The title is within their grasp and Leicester are showing no signs of faltering.
Leicester’s inspired conquest of a flagging Swansea suggests once again that one man, in this case Jamie Vardy, doesn’t make a team. Vardy has beyond doubt had a magnificent season and fully deserved his place in the England attack. The goals he has scored for Leicester have been memorable, but even without him against Swansea, Leicester excelled.
Claudio Ranieri proved right to prefer the flying Jeffrey Schlupp even to the excellent Marc Albrighton, though the latter did come on to get a goal. Without Vardy and his electric pace, the pattern had to change built most effectively did, the £8 million Leonardo Ulloa coming in to the attack to score twice with impressive flair.
And after the game, it was good to see Riyad Mahrez being voted Footballer of the Year by his fellow professionals. He was in dazzling form against Swansea after a brief period when he seemed subdued. He is an Algerian international but in fact his formidable talents were honed in the back streets and in a local sports hall of suburban Paris.
One more testimony to the fact that you don’t have to sign for a club as an eight or nine year old and come through the endless ranks to be a success. Something in his rather different way, which Vardy himself has so emphatically proved.
Had the slightly built Mahrez been swapped up early by a big professional club, would he and his coruscating talents have developed in the way they have?
Michael Emenalo’s rise through the ranks at Chelsea remains a matter of mystery. He now rejoices in the role of technical director and as such is a spokesman for the club, if not a very convincing one.
Yet when he arrived at Stamford Bridge as a coach the word was that the only coaching the Nigerian international had done was of a girls’ team in the United States.
One former Chelsea manager, the Italian Carlo Ancelotti, was reported by a journalist sitting just behind the Chelsea bench at a European match not to have addressed a word to Emanolo throughout.
Now he attempts to defend the club’s wretched youth policy. Or rather its reluctance to promote the many talented youngsters, Domingos Quina being the latest of them, to excel with their successful youth teams.
Quina, a teenaged Portuguese, has at least and at last escaped the no man’s land at Cobham by signing for West Ham.
‘It helps to grow your own’, burbles Emenalo. ‘We love having players who love Chelsea. We need the next John Terry, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard, because they bring spirit to the club.’
Well, Frank Lampard brought it from West Ham and Ashley Cole from Arsenal, Terry, of course, being the refulgent exception that proves the rule.
It seems fairly clear that in his demand for success, Chelsea’s owners Roman Abramovich would prefer to buy expensively rather than wait patiently. Meanwhile, as we know, some 35 young Chelsea players are out on loan. Finding promotion rather harder than it has been for Emenalo.
Rafa Benitez is beyond doubt an accomplished manager as he has shown again with struggling Newcastle United. But what surprises me is that in at least a couple of instances he has been praised in the press for his role in Liverpool’s astonishing comeback in Istanbul in that European Cup Final against Milan.
The truth surely is that Liverpool won that title despite him rather than because of him. In the first half the gifted Brazilian Kaka ran riot from the Milan midfield and his team went 3-0 ahead. That seemed to be that and reportedly there was turmoil in the Liverpool dressing room at half time, Benitez having so palpably got his tactics wrong.
Steven Gerrard, an inspirational captain, made his voice emphatically heard so that belatedly and decisively Dieter Hamann was sent out for the second half to mark and subdue Kaka. This he capably did, the tide turned, Liverpool breathlessly and thrillingly made up the three goal deficit and won after extra time on penalties. So Benitez turned out to be the winning manager, but arguably it was despite him, rather than because of him.
How delighted I’d be were my old friend Chris Hughton successful in taking Brighton into the Premiership. After all those years of misery and exile at Gillingham, at an athletics stadium they and their fine new stadium deserve success, long after the scandalous way they were cheated out of their own Goldstone stadium in Hove and forced into a vagabond existence.