not even on the subs’ bench. Palace paid the princely sum of £2.2million in February 2002 for goal-avoidant striker Ade Akibiyi, who repaid us with the handsome tally of two goals. That’s right, two goals: which works out at £1.1million per goal – and one of them was a mistimed header, that struck his face and bobbled over the line. Cow, banjo, arse, couldn’t hit – rearrange the words.
After Comical Ade had scored his second Palace goal, manager Trevor Francis hailed him as a ‘natural-born goalscorer’. Francis is now unemployed. Akinbiyi, meanwhile, is on the transfer list and is possibly the only player not to have been linked with Chelsea – or anyone else for that matter – in the close season.
With our natural-born goalscorer consigned to the reserves, Palace put in a fairly decent performance against Chelsea’s all-star cast. We lost 2-1 but passed the ball around neatly, scored a good goal, and created a fair number of chances. But it’s difficult to judge any team on the basis of a friendly. Chelsea strolled through the game in second gear and physical contact was conspicuous by its absence – though Shaun Derry raised a huge cheer from the home supporters when he clattered into Eidur Gudjohnson.
Deprived of the needle and aggression that a football match needs, the fans made their own entertainment by trading insults. ‘You dirty Russian bastards’, chanted the home fans after a Chelsea player had committed a rare foul. ‘Who are you, who are you?’ retorted the visiting supporters. ‘Russian rent boys’, taunted the Palace fans, developing the critique. With the Cold War now a dim and distant memory, I can’t quite imagine Chelsea supporters being cut to the quick by these sort of insults. But then how do you offend the club that has everything? Opposition fans will have their work cut out trying to infuriate the Stamford Bridge faithful.
Chelsea’s new sugar daddy Roman Abramovich must have sent a shiver down the spines of Premiership chairmen when he declared this week that his buying spree isn’t finished. ‘If I feel the need to buy any player to get the results I want I’ll just spend more money’, cackled the evil Russian tycoon.
But can Chelsea simply buy the Premiership title? Abramovich himself does not expect immediate results. ‘There will be many new acquisitions playing, so it is hard to believe this season will be successful’, he said. Alex Ferguson thinks that only Manchester United and Arsenal have the experience to win the title this year and the bookies agree.
But whether Chelsea can forge a title-winning team from a collection of talented individuals is of course a secondary concern to the rival fans. The rest of us just want to wipe the smug grins off the gloating faces of Chelsea fans. And ultimately, the only way to achieve that is to beat them at football. Difficult yes, but far from impossible.
Money might be the prerequisite of success these days but it is still does not guarantee success. The modern game is littered with big-spending underachievers, like Inter and Barcelona, who have lavished money on players but failed to convert this into silverware. And it is this sheer unpredictability that preserves football’s enduring capacity to enthral and entertain us.
So let’s not waste our energy griping about Chelsea’s newly acquired wealth or their Russian benefactor. Instead, to quote that old terrace refrain, we should just ‘get into them and fuck them up’.
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