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Butler: A look at the meltdown at Stamford Bridge

Noel Butler
1/25/2013 3:02:32 PM
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Early last August as London was resplendent in all its Olympic glory hanging proudly from the century old walls surrounding Stamford Bridge and just in time for the start of the 2012/13 season were team and individual player images wonderfully capturing that magical Munich May evening.

For a club that seemingly wants to be mentioned in the same venerable football breath as a Barcelona, or steeped in the traditions and history of a Manchester United, no scriptwriter worthy of their Oscar nomination could have penned the flaws, folly and football failure that has now beseeched the club since Munich.

This should have been the grandest celebratory year for Chelsea Football Club and its globally enlarged supporter base and one that's shortly to celebrate its 108th Birthday.

When their season kicked off Aug. 12 at the Community Shield, 'We know what we are - Champions of Europe,' quickly became the terrace refrain. That Sunday afternoon at Villa Park also heralded for Chelsea the start of a journey that could result in an unprecedented haul of seven trophies.

However, following a resounding defeat in the UEFA Super Cup that potential trophy haul was down to five. The season was only a fortnight old.

Chelsea's Barclays Premier League form through the first few months appeared to suggest the team had exercised those early season demons.

Back atop the summit, scoring goals just for fun as they brushed aside opponent after opponent those in the off season critical of the change in personnel and playing style from the slow and physical to the fast and zestful lined up to applaud 'Chelsea the Makeover.'

As he plotted their downfall, even Sir Alex must have been impressed. If he was concerned a growing threat to United wrestling away the title from their nearest and not so dearest he wasn't showing it a bit.  
 
Chelsea's real response to weakly giving up the season's first two pieces of silverware though would be measured by their UEFA Champions League performance and progression. 

Opening their defence of the Euro crown in mid-September at home to Juventus a breathless opening 30 minutes was capped off by Oscar's scintillating marker that put Chelsea ahead 2-0.

Then all of a sudden, like any compelling mystery the unexplained occurred. Not so much the wheels falling off, the entire undercarriage collapsed.

Credit certainly goes to a worthy opponent. But for the woodwork and poor finishing Juventus could have left SW6 that September evening with all three points. It was the perfect hint of what was to follow.

Then, on the eve of Halloween, Chelsea's attempt to stare down the Manchester duopoly fell to the canvas in Round 1. A rare home defeat is one thing, but the manner of the defeat and the immediate aftermath will not easily be forgotten.

Three goals conceded, two red cards dished out. Added to this not one, but two separate accusations levelled by Chelsea of inappropriate behaviour by referee Mark Clattenburg.

When I was a very regular attendee to Stamford Bridge, the sound of police sirens were in most part attributed to the hooligan element with certain parts of the terraces often racially abusive. In some instances this venom was directed at their own players.

Now those sirens for police investigations into racial abuse involve the club itself. Starting with the well documented case of club captain ultimately found guilty in late September by the Football Association and subjected to a lengthy ban.
Now the unthinkable was occurring - a referee becoming the subject of an investigation as a result of Chelsea's accusations. The like of which we had not ever witnessed before.

False as they were found to be significant irreparable damage was done, all of which entirely the result of Chelsea's actions.

Self-inflicted, if Chelsea was a pop star they stand accused of self-harming.

Leadership is usually found at the forefront during a crisis. Not it seems for one of the wealthiest sport entities on the planet.

Failure to get out of the Champions League, the removal of a man so instrumental in Munich, a precipitous decline in league form, the appointment of a manager not wanted by the many of the support casual or otherwise and defeated in the Club World Club Cup final.

Chelsea deflated. We hadn't even reached Christmas.

Unbeknown at that particular time the club had decided that a player who personified Chelsea as they gathered trophy after trophy under the House of Abramovich - and a player at the top of all-time XI lists as he closes in on the all-time scoring record - would be let go at season's end.

Taking in the second leg of the Capital One Cup semifinal in an iconic Chelsea landmark - the Imperial Arms made famous by club benefactor and former vice chairman Matthew Harding - who used to hold court pre game whilst engaging over pints of Guinness with the supporters.

Imagine that, Mssrs Buck, Gourlay and Abramovich.

It wasn't excitement, even anger that filled the air in the aftermath of Wednesday night. More worryingly apathy was the one constant.

With a nod to Kim Jong-Un, no entity on the planet can entirely control everything. But with the resources football or otherwise at Chelsea's disposal, the current European Champions should have imprinted a greater influence in ensuring more desirable outcomes resulted.

Matthew Harding - a long time passionate supporter who made good in the re-insurance business - met his untimely death in a tragic helicopter accident on his return to London from a Chelsea League Cup third round match back in October 1996.

To some, part of Chelsea's original soul died alongside Harding that fateful night.

Having lent the club close to $50 million to stave off bankruptcy alongside investing in new players quite rightfully Harding  has one of the four mains stands at Stamford Bridge named in his honour.

Next up on Chelsea FC's season long 'We know what we are - Champions of Europe' Tour is a short hop across west London and another potential embarrassment - an FA Cup fourth round date on Sunday with League 1 outfit and complete 10/1 outsiders Brentford.

In Thursday's pre-match press conference, Brentford's manager Uwe Rösler laid down an ominous warning for his opponent.

"We're going out there to win - not to ask for their shirt."

Somehow I can't imagine an opposing manager would utter such words ahead of his club playing Barcelona in a Spanish domestic cup match.

Time for a re-think, Roman?

EASY MONEY

Just as La Liga monopolized the FIFA 2012 World XI Spain continues to dominate the top two spots in the annual Deloitte Football Rich List. As it's football no need to take into account debt or profit columns on the ledger. This is purely about revenue. For the first time in world sport a club exceeded the €500 million mark. According to Deloitte Real Madrid's turnover in season 2011-12 came in at €512.6 million [$658 million], Barcelona are in second spot with €483 million and Manchester United's €396 million filled out the podium. Seven of the top 20 were BPL clubs. Chelsea benefiting substantially by winning the Champions League saw their revenue grow close by close to 30 per cent and in doing so dislodged Arsenal in fifth place. However, failure to get out of this year's group stage will result in greater challenges ahead to ensure UEFA Financial Fair Play compliance.

SCHOLES RETIRING AGAIN?

Paul Scholes has effectively ruled out Manchester United's chances of reaching this year's Champions League Final by signing himself up for a four-day charity bike ride that will not have concluded by May 25 the date of this year's showpiece. Either that or Scholes is planning to announce his retirement before season's end.  I guess  we can't rule out that Sir Alex - famous for forward planning and rebuilding sides from scratch - has already advised Scholes he doesn't intend picking him if United reach their fourth final in six seasons.

MUFC WE HAVE LIFT OFF

When Manchester United priced their share offering in the summer at $14 it was seen as a climb down for the Glazer family who had aggressively sought an IPO price of upwards of $20. When ticker symbol MUFC opened last August after an initial climb to just over $15 by late fall the price had dipped to the $12 mark.  However in recent weeks the share price has skyrocketed. Yesterday the share price ended the session at an all-time. Globally renowned investor George Soros is known to have close to eight per cent of the share issue. With no significant financial news out of Old Trafford, are we about to witness a bidding war for the club and ultimately an exit strategy for the much maligned Glazer family?

You can reach and follow Noel Butler at:
Noel.Butler@BellMedia.ca
@TheSoccerNoel on Twitter

FA Cup Fourth Round: Manchester United vs. Fulham live from Old Trafford on the TSN and TEAM Radio Networks this Saturday, with coverage kicking off at Noon et/9am pt.

Noel Butler

Noel Butler


Noel Butler is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/TheSoccerNoel and listen to his radio program oranges@halftime on TSN Radio 690 Montreal.

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