Arsene Wenger cobbled together starting lineups with spit and duct tape and Denilson and somehow the team dragged its ass over the finish line in third or fourth.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Episode III: The Empire's Last Chance
When Roman Abramovich brought in Jose Mourinho in 2004, he wasn't thinking about winning the Premiership. I mean, of course he was thinking about it, but that wasn't the reason for hiring Mourinho in particular. The man replaced at Chelsea by the "special one" was Claudio Ranieri, an excellent manager now plying his trade with some club in Italy. Ranieri had built an incredibly solid foundation for his successor, developing young talents like Frank Lampard and John Terry while bringing in names like Petr Cech, William Gallas, Arjen Robben, Claude Makelele, Joe Cole, and Wayne Bridge. And though he finished second in his last season with the club, it was only because he ran into Wenger's perfect storm of 2003-2004, Arsenal's unbeaten squad. It was pretty clear that the Blues would be perennial contenders for a few years to come, regardless of who was managing.
Mourinho was hired with one job to do: win the Champions League. He'd done it only the year before with Porto, and the year before that picked up a UEFA Cup, thus demonstrating what was thought at the time to be the skills of a big tournament specialist. In his first season, Jose took the heavily favored Blues to the semifinals, where they were narrowly edged by Liverpool, on their way to a famous win in Istanbul. The next year, they were knocked out by a red-hot Barcelona side that would go on to win it. And last time around, it was Liverpool again who dashed their hopes as Pepe Reina stopped just about everything that came his way. This season, it wasn't league form that got Mourinho the ax, it was dismal CL performances in the group stages. Two League Titles, two League Cups, an FA Cup, and a Community Shield? Roman told him just where he could stick those.
Now, Avram Grant has the unenviable task of getting Roman's true mission accomplished. And honestly, I think this may be their last real chance for a while. They're mounting a surprising title challenge, but the sentiment among many seems to be that Chelsea may be in trouble when the summer comes. Drogba will almost certainly leave, and others are still smarting over the circumstances surrounding Mourinho's exit. Cole (Joe, not the worthless Ashley) has been excellent, Carvalho is a rock, Essien still gives his all, and Ballack has had his moments, but the rest of the squad has shown signs of age and/or decline. Yes, Roman has billions, but it takes time to adapt to the English game, and some never will (ahem, Sheva). Next year, I wouldn't be surprised to see them have a season a la AC Milan this year. They're going to have to do it the hard way (the red thorn in their side, and then Barca or United), but if they really want to win the CL, the time is now and the way begins with an away goal at Anfield.