All too sadly predictable. No John Terry in a vulnerable Chelsea defence. No Didier Drogba up front in a flimsy lightweight attack. When Fernando Torres finally came on it was like running up the white flag. An even worse Roman Abramovich-engineered buy and a still more crazily costly one that Andrei Shevchenko before him. Roberto Di Matteo never had a chance; this season’s personnel and erroneous tactics saw to that. Will any major manager at this stage be daft or greedy enough to take over.
Di Matteo emerging from the dressing room ructions which followed defeat at West Bromwich last Saturday, only to have Chelsea confronting Juventus days later, surely deserved some sympathy. It was surely quite clear on the evening his team was brushed aside by Falcao and Atletico Madrid in the Euro showpiece game in Monaco. No John Terry then and no John Terry now with all the great difference it makes both to Chelsea’s defence and to England’s. But the basic problem for Di Matteo has surely been the insistent tactical demands of the clubs billionaire oligarch owner, Abramovich.
Winning ugly, in the vernacular, is not to Abramovich’s liking; even though this is just what Chelsea so astonishingly did last season when they won against all odds the Champions League. Abramovich had something of the same problem when The Special One Mourinho was in charge and Mourinho duly went.
Vast sums of money in the summer brought the expensive elegant likes of Belgium’s Eden Hazard and Brazil’s Oscar, but defence, like it or not, is an essential part of football and this season under the new strategy Chelsea, above all without Terry, hardly have it. A predicament exacerbated by Abramovich’s delectation for poor fading Fernando Torres for whom, even though his Liverpool form had waned by then, Chelsea splashed out a ludicrous £50 million.
Torres, in any case, was stylistically no kind of a successor or substitute at all for the dynamic, powerful Didier Drogba, allowed so foolishly to slip away to Shanghai and countless millions for nothing; when giving him the two-year contract he wanted would have persuaded him to stay. Hard to think of a more contrasting striker than Torres yet plainly Abramovich had not abandoned hope in the Spaniard, which he now belatedly seems to have done.
Plain enough that the oligarch wants Pep Guardiola, now taking a year’s New York break from management, to take over while the former Barcelona manager has expressed a desire to manage Chelsea. Is he wise? Would it work, given the unbalanced team Chelsea for all their vast expenditure, deploy at the moment? The idea, plainly dear to the oligarch that Guardiola could work his Barcelona magic – the product of years of intensive coaching and preparation – on the costly job lot of players Chelsea have at the moment is hardly convincing.
There is no obvious substitute at Chelsea for Terry, injured, alas, and badly after heading that typically taken goal at The Bridge, either for Chelsea or England. All credit to the remarkable maverick Zlatan Ibrahimovic for his four goals against England, above all the astonishing mid-air bicycle kick, with which he scored the last of them. But that, however gloriously taken, was something of a gift from Joe Hart with his silly header and the Manchester City goalkeeper is alarmingly seeming to alternative brilliance with blunders. As things stand, Celtic’s excellent English keeper Fraser Forster, whom Newcastle allowed to slip across the border, seems a far safer bet.
Hodgson, in Stockholm, was plagued by major absences; Terry of course and permanently but also Wayne Rooney, Ashley Cole and of course and alas, Scott Parker. But it was surely dicing with death to being on that somewhat reckless challenger Ryan Shawcross with Ibrahimovic against him, and why call up the greatly gifted and dynamic Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha, who hasn’t yet renounced his potential commitment to his country of birth the Ivory Coast (all very well for Hodgson to warn him) then send him on only so late in the game.
Hard to see any centre back with Terry’s influence and authority but at least Jack Wilshere, the only English midfielder who can pass a ball, making his way steadily back to form with Arsenal. England have made a bad beginning in their World Cup group and Montenegro wait in ambush in March, Mirko Vucinic, now in and out of the Juventus side, a well known menace in his Roma days to English defences.
But there is hope in the prowess of Liverpool’s prodigy winger, 17-year-old Raheem Sterling, bold of Hodgson to pick him.