Chelsea: Do you think we cannot try to explain, taint or deny their wonderful night?
It’s 10 at night as I write this piece. My fingers are plunging through the rewind button, sky +’ing and reliving the utterly hilarious high pitched voice of Gary Neville as Fernando Torres smooths his shot in the bottom centre of the Barcelona goal, after rounding the outstretched arms of Victor Valdes.
All I can hear is the Neviller screaming ‘Unbelievable-aieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee’ and as his voice fades away into the distance, the profligate Spaniard is lavished in a whirlwind of praise as the strangely cool figure of Roberto Di Matteo ignites on the touchline like a drunk on St Patrick’s day whose just found out his local is having a lock in. It was possibly the most enthralling match in Champions League history and one which felt content to stuff every last possible incident within it.
Utterly ludicrous; comically absurd; mind gratingly dramatic. The kind of match that, as the tepid cliché goes, one cannot write a script for. And who would want to be able to write this script? There will undoubtedly be those who try to explain this night. Why? It is my belief that sometimes, games of football are truly incompatible with logic.
Think of last night’s game like a mouse in a maze. It can weave one way; it can dart through a different pathway than expected. Then, after seemingly all possible drama is drenched from the very core of the night, it can explode through the roof of the maze and shatter the very box we thought we could contain it in. Sometimes it’s easier – and more enjoyable – to not try to apply logic, reason, law and order, set rules or even the faintest understanding to why John Terry felt it necessary to steam train through Alexis Sanchez’s spine, or how Chelsea have just beaten a Barcelona team which is more talented and better equipped than they were, or how a game could twist in so many ways.
Erraticness is inherent within the sport and no analysis of defensive mistakes or tactical insight of Barca’s lack of a plan B will ever explain the whole beautiful bucket of emotion, willpower, tension and story-like drama of what we witnessed. Erraticness was always within the sport; it is the sport, if that makes sense. As you can guess, it’s probably hard to explain why I think something is unexplainable and unpredictable.
For after immediate questions come more questions: How did it all fall into place at the grandest occasion of them all? Is there any way to knowingly replicate the occasion we just witnessed? Perhaps the largest one of all looms over us: How was a sport created whereby so many incidents, outcomes and instances – along with a bucketful of contrasting emotions – are packed within just 90 minutes, two white posts and a ball? Simple answers can be given, admittedly – Chelsea defended like demons, rode their luck and got one at the end while Barcelona came agonisingly close which exacerbated the drama. But that won’t tell us the whole glorious story. It doesn’t do it justice.
The twists and turns, the weaving drama that laced through the game like some tormenting thread. That is the special, inherent nature of football and sport. It was bloody, chaotic sporting warfare. And ‘it just happened’ is a far more satisfying conclusion for me than robotically analysing segments of the game and trying to logically inform someone of how such a spectacle came to be.
So instead of explaining it, one can only come to a conclusion: Chelsea deserved their throne at this inexplicably tasty feast of sport. It’s simply football. The truly unpredictable games like these come so few and far between, I feel like I’m wasting time trying to attach reason to it. Often it’s easier to simply not explain games like this for there will be other matches which can easily be analysed, picked apart and organised into neat piles. Occasionally, games like the one on show last night simply occur; two teams with contrasting styles combining to make an absolute feast of football. Where would you start to explain it when games like these are rarities? Can we not just sit back and enjoy the wonderful ride we enjoyed? They make the agonising, tedious moments of football worth the journey.
One must not taint this night either. Graeme Souness slightly irked me when he commented on how one ‘must feel sorry for Terry’. Well, I’m afraid you are on your own there Graeme. Terry made a conscious decision to knee Sanchez in the back and while the Chilean certainly overreacted, the perpetrator was rightly dismissed for a ludicrous act of stupidity and an action which could have damned his team. The worst thing is after such a memorable night, the only person Terry has damned is himself.
One must also not trot out the usual ‘winning ugly’ accusation. Does it honestly matter? Is it written in the laws that a team must stroke the ball around and then let themselves be ripped to pieces? Perhaps if Barcelona are so wonderful, then they should be equipped enough to destroy any team – no matter the tactics they employ, no? These petty, endless debates about playing styles and whether it’s Messi rather than Ronaldo who is the big game bottler divert our attention away from the bigger, prettier picture.
And remember, even though the match may have been unexplainable, one cannot deny Chelsea this night. They rode through the chaos and unpredictable incidents and came out as the stronger team with the stronger backbone. Strangely, even though I detested Chelsea for the treatment of Villas-Boas – and the players who are suddenly performing well under a manager who isn’t so quick to rid the club of them – I admit I was celebrating last night. There are things not-so-likeable at Chelsea – like any club – but they played Barcelona excellently.
With a strong, cohesive defence they shut Barcelona out well and closed every ball down – fought for every challenge – like demons. The scorer Ramires who netted his goal just moments after being informed he would miss the final, along with the utterly fantastic Lampard, Cech … hell the whole team were doggedly determined and played with such an admirable gumption.
To deny Chelsea this night would be from spite; and spite must not cloud what was a truly mesmerising display. Was it luck? I would argue that every team rides their luck during these situations and occasions. And Chelsea laid the foundations down so brilliantly, and fought so well that if it was their luck which tipped them over the line, then it emerged from their own brilliantly spirited ethos.
Please, don’t explain the whole absurd night of football. Do not taint it and above all else, do not deny or devalue Chelsea’s shot at Champions League glory. For after 180 minutes of football one thing that is explainable about this semi-final is that, after such a chaotic night in which they stood strong and tall, it’s what Chelsea Football Club deserved.