This season, in many ways, sums up Chelsea over the last eight years. Sacking, drama, tension, alleged player power, but ultimately, success. This season has arguably been Chelsea’s most controversial, high-profile, dramatic, testing for all fans. So how ironic is it that it will go down as, somehow, the greatest season in Chelsea history. There is always a silver lining.
22nd June 2011 was meant to herald a new era for Chelsea. Roman Abramovich ordered a clear-out, and Andre Villas-Boas was the new man, the man who won everything possible at Porto, and a man whom we all had great expectations of.
A solid start lead to rash statements made by chairman Bruce Buck in October, saying that he wanted AVB here “for 10 or 15 years… His man management skills are excellent… We are impressed with his organisational structure.”
But defeat after draw followed another draw. The cracks were appearing. The media weren’t helping. The tension was augmenting. It was approaching Christmas-time, and Villas-Boas’ greatest present was fulfilled, at least for a few months longer: not worsening the unemployment levels of the country.
A new year begun with a shock defeat to Aston Villa, Torres was still not in form, draws to Norwich and Swansea sandwiched a loss to QPR. Disarray, confusion, ousting of popular players in Alex and Anelka. Yet the trigger-happy Russian was prepared to wait. This was his appointment.
Fans were split, some lavished praise on the tactical genius, others criticised his communication.
But, although delayed, the inevitable came. 4th March 2012, 1:37pm. Typical Chelsea. It is a Russian thing to blame others and with the powers he possesses, people are gone in a flash. Gone at this point were the Carling Cup, the Premier League crown, and, 3-1 down to Napoli, so too looked the Champions League. Roberto Di Matteo was put in interim charge. Some argued it was a desperate, rash, knee-jerk reaction. The new era was put on hold; this was merely an SOS call.
But Chelsea rallied behind the great, the man who has served them so well as a player, and would also as manager. Chelsea prevailed 4-1 in the second leg, cue euphoria. Win after win followed win. “There’s Only One Di Matteo”, the fans sung, stark contrast to the boos of Villas-Boas’ time.
The league form was no greater than that of AVB, but that is not where Di Matteo’s successes have lied. Wins against Benfica and a thumping of Tottenham, to set up a semi-final clash with Barcelona and final with Liverpool respectively, and things were looking up again.
Cloud nine came with the tactical prodigy that was Di Matteo, stifling Barcelona to maximum effect. You wonder if AVB could have done that.
Fernando Torres was looking back in form, so too was Mikel; Terry, Cech, Ashley Cole, Lampard and Drogba leading the turnaround. Harmony was restored. Di Matteo had, in the little time, not changed, but totally transformed, Chelsea.
These were no longer disgruntled players playing for a manager they did not like. This was no longer the manager who Romelu Lukaku said he would “never forgive”, or the one who had a “not ideal” relationship with Lampard. This was a man who made the players play to sate the burning, unfulfilled desire to be kings of Europe.
This was the time for Chelsea. An FA Cup winners medal was in the bag; for Ashley Cole, his seventh in ten years. The league season, for all its lows, was signed off with a high, winning against Blackburn.
A Champions League Final was the pinnacle. Elusive for all managers, yet arriving in the nick of time to save a turbulent season. And for so long, it looked like it would end in disappointment. Some might even say this match itself summed up the entire Abramovich era: drama, tension, heart-in-mouth moments, but the over-riding emotion? Sheer joy.
And after such a season, Chelsea deserve it. The troubles of October to March have been forgotten about in one kick. It is all looking cosy again.