Andre Villas-Boas for Chelsea? What has the poor fellow done, whatever his achievements at Porto, to deserve that? Even if he has done great things at Porto.
He won’t even have the substantial backing of Guus Hiddink behind him? Though haven’t we been told that the Dutch coach wants to be a proper manager and not some kind of technical director? When Chelsea and the billionaire oligarch and friend of Putin Roman Abramovich enlisted the likes of Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho, they were both managers of maturity each of whom had won the European Cup; as opposed to that drawn out and synthetic affair the Europa Cup (Fulham against the Faroes? Oh, please!) which Porto carried off with some style.
Now Villas-Boas to arrive at Stamford Bridge, he’ll have to hope and pray that through some minor miracle, or perhaps a summer’s rest, the struggling Fernando Torres finds his form. You drop him at your peril; Abramovich so plainly and desperately wants his £50 million worth; so far he has scarcely had a tenth of it. But by the same sad token you include him at your peril since he has hardly had a decent game since he has come to Stamford Bridge, and Ancelotti’s hapless preference of the Spaniard over Didier Drogba has been disastrous.
I note that in certain quarters even sophisticated Chelsea fans are half nostalgic for the days of Good King Ken; that bearded buccaneer with his love hate relations with the press. All too well illustrated when he kicked us out of a decent press box in the East Stand and installed us in a TV gantry on the opposite side of the ground; from time to time banning scribes who had offended him.
Bates hardly “saved” Chelsea. When he took them over from the Mears family who’d founded the club in 1905, the last Chairman Brian Mears once told me that in a Park Lane hotel he had offered Ken the stadium for £450,000, which was not forthcoming. Bates antagonism towards the Mears led to a bitter stand off and the stadium passed into other hands. Perhaps best forgotten was Bates’ misguided campaign to Save The Bridge, which asked fans to cough up money into the equivalent of a begging bowl.
What saved Ken, Chelsea, and, above all, the stadium from being built on by the developers who owned it was the providential crash in the property market; enabling Chelsea to buy the Bridge at last. A huge financial help was the City tycoon, Matthew Harding, after whom the North Stand is still named. Bates detested him and seemed to weep few tears when poor Harding died in a helicopter crash on his back from a match at Bolton.
Somewhat grandiosely, Ken built the so called Chelsea Village, hotels, restaurants and all, behind The Shed at the other end but the club was still in dire trouble when Abramovich bailed it out. Ken departed with a helpful £17 million. Did I, in the last analysis like him? I confess I did; but he should not be romanticised.
Stuart Pearce has been given another two years in charge of the England Under-21 team and I am not quite sure why, nor why he should also be in line to manage the British, or all English (as it was when it won in 1908 and 1912) Olympic team.
All very well to lament the fact that English players don’t develop what Ron Greenwood, in his West Ham days used to call good habits. Pearce laments that you cannot get hold of them till they are about 17, but many of them, like Phil Jones, one of the few successes in Denmark, join their professional club at the age of 11 or so. The long ball virus is embedded deep and historically in the English game, aeons before Charles Hughes poisoned the wells of English coaching, Graham Taylor (a bizarre choice as England manager) had Watford at it, as a disciple of deeply deluded Wing Commander Charles Reep.
True, Pearce, in Denmark, was cruelly deprived of perhaps the one young English player who could have inspired midfield, in Jack Wilshere. But what possessed him, in the first two games, to put the pedestrian defender Michael Mancienne (deployed as captain!) into a central midfield position?
Pearce was what was once called a wholehearted player. The nickname Psychowas significant if harsh. Unkindly perhaps, a couple of salient memories remain. That World Cup qualifier in Bologna against humble San Marino when, in the very first minute, Pearce under-hit a back pass so disastrously that the San Marino striker ran on to score, to a tumult of laughter in a press box almost wholly inhabited by English reporters. And then there was the missed penalty in the World Cup semi-final shoot out against Germany, in Turin, in 1990.
After England’s first dull display, against a technically far superior Spanish team, Pearce spoke somewhat strangely about the need for “a touch more aggression when we were on the ball.” How about skill, or even imagination?
Let joy be unconfined? At last the dastardly Jack Warner has resigned as a FIFA panjandrum. “The presumption of innocence,” cry FIFA, “has been maintained.” By FIFA perhaps but not by any rational human being. I’ve lately been re-reading Andrew Jennings” damning book Foul! Pages and pages which I recommend to you deal with Jack Warner’s machinations. Innocence, indeed!