Had words.

Given the self-consciously bouffant cosmo/metrosexuality of the erm #Blues, the first half of the Europa League Final was an extraordinarily trad clash of gifted foreigner (in red) v English plodder (in blue.) For the first 45, Chelsea may as have well played wearing white hankies on those over-coiffured barnets; Oscar looked nervously ordinary, Mata too absent to even be ordinary, Ivanovic like a clumsy, monkish David Webb and Ramires managed to be both infuriating and fascinatingly awful – all of this in a peculiarly Brit kindofaway. Meanwhile the impish swarm that was the opposition toyed around their tetchy, island-hamminess.

It occurred that perhaps this latest influx of Abramo-galacticos had been spending quality time in fe boozers rarnda Bridge, polishin’ ap on ther ‘istry or sammink as part of some Community Outreach Thing(?) How else to explain their total immersion in a rich, Shed-local and apparently transformational anthropological context? Suddenly they seemed fully qualified as authentically duff footballing Englishmen. Was this merely because the moment pressed? Perhaps – but be honest – my theory is much, much more fun.

Gaitan and co skipped and smooched around a statuesque Chelsea rearguard in a fashion that must surely have gladdened the heart of the Benfica bench… although looking at the whirling but-not-entirely-in-pleasure Manager… maybe not. Jorge Jesus – him with the extravagant locks – showing more irreligious passion than contentment. Unstill soul that he appears, surely the only cause he might have had for those constant explosions of vitriol was on the matter of the scoreline; his team having slaughtered Chelsea in terms of style points and creativity but failed (significantly) to notch. Nil nil at the half flattered Benitez’s crew. He then, must have been the one to have ‘had words’.

After the break it became a contest. The embarrassment of riches and touches for Benfica was more meaningfully challenged by Lampard and Ramires, despite the latter’s weirdly off-key performance. The near humbling fluency of the reds, so characteristic of the early stages, slipped, as what I imagine to be a Benitez-driven gathering of blue force responded. There were few now, of those moments when you thought Benfica would dismiss Chelsea entirely through a beautifully constructed goal. Arguably less football broke out, in fact. You could almost feel Gaitan, in particular, sweating over those painfully lame misses from earlier in the match – chances which had they been converted might have tipped the reported balance over from ‘deserving winners’ into ’emphatic’. Despite real quality from the jinking/interlinking Salvio, Cardozo, Salvio, Gaitan, Benfica did lack that killer touch, meaning ultimately… ’twas not to be.

In a twisted world it’s a dead cert that the most maligned striker in the history of the universe is gonna stick one on his critics on an ‘occasion’ like this. And so it nearly was; meaning Torres if not absolutely sticking one then politely labelled a reminder and pressed it quietly against the fridge. Or somewhere. Fernando – whom I too have abused and whom I too still believe to be a pale shadow – threw off some of those monkey-albatross things and firstly led the line with something close to competence and indeed threat and secondly… scored.

Fittingly perhaps, it was a bit of a Sunday League, end-to-end in eight seconds flat job; except the finish, which flickered between composed and stylish, even. Cech lobbed the ball out smartly to Lampard, who pinged it through for the 50 Million Smackers Man to run onto. Torres extended and bypassed both the last defender and the sprawling keeper – going worryingly wide for a split second – before clamly slotting. Four years ago we would all have said it was class. Probably, it still was.

Benfica did respond but things were scrappy now rather than entertainingly ding-dong. Curmudgeonly barges and slightly cynical tumbles and inelegant, incomplete exchanges. Luisao baulking or lunging, Ivanovic clumping, Luiz still not hitting a meaningful pass. There was tension, still, in the play.

A clumsy handball from Azpilicueta needlessly gifted Benfica a direct route back into the game – Cardozo despatching the penno. Significantly, however, the reds control had ebbed away and the staccato nature of things was as least as likely to be punctuated with (for example) two stunning strikes from Lampard as it was with anything orgasmic from those sexy-footballing Europeans. Oscar and Mata still made only fleeting contributions, but the feeling grew that Chelsea’s resolve – or their physicality? – might be enough, without recourse to what might generally be termed ‘much fooball’.

It may therefore only be right to point out that a certain Fat Spanish Waiter (sorry Rafa!) is entitled to take some credit for the distinct improvement in attitude, application and consequently fortunes of the Chelsea side post the break. They dug in and held – even whilst failing to find their classier gears – and suddenly… bingo.

We’re in the last minute and there’s a corner which Mata floats towards the back stick. Ivanovic – who had been inconsistent with his defensive work all night (and was yet to offer Benfica one last golden opportunity, which fortunately for him, they spurned) drifted then looped back to connect with a firmly steered header. Time stands still… as does the keeper… and the ball arcs into the top corner. Cue ecstasy, cue disbelief. Chelsea have won their second European trophy in a year or so… and Benfica – remember them, who looked different class in the first period? – have now lost seven (repeat SEVEN) on the bounce, apparently.

Re-winding, it may be that the most remarkable thing about the game (save it’s extraordinary climax) was this imperfect correlation between say… John Terryness and David Luizness – or at least the David Luiz that looked kinda British, last night. And him (and Chelsea) being bamboozled by ‘technically gifted’ types for much of the game.

For a zillion years foreigners have done this carousel-of-lovely-touches thing to our lot but given that this 2013 version of ‘us’ is more likely to have wailed its first in Portuguese rather than cockney, how could a team containing almost no Englishmen represent the White Cliffs and stuff so stoutly? Could we maybe credit/blame Benitez for that too? And where does this leave the concept ‘us?’ And hang on… was that Jesus bloke like… on something, anyway?

In the extremely wonderful The Big Lebowski, the central character gets through by being a combination of stoned, stoic and mellow ma’an. It is said that ‘the Dude abides’. As he waddles off onto another sunset, another box ticked, perhaps we should be offering a little congratulation to Signor Benitez… who likewise, I suspect, will persist… nay thrive?

A kind of ugliness?


Chelsea – or as we in either our pomp or our provincial density call them ‘Chelski’ – have long been a symbol of metropolitan arrogance; we’ve hated them for that for yonks.  Way before the Putinesque assassin with silencered WOMP secreted about his black leather jacket wafted poisonously in.  We hated Chopper Harris – with some moral justification.  We hated Peter Osgood for his flashy bird-pulling brilliance and whiff of Kings Road boutiques.  Less obviously, we even hated David Webb for his (surely fake?) stolid yeomanhood, believing that to be the sole preserve of Northerners like er… Nemanja Vidic.  Chelsea were and are, easy to hate.

Man City are more recent arrivals at this general bile-fest.  Traditionally they had been pretty close to admirable, what with their perennial hopelessness just very rarely – like Once in a Blue Moonish, actually – spoiled by the classy shimmies and undeniable running of a Colin Bell or somebody.  (Rodney Marsh did complicate this other half of Mancunian experience by coming over all gaudy Landun The-attah on us at one stage – but this is simply a historical aberration; clearly he should have moved across to The Bridge, not Up North.)  No, City are a 21st century horror; one created entirely out of The Prem’s seduction by ‘Arab (or somebody Other’s) Money’.  Suddenly, we’re all lost in a sandstorm where the barchans are made of banknotes; where the origins of everything are unknowable; where there really is no foundation.

Chelsea got there first – before City, anyway – with the money thing.  Abramovic bought success and stuck around, presiding in a fashion we can only speculate about, his degree of control/interference/dictation being (again) unknowable.  The club has been his though.  Championships and even a turgid but triumphant Champions League campaign have followed, with (in my view) shockingly little dissent from the fans over his utterly amoral metier.  Managers have been brutally hoofed in a way that suggests Abramovic is indeed both a brute and a geezer ‘oo don’t knar ‘is fackin’ futtee.  Eventually and quite possibly ironically he has a frazzled, destabilised Benitez somewhere near the helm.  The club has gone from flash to kindof sordid, has it not?  You could only be proud of Chelsea, as a fan, in an aggressive/defensive kindofaway; not proud of how the club is.

In this respect City have come towards Chelsea.  The cheap blitz of wealth and acquisition now having passed through that anschluss/honeymoon phase into something truly hollow but still competitive.  Players who clearly owe negligible allegiance to the City Cause – but Big Name players.  Factions.  Noises off.  A kind of ugliness, symbolised (and I attempt to reflect the cruelty and bad taste of the average opposition fan here, perhaps foolishly) by the unattractive fizzog, as well as the unattractive activity of the boy Tevez.  City as some brash new ego-maniac brand; sometimes sparkling, sometimes depressingly disappointing; a metaphor for the new age in and out of the game.  For all these reasons, today’s cup semi is no popularity contest.


The game was nearly fabulous.  Certainly exciting, with a coronary-inducing openness and that familiar stamp of a footie match where defenders often looked like they simply could not be arsed to defend.  (Surely this is weirdly and maybe disturbingly characteristic of the current Premiership?)  Unfortunately this was not the only stamp of note – Aguero two-footedly clumping Luiz in a fashion that should have seen him dismissed – he wasn’t.

It would, however,  be churlish to overstate that moment of callousness in a game that had much to recommend.  From the opening, City were bright and penetrative, bristling with ideas and running power; Chelsea were simply overrun.  Out wide and central, where Mikel was displaying either the nerves or the qualities of a rather ordinary player (you delete…) the disciplinarian structuralist Rafa’s posse were ragged, whilst the faux-bully classicist-fascist male-model Mancini’s unruly horde were impressively ON IT.  So no surprise – indeed predictably – that symbol of thin undeservinghood Nasri (see earlier gripes/continue at will) bundled through with some good fortune to notch a goal; for himself mainly… but also his estranged team… and yeh, the supporters.  I didn’t see Mancini’s reaction; I suspect a shrug and a turn away.

It took Chelsea a good half-hour to turn up.  By then we had seen frailties all round the park, including the obvious thing around there being too many diminutive ball-players in midfield – an alarmingly counter-Rafa state of affairs that continues, rather charmingly.  Notable I thought was Azpilcueta’s discomfort; with like everything.  The Blues (in black) did need Ramires and Mikel to enter meaningful contact with the game.  They continued to refuse all offers, though they did come, for City – with Milner again in infuriatingly one-paced and wasteful mode – were far from perfect.  ‘Twas one nil at the break and this seemed about right.

I have been known to air my displeasure at City’s striker’s greed around the box, as though this was in some way emblematic of yaknow, their selfishness and the shameless humbug that is free-market egonomics.  This persisted today, for me.  Tevez and Aguero seemed as likely to square one to each other for a tap-in as Arthur Scargill is to read the eulogy at the #Thatcher funeral.  Whether this single-mindedness (stroke greed) is coached at City I can’t say.  It suits my purposes, I guess, to continue to use it against them, in an unlicensed moral fury, until they grow up and jolly-well pass to each other. The point is this game could have been over had they showed any public-spiritedness of the sort that tends to form an essential part of a sports team; not at City, apparently.

Aguero, as if shut up folks like me who maybe under-appreciate his brilliance, scored with a header.  Then Ba, on the half-turn, following poor defending, got Chelsea back in it.  There followed a period where City, in their turn, drifted and sat, giving Oscar and co the chance to create and me the time to indulge reservations about the clunkiness of Barry as Oscar and co breezed past him.  (Couple of years ago both Barry and Milner looked proper England players; now they could barely be more limited, more uninspiring; what happened?  Oh – they’re England players!!)  On the plus side this meant the match was pretty close to exhilarating at times, as Chelsea poured forward for the inevitable equaliser.  It never came.  City won.

Many of us have mixed feelings about football being in the hands of people who don’t know the game, or worse still could never convince us they want to listen to our understandings of its daft joys.  In that way there are parallels with capitalist politics, yes?  (He asked, absurdly.)  Maybe I’m a pompous arse but I am not entirely able to untangle my feelings about these clubs/this match from the crassness and delusion and cynicism at the heart of the contemporary game.  Chelsea FC and Manchester City FC, as well as having some of the world’s significant footballing talents to call upon, represent now a lot of stuff that ain’t good.  I don’t say them alone… but they are the apex of a crappy Premiership triangle; or maybe polygon; or maybe something bit more insidiously amorphous.

Things aren’t simple anymore; the exposure is so massive, the intensity so SO unreally high definition that we are being invited to pay homage rather than view.  This troubles me.  Odd to be so dissenting of a really pretty captivating match?  Perhaps.  Perhaps.

From The Bridge, with love.

It varies, clearly. The amount of responsibility – credit or otherwise – that a particular Manager deserves to receive. And in football, the measurement of such things is a) hilariously prejudiced by tribalism and … well, rage, often and b) by lack of knowledge – ours. In particular knowledge of what really happens in dressing rooms and on practice pitches. Few of us get a fair or informed picture of all that barking and larking or genuine professional graft. At Chelsea, over and above these prevailing inadequacies, there appear to be several extra dimensions, belted provocatively together like some Dadaist symbol for contemporary machismo. How much is satire? How much is real? What’s it made of? Who is responsible for this madness/this brilliance? Well now… blow me! It’s Rafa.

Rafa the ‘fat Spanish waiter’. Rafa the prolific trophy-hunter-gatherer. Rafa the portly ‘academic’. Rafa the puppet-with-thankless-task but substantial wedge, critically(?) we assume. Nominally – it’s him.

So let’s run with that for at least a paragraph. That assumption of him Casey Jones-ing the Blue engine; waving his hat and smiling through steamed glasses at the bouncing innocents along Kings Road Meadow, as they gosh and gallivant alongsides. (Because it’s that kindof beatifically innocent scenario we’re talking here, right?) Rafa as wholesome, er… English, spirit-lifting and no doubt balloon-piloting leader of men rather than porky attendant upon some Russian oiligarch. Because –even us unBlues – we have to dream, yes? Let’s dream.

Benitez starts off as Stinky Pants in the class; universally disliked and derided for his unequivocal unattractiveness and history of suspiciously dour, five-bellied Latin Scouseness. Or something. Slaughtered for not being either of those other two Mediterranean geezers; abused for his obvious and treacherous lack of FatLamps/Terryhood. But he manfully steps up (here comes that Casey Jones thing again) to the fireside plate and woo-woo – slings coals around with authentic Grit and Determination. He whistles convincingly, authentically, trans-halfwayliningly, with just the right fingers in just the right part of his gob and… before yas know it… proper locomotion! Players go beyond mere hand/arm wheeling gestures and puffing out cheeks into recognisably doing His Full-on Rafathing. Firstly, actually listening – as opposed to smirking in the depths of the changing room before jogging subversively out– then whooshing and clanking and braking and refuelling, pretty-much, in exactly the way he might really want, on the pitch. As if Rafa was really really in charge. (Cue major toot!)

It’s becoming (something that seemed cosmologically distantly unlikely) infectious, I think. Both the notion of Rafa winning out and the actuality of Chelsea getting manifestly better. Even those of us who have failed to warm to the man and who remain suspicious of the quality of his achievements elsewhere may – like the Sheddites themselves – have to nod approvingly as the Flying Spaniard streaks past… and on… and upwards. Because let’s face it, this seems increasingly likely.

Chelsea are looking good; more durable and organised; pacier as well as more directly threatening. Torres, whilst not being remotely the liberated, electrically humming soul of Anfield days, has looked like a footballer again. And has scored. Plus that suspicion of frailty brought on by the random inclusion of anyone with an exotic surname is dissipating, markedly. Chelsea’s midfield are more successfully stopping other people playing, whilst growing themselves – finding their rhythm, dominating. They are a stronger unit. Whether or not we acknowledge this through more or less grinding gnashers, it seems only reasonable to conclude that Benitez must take some credit for this.

But when will this turn into love? How long – if ever – before the chanting turns turtle? Already you suspect that the vitriolic banners are being folded away. After the deluge against Villa and now – perhaps more significantly – the hard-won and possibly fortunate win away at Goodison, when might we expect the first warblings of Rafa-appreciation to go public? Who, I wonder, might be bold enough or drunk enough to break ranks from the previously icy monolith? Anthropologists are no doubt secreting themselves amongst the faithful to trace the moment.

In this near-romantic fug it really is possible to shake away, for a lovely moment or two, the shadow of Roman. But not entirely. Because though he remains unimpeachably clear from the dangers of any form of accountability – whether by interview or other democratic means – Abramovic rules. His truly appalling metier – that of the alleged fan but in reality that of the bruiser, the dictator, the maniac, perhaps? – abides. So any personal triumphs or inspired choices or transformative drills or directives from Benitez shrink to nought; or will. Because they mean nothing compared to the real Gaffer’s whims.

I have found it fascinating and a little depressing that in the upheavals of recent weeks and months virtually no dissent – and no demonstrations to my knowledge (though I am happy to be corrected on this)- have been targeted at Abramovic, for what many identify as his bitterly stubborn mode of ‘leadership’. As though he has bought that particular success – ie inviolability – in addition to the on-field accomplishments. Instead, the focus has been entirely fixed on an unwanted Rafa and the unjustly departing Di Matteo. Meanwhile (and consequently) Chelsea the Club remains an idle plaything, less than inert but more than competitive, paradoxically fortunate to be in Abramovic’s financial orbit but corrupted, some would say, by his grasp. In short, (perhaps not uniquely) there is no innocence here; instead there is something which feels greedy and anti-sporting.

Rafa may succeed. He may even succeed undeniably, so that (because a particular gentleman may yet turn Roman down) he may be paraded triumphantly yet by a suddenly loquacious and emotional and converted Abramovic as the ‘Real and Legitimate Manager for this Club.’ But I doubt that. Sounds lovely… but I doubt that.

I have just published an ebook of selected posts and new material, with an introduction from Paul Mason. ‘ Unweighted – the bowlingatvincent compendium’, is available from Amazon ebooks.  The link amzn.to/SSc9To should take you there from Twitter.


One version of events suggests that the revolution at The Bridge featured a shocking restraint on the part of the owner – a man hitherto identified chiefly for his hatchet-mania. It is said that Abramovich actually supported his manager better and longer than the players did… before finally wielding the battle-worn veteran that is his Ukrainian Kukri. Thus we are presented with the possibility that Mild-Mannered Frank, known and loved for his A Level in Excruciatingly (S)killed Diplomacy (WhenFacedWithanInterviewSituation,Brian) and for his formerly likeably cuddly tumtum may – repeat may – have played a more aggressive role in the undermining of the brilliantly verbose ex-Porto man than Comrade Youknowwho. I’m shocked.

And could it likewise be that Ashley Cole, in a post-Napolitan strop, sought to apply the full, intimidating force of his intelligence to the de-stabilisation of Villas-Boas perhaps – I imagine through scrawling SHIT on the gaffers desk, or similar? And did Didier maliciously synchronise incoming Rolexes for that infuriatingly deadline-hugging fine-teasing screech of supercars into the car park, before winking knowingly at the watching but helpless ‘boss?’ We may never know.

We may never know if that kind of stuff mattered more than the dark, results-driven mutterings exchanged between the Real Boss and (again, I imagine) his own reflection most mornings, for the last month or two. But however, it seems sadly likely that the players… the players wanted The Bemackintoshed One out. More than the newly sensitised Abramovic, amazingly.

So no more absurdly fluent but amorphous/slightly increasingly ludicrous post-match roadkill dissections. And no more cruel dressing-room japes at AVB’s expense. So… so who’s next? The flawed Benitez – who surely isn’t to be trusted entirely to spend, spend , spend on the backbone of a new squad if his record at Liverpool FC is to be held in evidence? Who else? Who else, more to the point more likely than AVB to turn around a team that in recent times combines talent with an unappealing smugness?

Even throughout the good times – and let’s be clear folks, even now is a historically fortunate time for the club and its supporters – there’s been a tad too much of the histrionic (Drogba?) or the sulky (guess who?) or the near-bewilderingly indulgent about many of the sub-galacticos that have plied their trade at The Bridge. (Their trade being actually and apparently something they’ve appeared often to tinker with or dabble at rather than apply themselves to as though, god forbid, they meant to a) truly fulfil some meaningful contract with the club and the supporters b) stay longterm.)  Maybe this is what money buys? Mercenaries. Badge-kissers.

There may indeed be some traceable and even inevitable momentum leading us to where we’re at ‘darna Bridge’. Fans feel stuff like that whilst guys and gals like me search for encapsulating wisdoms; like this one. Particularly of late there’s seemed to be no team.

Who are Chelsea? John Terry was – Frank Lampard was – but this year’s flux seems to deny us any convincing evidence of who just might be next to carry that flame/torch/designer symbol. This living by mood is surely both a result of the Russian owner’s unstillness as well as of the consequent carousel of arrivals and departures from the dug-out – whether they be playing or more-or-less ‘overseeing’ arrivals. Bottom line, like the eyes of Dr T J Eckleburg, it is Roman who sees all. Voices full of money populate both Scott-Fitzgerald’s novel and the environs of the Kings Road. A key difference is that Roman scorches past the merely symbolic into the hands-on, the prosaically influential. He is tinkerer-in-chief, in truth, as well as sower of dreams.

So the club has lurched from one temporary beauty to another. Mourinho and Ancelotti, in their hugely different ways were on the one hand outstanding and on the other… gone. Hiddink too. Fans of Graham Norton will be familiar with the dumping chair at the end of his current run of shows, from which those who fail to entertain the Great Unwashed sufficiently (in Graham’s twinkling Irish eyes) are unceremoniously hoiked back’ards. Reminding me of Chelsea – or Abramovich? Who have the same crassness going for them but lack, generally, the humour.

So let’s return to that question: who’s next? Hilariously (from outside) it appears that Abramovocih has already exhausted the list; like serially. For me, Benitez is a goodish coach who rose periodically – i.e. in cups, typically – to the challenge of galvanising Liverpool. But he signally failed to produce a side which genuinely troubled those competing over the season’s length for the Premier League title. And the longer he went about that business, the less convincingly or astutely he dealt in the transfer market. Given that the Chelsea Project (volume 9?) clearly does imply a serious need for restructuring – culling, actually – as well as buying in, Rafa would not, I confess, be on my wish-list. Is he really top of Roman’s?

But who else is both capable and available? Mourinho – no? Hiddink – no. Guardiola – surely no?!? Does this already begin to bring us into contact with the untested or the (Chelsea)-undeserving? If Abramovic really does want to win and win stylishly that list shrinks yet further; to the extent that the feeling might be that Chelsea simply cannot get the right man; a feeling that first suggested itself whoa… about five or six years ago, or whenever somebody started kicking managers out every season.

Roman will surely go for a big name. Roman will surely not, however, concede to that new man the right to truly manage; begging the further question who, in their right mind, would want to take the Chelsea thing on? Unless for the money.