Part 1: Bringing Sexy Back
A Champions League win is always glorious, but means different things to different teams. When Barcelona won it in 2009 it was the start of a dynasty, the beginning of a new era of dominance in European football. When Manchester United completed their treble in 1999 it was the crowning glory of a fantastic team and a fantastic manager.
When Frank Lampard, assisted by some opportunistic imposter, lifted the Champions League trophy on Saturday night in Munich it felt like an exclamation mark to an era.
So many players, not to mention manager Roberto Di Matteo, who have played such a key part in Chelsea’s recent history went into the game against Bayern Munich with question marks hanging over their future. The catharsis felt by the squad, the club and the fans is palpable after so many close calls in the competition they wanted to win more than any other.
Now they have truly won their place amongst footballs elite, albeit through grit and determination rather than the sort of aesthetic wonder associated with the current Barcelona squad or Di Stefano’s Real Madrid. Storylines of redemption, achievement of aspirations and a club’s bildungsroman abound.
As Didier Drogba calmly slotted the winning penalty, there was a sense that winning the Champions League this year in such antagonistic style had always been the fate of the squad assembled by Roman Abramovic’s millions. The adversity Chelsea underwent on route to the final, and during the final itself, seemed almost invited and enjoyed. Forget sporting meta-narrative, this was postmodern football, the game being played out with a knowing wink to all the trials and tribulations that had gone before.
But it wasn’t just the work of Abramovic that was finished in Munich. The presence of Roberto Di Matteo and Eddie Newton in the dugout was a reminder of a time before the roubles and the era that made the club so attractive to the Russian in the first place. When Chelsea won the Champions League, it was the end of 20 years of hard work.
The nine seasons since Abramovic are well documented, and the stories of the six semi finals, Didier Drogba’s badly-timed psychological meltdowns and John Terry’s tears well known. Less discussed is how the seasons before the Russian’s arrival shaped the future of the club and paved the way for the celebrations and celery on King’s Road on Sunday.
Here is one game from each of the eleven seasons preceding Abramovic buying Chelsea that feed into the rich tapestry of narratives that lead to the Blues bringing home ‘old big ears.’
May 2, 1992. Everton 2 Chelsea 1. Division One:
The season before the inception of the Premier League was a pretty undistinguished one for Chelsea. The team finished 14th in the old Division One, and were knocked out of the FA Cup in the quarter finals and the League Cup in the second round.
But the year was significant because it marked the beginning of Glen Hoddle’s association with the club. He wouldn’t make an appearance for the team until two years later, but before he went to Swindon as player-manager he trained with Chelsea on a none-contractual basis.
With Ken Bates already in place as Chairman and players like Dennis Wise and Steve Clarke on the books, a number of figures that would play a role in shaping the future of the club were present.
On the last day of the season Chelsea played Everton, and a 20-year-old Eddie Newton scored on his debut for the club. The story of Chelsea’s European Cup had begun.
Feburary 13, 1993. Chelsea 0 Aston Villa 1. Premier League:
Ian Porterfield’s side had started the 1992/93 season in blinding form, and for a while it seemed they might challenge Aston Villa and Manchester United to be the first team crowed Premier League champions. But then the side’s form fell drastically. In 10 weeks Chelsea had gone from fourth to staring down the barrel of relegation, and out of both cups.
The 1-0 loss to Villa at Stamford Bridge meant the Blues had gone 12 games without a win, and Ken Bates decided enough was enough. Bates being Bates, he allowed Porterfield to take training on Monday whilst he made arrangements to bring in David Webb on a short term contract, then announced the managerial change to surprised callers on the club’s telephone information service.
Webb was already a club hero for scoring the winner in the 1970 FA Cup final against Leeds, and galvanised the team to an 11th place finish. Bates decided not to renew his contract, and instead turned to Glen Hoddle. If Chelsea had been relegated, they may not have got Hoddle and the players and trophies that followed.
April 9, 1994. Chelsea 2 Luton Town 0. FA Cup semi final:
In his first year as player-manager Glenn Hoddle failed to deliver the title challenge that Ken Bates so desired. Although new signings Gavin Peacock, Mark Stein and David Rocastle significantly improved the squad they still only managed to finish 14th.
But two goals from Peacock saw off first division Luton at Wembley and the club reached the FA Cup final for the first time since 1970. Crucially this meant they qualified for Europe for the first time in 23 years because their opponents would be Manchester United. United had won the league, and so would take a place in the European Cup, meaning Chelsea would play in the Cup Winners Cup.
The final itself was a chastening 4-0 defeat, which served as a lesson for how far the club had to go before they would get their hands on any silverware.
April 20 1995. Chelsea 3 Real Zaragoza 1 (3-4). European Cup Winners Cup semi final:
Chelsea came frustratingly close to a second major final in two seasons with a remarkable recovery against Real Zaragoza. 3-0 down from the first leg Chelsea were hoping their unbeaten home record in Europe could see them through.
But Paul Furlong’s hilarious opener – the Zaragoza keeper hammering the ball into the strikers head whilst attempting a clearance under minimal pressure – was cancelled out after half time by Santiago Aragon and Chelsea needed four goals to reach the final.
Roared on by a boisterous Shed End Chelsea poured forwards and Frank Sinclair volleyed home from close range. With half an hour still to play the three goals Chelsea needed were unlikely but not unthinkable.
Eventually all they managed was a Mark Stein goal two minutes from full time. Crucially though by taking his team to the latter stages of European competition Hoddle had made the club more attractive to better players, including a certain dreadlocked Dutchman who fancied seeing out his career in West London.
August 19, 1995. Chelsea 0 Everton 0. Premier League:
The first day of the 1995/96 season saw Chelsea’s unveiling as a star attraction in the Premier League. The arrival of Mark Hughes to the club he supported as a boy was a coup for the Blues, but it was nothing compared to his fellow debutant.
Ruud Gullit, Ballon d’Or winner, European Championship winner and twice European Cup winner, had arrived at Stamford Bridge. Gullit’s praise for Hoddle before the game shows how important the manager was in bringing the big names to the club: “You can see very well that he’s played in Europe. He knows very well what he wants. You can also see the other players are enthusiastic about him.”
Hoddle was equally complementary to his star signing: “He’s like an 18-year-old among 12-year-olds.”
The two players’ making their first appearance ensured Stamford Bridge was sold out and everyone was in their seats a good half an hour before kick-off. Although Chelsea finished 11th in the league, and lost an FA Cup semi final to Manchester United (Gullit scored in the 2-1 defeat) at the end of the season when Hoddle went to manage England Gullit was appointed player-manager: Chelsea were Ruud’s boys and “sexy football” was on its way.
by David Lyons