The State of the Bridge Address: At a Crossroads

UEFA Champions League

It is two days before our first match of the 2010/11 Champions League campaign against Zilina, and as always, it is filled with excitement. However, there have been questions that have begun to haunt us. When will we win the Champions League? With our key players entering the twilight of their careers, is this our last great opportunity.

This season already has seen Chelsea get of to the hottest start in Premier League history. As a result, confidence has been at an all-time high at the Bridge. But as we all know, the football season is a marathon, not the 100-yard dash; we still have to approach every team with caution and respect.

As far as the UCL goes, the group stage has our name written all over it. The two wins over MSK Zilina are a must, at least one win against Marseille, and a sweep of Spartak Moskva.  It is in the knockout rounds where we should step up and show the heart of champions.

Although this has been out eighth consecutive year in the Champions League, we only have three men in our staff who have actually won the coveted trophy. Bosingwa and Paulo Ferreira won it with FC Porto in 2004,  and our boss Carlo Ancelotti won it with AC Milan both as a player and as a coach.

The real reason why I wrote this article is to address an issue that has affected us dearly, and that is age. Lampard, Drogba, Anelka, Ferreira, Terry, Essien, Cech, and Malouda are players who either are 30-plus or awfully close. And with these players playing an important role in the club, we should also be cognizant that they might have just a few seasons of top-quality football left in them. Young stars such as Kakuta, Bruma, and Van Aanholt might be rising through the ranks, but in no way should we expect them to be World-Class anytime soon. What worries me is that we might have to resort to another spending spree in order to continue competing until our youth system is up to par.

Although this season is starting out as what could be the best in recent memory, if not ever, I believe that we should make a serious effort at winning the Champions League if this season is to acquire any legitimacy. If it is said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, let us get on the right foot with a win over MSK Zilina.

-As always, feel free to correct me on any and all of my points.

–KTBFFH

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Blue is the Color: My First Season

Wigan v Chelsea

Another game another 6-0 thrashing. This one was a little more even. The first half would even be considered competitive. Wigan proved to be much more capable than West Bromwich, that being said they are obviously not an elite team.

I wonder if Chelsea is spoiling me. I haven’t followed the club long and have already seen 12 goals. This is the sort of thing that most teams take 4-6 games to accomplish. A friend of mine who is a Liverpool fan is ultra defensive now because his team had shown so few signs of brilliance. As of writing this, Liverpool has scored two goals over the entire season.

This game featured a great Malouda goal and two quick Kalou goals. I think that the man of the match truly was Anelka. He sealed the deal with the second and third goals. Drogba had an assist hat trick but he never really dominated the game. The long pass from Mikel was outstanding and the play of the match for me.

Chelsea v Stoke

If I felt spoiled by the Wigan game, the Stoke game highlighted the frustration of being a football fan in America.  The game was not on any of the channels I receive and have settled for highlights.  From the look of the highlights, Chelsea was able to handle Stoke, but not completely dominate.  Malouda has been on an absolute tare.  Four goals, scoring in ever game this season.  Drogba’s penalty was the icing on the cake. Can’t wait for the start of the champions league and my first match in Boston

Keep the Blue Flag Flyin High

All Italians are equal, but some Italians are more equal than others.

The dismal failure of England at the world Cup has been hashed over so many times and by so many people there can’t be much left to say, but there is one element of the press feeding frenzy that has turned into English football’s boomerang, in that no matter how hard you throw it away it keeps on coming back; the national football academy.

The idea has been promoted in one form or another since 2003, but is unlikely to be open this side of 2012. Some say it should focus on taking the elite of young English players and turning them into tomorrow’s three lion’s stars, others say that it is better coaches that are needed and that, like Italy’s Coverciano, a national university for coaches is the answer. Fabio Capello, who attended Coverciano in the early 1980s, is probably the current highest profile promoter of the idea. And it certainly did seem to work for a lot of years, establishing Serie A as the foremost league in the world, where the best international players went to ply their trade.

Of course everything has a down side, and for Italian coaching it’s been the coaching-drain, never more stark than in this new season of Serie A, where not one domestic coach has won the title in the past. Three championship winning coaches now grace English football, Capello, Ancelotti and Mancini and, like Capello before them, Ancelotti (1997) and Mancini (2001) are graduates of Coverciano, but does this mean that they’re all equally good? Not necessarily.

Back in 1984, when Capello was writing his study of the zonal marking system pretty much all teaching, of both children and adults, was firmly stuck in an old mode called pedagogy. As a style it carries with it some assumptions, the most important of which is that the teacher is the fount of all knowledge, and the learner a blank slate. The teacher, or coach in this case, is there to teach, and the player is there to listen and learn. And although pedagogy still works with kids, particularly the younger ones, it doesn’t work nearly so well with adults. The more modern style of teaching adults is called andragogy, where instead of assuming the learner is a blank canvas, on which the teacher is going to paint, it’s accepted that the learner comes with a whole set of life skills and experience. And in andragogy the teacher expects the learning process to be a two way street, where not only does the student learn from the teacher but the teacher also learns from the student. In fact the best adult educators take it a stage further. If a teacher only teaches that which he knows he sets a limit on what can be learnt, but if he’s prepared to get his ego walking to heel and accept that others know things about his subject that he doesn’t, he can facilitate the learner becoming better and more knowledgeable than he is. Which of course is how the student gets to surpass the master, the hallmark of only the very best teachers.

Football coaches are no different, and the best modern coaches listen to their players and accept that they have a store of knowledge and experience of their own that they can contribute to the coaching process, particularly the older, senior, professionals.

When the wheels started to come off Chelsea’s first season under Ancelotti, instead of following the boring old path, where the manager tells the media that senior players have to ‘step up and take responsibility’, Ancelotti took the androgogical way forward. The whole team and coaching staff got together and talked about it in a free exchange of ideas, and it was that which created the platform from which Chelsea went on to win the double.

Now compare that to Capello’s performance as England manager at the World cup. Instead of expecting to learn from his players, which you’d think was entirely reasonable, coming as they do from a different culture to that in which he had spent the majority of his football career, he imposes on them a ‘boot-camp’ kind of set up where they become bored and listless after what had been a long hard domestic campaign. He doesn’t communicate with them, when he talks at all he talks at them. And instead of getting them up for a new campaign on top of what they’ve already done he succeeds in de-motivating them.

If Italian coaches were all equal surely he would have been finessing players into a second athletic peak, rather than turning them off! And when John Terry, an important leader in the team, whether captain or not, speaks up, knowing that if changes don’t get made, and quick, they might as well pack up and head off on holiday, he’s vilified by the media, and Capello attempts a public humiliation as payment for his knowledge and honesty – instead of looking at his own performance, as any good self-reflective adult educator should. So what did Capello think, that after playing as many games at the highest level of football Terry had no store of knowledge of his own? Plain daft; John Terry might not be Mr Brain of English Football, but he has a wealth of experience that only an egotist pedagog would ignore.

You may not like Jose Mourinho, but you have to admit he’s one of the very best coaches in world football, so when he goes on record as saying that Capello’s one dimensional approach was to blame for England’s poor performance you at least have to give it some thought. Particularly when it is as a man-manager that Mourinho is supreme.

So what about Mancini? Does he have the ‘golden’ touch? And on the basis of his performance to date it doesn’t look like it. Steven Ireland was Manchester City’s player of the year only a season or so ago, but under Mancini he’s gone, which, as the longest serving City player has to be seriously akin to shooting yourself in the foot given the new squad rules. Craig Bellamy was one of the best players in the EPL last season, and he’s gone too. Mark Hughes showed Bellamy a sensible degree of respect by allowing him to structure his training to protect his suspect knees, yet Mancini imposes the same double sessions that the rest of the players get.  Would Robinho, the EPLs most expensive signing, have fizzed out like a wet firework under Mourinho? It seems unlikely. And now Shay Given and Adebayor are talking about leaving too. Yes it’s early days, and yes we have to give him more time, but there’s no guarantee that this Italian is going to succeed any better than Capello in the long term.

Ancelotti may not be the darling of the media, and he certainly doesn’t entertain in press conferences by shooting from the lip a la Mourinho, but I know who I’d want to be coached by out of the three. There are a lot of managers that pay lip service to the idea that no individual is more important than the club, but Ancelotti doesn’t just talk, he walks the walk. Plus he has that very rarest of qualities in football managers; honesty. To date every time he’s made a statement regarding transfers time has proved him right.    

The title of Ancelotti’s thesis in his last year at Coverciano was ‘Il Futuro del Calcio: Piu Dinamicita’ – ‘The Future of Football: More Dynamism’, and it’s that philosophy that Chelsea bring to life on the pitch, where it counts. Clearly, some Italians are a lot more equal than others.

© Andy Beck – 2010

Blue is the Color: My First Season

6-0. 6-0, that was my introduction to Chelsea football. A 6 nothing thrashing of a team recently promoted. This is the way all people should be introduced to the sport. One nothing games hold a special place later in the season.  A zero draw at old Trafford is an acceptable outcome.  But for your first real match – you want lots of goals and a win.

This is my first season following Chelsea. That’s not entirely true. I knew that Chelsea was good last season. That Drogba was a goal machine and that Lampard was the captain, but that was about all I knew. I did not know that they were title condensers or that they won the FA cup.  Drogba has been one of my favorite players for a while – I heard a story that he helped end the civil war in the Ivory Coast by demanding that a match be played in a dangerous region – a great story for an African studies minor.  So I was familiar with parts of the team.  This is the first time that I knew every player from Alex to Terry.

Over the summer I fell in love with the beautiful through the world cup. I found myself caring about Chelsea players.   Ever day I checked to see if Mikel had started, if Drogba was fit, and what the hell was going on with France.  It was during the Ghana – USA game that I knew I had to choose an EPL team.  I will go into that decision process later.

Back to the game: what’s left to say. It was fantastic. Drogba’s hat trick, Essien’s outstanding midfield play, and Czechs continued dominance in the goal- though he was hardly tested. Seeing the Bridge on game day was special. I can not wait to visit the bridge.   There are something’s I would have liked to have seen more of: better play from Mikel, more play from Yossi and Kalou, and maybe even a Sturridge appearance, but overall these are minor points.  The game was beautiful and I can not wait for Wigan this Saturday.

KBFFH!

My first “State of the Bridge” address

Florent Malouda celebrates his goal in the 6-0 WBA win

         Just two days ago, Chelsea started on the Premier League marathon with style in a 6-0 bashing that sent a message to the league that they intend to retain their premier league title. Although Chelsea played like champions, what struck me was West Brom’s horrible set-piece defending. Also the fact that three of the four players that made up the WBA backline were making premier league debuts. But enough about sorry WBA, this is a Chelsea blog.  

       Didier Drogba was again world-class, scoring a hat trick. Florent Malouda added a brace, and Lampard put himself on the scoresheet as well. What really impressed me was the stabilility Chelsea played with, as if they knew each other. In my opinion, this will work in Chelsea’s favor as the season wears on. 

Ramires Santos do Nascimento

               This also marks the beginning of what I think is a new era of Chelsea football. We have lost the likes of Ballack, Deco, Joe Cole, and Belletti, among others. Bringing in Ramires was a great signing, a young midfielder with potential whose immense ability as a box-to-box midfielder will free up Michael Essien to make the trademark attacking runs we have sorely missed in his past two injury plagued seasons. Yossi Benayoun might turn out to be a better midfielder than Joe Cole; he is a more tactically aware midfielder who can be used in various positions around midfield.

Neymar

          Another Brazilian that has been in Chelsea’s sights is Neymar da Silva Santos Junior, or simply Neymar. Touted as the best 18 year-old in world football, he definitely seems like a great add for a Chelsea side with two forwards over the age of 30. A major stumbling block would be his price, with current club Santos demanding the buy-out price of £29million. Also, his small, lanky build leaves doubts in some Chelsea supporters’ hearts as to if he can stand the physicality of the Premier League. I say we don’t rush; we pay the money, and have him injected as a sub in games against major to mid table opponents. Also, he should get starts against relegation-threatened sides and in cup matches. If we do that for at least a year, he can get used to England’s physicality; hell, he can build some muscle of his own. By 21, this guy might just be the real deal. In essence, what I am saying is that he doesn’t need to be world-class now.

       In this address, I should also take some time and talk about the next match, against Wigan. Last time these two sides met, Chelsea won 8-0. But by no means am I expecting the same result (although I wouldn’t be surprised.) Against a disorganized and unspirited squad, Chelsea should win by a score of 4-0, and we should see a cameo appearance for Ramires.

       In conclusion, the season looks bright for our Blues. We started the season in the best way possible, showing the determination and resolve of champions. I believe that currently we have a squad that can compete on all fronts, despite calls for 1-2 more signings. In the words of Terrell Owens, you “better get your popcorn ready,” because I believe our Blues putting on a show at the DW stadium-or any other stadium for that matter.

-As always, feel free to comment/correct me on any/all of my points.

–BBLBDB