Hallelujah! It has happened. At long last, after five bitterly barren months, Fernando Torres has scored for Chelsea; I was privileged to be at Stamford Bridge to see it. And scored not only once against haphazard Leicester, but twice. And not only scored twice but showed he could set up goals for others.
The crowd, to its credit, was generously on his side from the first when it might have been expected to be hostile. They wanted him to score though when in the first half he headed a decent chance straight to the goalkeeper, it looked as if the whole, sad goalless sequence was going to endure. To the delight not only of Torres but of his whole team, who embraced him after his first goal, come in due course it did. The shot not quite a clean one, from a beckoning opportunity, but a goal, for all that. The second was coolly and efficiently taken.
He roamed right, he roamed left, with speed and control. If it be true of football, in the old saying, that it is all in the mind, then some kind of a barrier in Torres’ mind seemed finally to be broken down. Vindication for Abramovich, whose £50 million fee for Torres had seemed increasingly hyperbolic over the frustratingly months? Up to a point, yes, though satisfaction for the billionaire oligarch and friend of Putin would surely be a moral rather than a material one. For him, as we know, money is no object at all. Meanwhile, what is he going to do for a manager?
Pragmatism might suggest that he simply leave things as they are. Villas Boas has gone, his supposed “project” a manifest failure, his petulant humiliating treatment of Anelka and Alex a mere memory. Both men, thrown off a first team squad which arguably still needed them, have found lucrative contracts abroad. The last, spiteful straw by their manager was, of course, to exclude them even from the Christmas party.
Though it may seem an unorthodox suggestion, I believe the best thing the impatient Abramovich can now do is to leave things exactly as they are whether or not the team gets past Benfica, for which I would give them an even chance. Leave Roberto Di Matteo, that is to say at least figuratively in command with John Terry, however sturdily he may deny it, continuing to call the shots. This he surely did when he came off the field against Napoli. In the subsequent match programme for the Leicester game, he was at great pains to disclaim any suggestion that he was the real manager, or that he had any ambition to be so, rather than to go on playing for some time to come. But Di Matteo doesn’t seem to have had an especially warm welcome from the players and perhaps the most significant intimation came not during the Napoli match, but during the pre-game press conference the day before, when it was Terry rather than Di Matteo who was answering the questions.
As things stand, any manager who took over at Chelsea on a supposedly permanent basis would always be dicing with death, though the pay off as indeed it was in the case of Villas Boas would be sumptuous. Already Brendan Rodgers, who had a spell at Chelsea as assistant coach has expressed total opposition to the very idea of leaving Swansea where he has done such a fine job for the hot seat at Chelsea where strange things seem to go on. What, for example, is one to make of the persistence of Michael Emenalo as a senior figure in the coaching hierarchy, a Nigerian who, reportedly has coached only a girls’ football team in the United States. It is hard to see Abramovich allowing the seeming duo of Di Matteo and Terry to continue for long but what major manager would now be ready to put his head in the lion’s mouth? And, short of an experienced major manager, what lesser coach could hope to last long at the Bridge? Maybe a solution could be to make Terry the player manager as Ruud Gullit and Glenn Hoddle have been in bygone years. Meanwhile, Benfica lie in wait.
By Brian Glanville