The day after Chelsea had surrendered their 2-0 lead at The Bridge to Juventus, their billionaire owner Roman Abramovich made one of his rare somewhat minatory visits to the training ground at Cobham, together with his entourage. If he wanted explanations, perhaps he could have concentrated on the loan this season to Real Madrid of Michael Essien their Ghanaian midfielder. Last season it is true, injuries largely kept Essien out of the Chelsea side. This summer it was evidently decided – but by whom? That he was surplus to requirements.
Not, though, in the opinion of The Special One and former Chelsea manager – till he was summarily sacked by Abramovich – Jose Mourinho. Not only did he snap up the Ghanaian midfielder on loan but he actually started him in the Euro game against Manchester City at the Bernabeu. With it should be said, substantial success. Essien, as we know, has a distinguished past as a bulwark of midfield, well capable when he wanted of bursting through to strike for goal.
The midfield defensive failings of Chelsea against Juve sharply emphasised the folly of pushing him out albeit not definitively. You wonder who was really responsible. Did Di Matteo willingly let him go? Could it have been not so much a direct decision by Di Matteo but one taken in the awareness that Abramovich wanted a more open, offensive type of football than the somewhat obdurate kind with which Chelsea, against all the odds, had won the European Champions Cup?
All very well to have the elegant panache of such as Oscar, scorer of so spectacular a goal, and Eden Hazard in midfield, but defence alas is also part of football and poor Jon Obi Mikel, abused by the twitter morons for crucially giving the ball away, is alas no Essien.
In Madrid itself, where Manchester City so traumatisingly lost in the desperate final minutes a match they seemed to have, however fortunately, won, Roberto Mancini displayed not for the first time chinks in his managerial armour. Last season it might be argued that he threw away the Euro match in Munich against Bayern by inexplicably throwing the young Toure into the fray at centre back after weeks of absence through injury, a decision which was as disastrous in practice as it had been in prospect. Against Real Mancini, with the imp of the perverse (acknowledgements to Edgar Alan Poe) seemingly on his shoulder, decided he would deploy the expensive newcomer, Maicon, from Inter, at right back, when he had made just one short appearance as a substitute.
This, surely knowing that Maicon would have to face the speed and power of Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the most dangerous attackers in the world. Inevitably, Ronaldo played ducks and drakes with him to City’s woe. Only three splendid saves by Joe Hart kept City in a game which should have been beyond them by half time.
Yet when almost immediately after the game Hart was interviewed on television, still manifestly distressed – an ordeal which Mancini should surely have spared him – and expressed his disappointment. Mancini publicly rebuked him. Yes, Hart might well have saved Ronaldo’s late winning goal, but what of the effect on his judgement which could well have been caused when Vincent Kompany notoriously ducked under the shot? Asked about that in his televised interview, Mancini himself ducked the question. Hart surely deserved better treatment.
Arsenal? Wenger? His team alone won its European group game albeit with some fortune in the second half at Montpellier. And while Lukas Podolski flourished for the second time in four days, at Old Trafford, Robin Van Persie was firing blanks. Moving Gervinho into the middle has proved a salient success. Toby Adams’ outburst, his insistence that Arsenal have become what he calls a feeder club, ignores the fact that, ever since the Bosman decision, it is almost impossible to deny the richest clubs of the Greed Is Good League. And surely a more obvious feeder club must be Southampton, who have lost both Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain to the Gunners.
The fact that Roy Hodgson a man of impeccable integrity wants John Terry back for England surely says it all. A lot more than the logic chilling of Mr Horne of the misguided FA. To reiterate the FA should have had the Terry-Ferdinand case to deal with from the very first rather than it going to the police who should have minded their own business. But once the “not proven” verdict emerged right or wrongly from the Westminster court that should have been gratuitously and far too expensively that.
Terry is indeed hardly a saintly figure, but in this case at least he seems to be dubiously dealt with. And whatever his various peccadilloes over the years England still need him in defence.