After the Lord Mayor’s Show. That one thought was very much the impression when, the day after a enthralling Olympic Cup Final between the effervescent young Mexican team and a disappointing but equally young Brazilian team, at Wembley, Manchester City met Chelsea at Villa Park in what is now known as the Community Shield; Wembley the customary venue for what is essentially a non event, having been assigned to the Olympic game.
Watching the match at Villa Park, one reflected on how both teams were evidence of the present vast imbalance in Premiership football, each owned by billionaire backers each deploying vast funds far beyond any other English club, with City having put in the shade with their colossal expenditure on transfers thanks to the vast wealth of the Abu Dhabi sheikhs even the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who’s been quite content to allow Chelsea to run up a £90 million deficit.
On this occasion, City were in a better position than Chelsea able as they were to call on a full first team squad so large that they were enabled to leave Italy’s Mario Balotelli in the stand and bring on as mere substitutes two players of the salient ability in attack in David Silva of Spain, a star of the recent Europeans, and Bosnia’s incisive striker, Dzeko. They could well have won even if Chelsea’s Ivanovic not gone into that rash tackle and got himself sent off. As for Chelsea, they were unable to use Brazil’s midfielder Oscar, who had played for his country at Wembley or the costly recruit from the Bundesliga, Marin.
I still believe that it was folly for Chelsea to let Didier Drogba slip away and for nothing at that – though he will reportedly be on £200,000 a week in Shanghai. He may be 33 but his power and deadly opportunism have few equals and had they only been generous and indeed sensible enough to offer him the two-year extension to his expiring contract rather than the one year which he refused he might still be at Stamford Bridge.
As it is, another chance is seemingly being given to Fernando Torres who to give him his due took his left footed goal with cool aplomb. But he isn’t in any way comparable with Drogba in style or physique. Daniel Sturridge, who showed for the GB team in the Olympics that he is an effective centre forward and showed it again when he came on as a late substitute at Villa Park, might be a more effective successor to Drogba. That is where he wants to play, rather than out on the right wing where last season he was largely deployed but when asked about it before the Shield game, manager Roberto Di Matteo didn’t seem wholly convinced.
Brazil meanwhile have failed yet again to win the Olympic title and if this was to be the basis of their 2014 World Cup side, to be played on native soil, there are problems to solve. Even if they could, at full strength, deploy Ramires, impressively lively on Chelsea’s right wing at Villa Park, his team mate David Luiz, gifted but occasionally erratic at centre back, and midfielder Ganso. Strange lapses in defence characterised the Olympic side and both Mexico’s goals the first after 24 seconds followed gross defensive errors. Moreover, the Brazilians, Neymar and all (anonymous in the second half of the Final) could only scrape 3-2 past a Honduras team reduced by expulsions to nine men and hardly among the leading contenders.
Those prophets of doom who, before the Olympics, declared that there was scant interest in the football tournament – despite its record of out-grossing even athletics, the epicentre of any Olympiad – were left embarrassed. 86,000 saw the Final, 70,000 crowds at Cardiff watched a GB team shrewdly and successfully put together at such short notice by Stuart Pearce who sturdily refused to resurrect fading David Beckham. Could Craig Bellamy who said it was his greatest experience, have played any better? And though Pearce had yet another penalty disaster at least GB didn’t in ordinary or extra time lose a single game. How sad that we won’t see a British team in the Olympics again. We had to be the hosts. But Mexico with few of the their senior team were a revelation. The defence was defiant in the Final, Paraltra a deadly opportunist. Uruguay? Though with stars Suarez and Cavani, they went down even to GB.