All posts by Patrick Gleeson

A defining 45 minutes for Gunners’ fans

Both Arsene Wenger and Arsenal have taken their fair share of criticism since their humiliating 4-0 defeat in the Champions League against AC Milan. Some has been entirely justifiable; some has been the stereotypical overhyped media response.

Indeed, when Arsenal’s archenemy Emmanuel Adebayor struck midway through the first half of a thrilling North London derby to put Tottenham 2-0 up, the vultures circling Wenger and his players were preparing for a feast of huge proportions.

The turnaround in the second half, which demonstrated that Arsenal can still play free flowing football which brings rewards, can be seen as a landmark moment in Wenger’s tenure.

Not only did it remind those watching that Arsenal can seldom be written off, it also edged them closer to their rivals in the battle for North London supremacy and temporarily secured the coveted final Champions League spot.

Any type of win would have appeased those packed into the Emirates but the scale of the 5-2 victory ensures that confidence will be surging through the entire playing squad, staff and supporters.

Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott excelled as Arsenal dominated the midfield battle. Rarely have either of these two put in the performances expected of them, often flattering to deceive.

Again Robin van Persie underlined his importance and the news that contract talks have been shelved until the summer will only serve to increase tensions that he may follow Samir Nasri and leave on a free transfer.

It is now crucial that Wenger builds on this performance and lays the foundations for what could still be a battle with Spurs for third place. For all of Wenger’s talk over the years that his players would mature with age they have yet to be moulded into a team capable of winning trophies.

What will please the Arsenal faithful is the proof that their team can beat genuine title contenders, and the new landscape that Harry Redknapp had started to structure in London has at least been momentarily halted.

Redknapp’s fondness for attacking football was perhaps Spurs’ downfall, although it is hard to argue against his set-up and methods which have served Spurs so well until now. Their title challenge is by no means over but it would take a monumental effort to overhaul both Manchester clubs.

He may have to settle for third position but his impact at White Hart Lane has been akin to that of Wenger’s during his initial years in English football. If Redknapp does leave for the England job, he will leave a club that is prepared to fight for the position of London’s top club for seasons to come.

Wenger has been doing just that for 13 years and at 2-0 down on Sunday afternoon it appeared that he was losing the battle.

The following 45 minutes could yet be seen as the defining moments of Arsenal’s season. The marker has been laid down. It is now up to Wenger’s charges to break the stereotypes that have plagued them for seven years.

Gary Peters

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The Myth of Appearance: How Premier League Stars Are Judged On Their Looks

First off, just let me nip this in the bud: this isn’t a passionate article about how, say, Martin Skrtel is a beautiful person, whose loveliness is all the more lovely if you look far enough beyond his brutish exterior.

No, this article was born at some point during Chelsea’s 3-0 win over Bolton at the weekend, after David Luiz’s majestic opener sent Chelsea on their way to one of those wins you know that even a team undergoing a severe crisis will pick up, because no team in the world loses every single game they play, no matter how poor their form.

At some point during the match, it struck me just how much the goal will have meant to a player who was heralded as a tremendous acquisition when he first arrived in English football. A player who could easily have gone to Manchester City or Real Madrid the summer before he packed his bags for London. A player with a funny haircut.

Yes, David Luiz is almost universally acknowledged to be a ‘comical’ central defender because his frizzy coiffure makes him look like a Simpsons character. Luiz has struggled for form in what has been a testing time for Chelsea’s entire defence and, yes, he has made individual mistakes amid the collective lapse. But would his mistakes have been magnified to the extent that they have been by the British press had a 14-stone, shaven-headed Englishman with big thighs and a bad attitude made them?

David Luiz is a classic case of football fans imposing an obvious collective pre-disposition on their own opinions of how a player plays. Let me re-phrase my question: how awe-inspiring (and downright surreal) if said 14-stone Englishman skipped out of defence with the ball, Beckenbauer-style, slipped past two players, did a cheeky one-two and charged down the wing with the ball? Yet if Luiz does it, it’s to a quiet cacophony of half-baked opinions, the general consensus being “well, he can’t defend but, y’know, he’s a talented footballer. Bit eccentric. Foreign.”.

The fact is, Luiz was bought for his defending. At Benfica, whilst his obvious ability with the ball was acknowledged, he was admired as a central defender because of his tackling, aggressive marking style, aerial ability and reading of the game. Whilst his central defensive partner, Luisao, was an experienced defender lacking in pace but full of experience, Luiz was able to defend aggressively, high up the pitch, with his Brazilian countryman mopping up behind him. At Chelsea, John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic defend in much the same way as Luiz, leaving a gaping hole, which was filled comfortably by the more conservative Gary Cahill last weekend. But then, it’s much easier to look at someone’s hair than their career.

Luiz isn’t the only example, however, so I’ve decided to come up with a list of footballers whose looks have defined the way they are perceived in the Premier League:

Yaya Toure – Though Manchester City’s title challenge has thrust him into the limelight a little more, the perennially under-rated Ivorian is one of the most intelligent users of the ball in the game, with a deceptively delicate touch and an Ozil-like ability to patiently wait for an attack to unfold before releasing the right pass. Rather than the skilful and spontaneous Silva, it is the reliable Toure who sets Man City’s tempo in a game. But he is tall and well-built and, let’s be honest, shares an obvious trait with the greatest ‘destroyers’ in the recent history of the Premier League: he’s black (think Vieira, Makelele, Essien, Song, Diarra, Mikel etc).

The amount of comments I have read and heard from British pundits alluding to Toure’s defensive performances when he’s been deployed in an advanced midfield role is astounding. If he were a squat Argentinian with an ‘80s hairdo he would be lauded as the finest playmaker in the Premier League, but the fact that he’s more reminiscent of Patrick Vieira makes him one of the most misunderstood players in the public consciousness.

Mikel Arteta

Going in the opposite direction, we have the supposed replacement for Cesc Fabregas. While Arteta is excellent on the ball, there seems to be the impression that his style is rather more creative than it actually is; Arteta is really the epitome of the newer breed of English midfielders – more comfortable on the ball than those of previous generations but still essentially an all-round box-to-box player who could reasonably play anywhere in midfield.

Peter Crouch

The obvious one. aside from the ‘good feet for such a big lad’ joke and his renowned inability to head the ball, Crouch is actually criticised a lot for his supposed physical weakness. English football fans like their strikers tall, but not lanky; Crouch may be a beanpole, but he actually wins a lot of balls in the air. His poor heading ability is a much more realistic point of criticism than any physical incapacity.

Marouane Fellaini

Non-Everton fans unaware of his disciplinary record continually assume he must be some sort of “foreign fancy dan” because of his hair, name and build. Nothing could be further than the truth….

Can you think of a player who is misunderstood because of his appearance?

 Augusto Neto

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The case for keeping Andrey

So it’s finally happened. Well not finally but near enough.

You didn’t have to be a genius to work out that the Andrey Arshavin train was soon to come off its tracks as his downward spiral of a career at Arsenal continued to seemingly worsen with every passing game.

The man went back to Zenit St. Petersburg on-loan on transfer deadline day for the Russian clubs for the remainder of the season.


Let’s face it, apart from the opening five months of his time at the Emirates, Arshavin’s spell as a Gunner, or rather Gooner to the man himself, has been a flop.

Don’t get me wrong he certainly had his moments. His four goal mauling at Anfield, his magical goal against Blackburn (the one that was actually his goal) and of course who could forget that winner against Barcelona which sent Arsenal fans all over the world into delirium.

But ultimately Arsene Wenger’s game of Russian roulette has come back to bite him, as the club’s record signing has, on the whole, been pretty disappointing. 

I personally, as I’m sure a lot of other fans are, am sad to see the meerkat leave. 

Yes it turns out he was a bit of a flash in the pan and never really took the Premier League by storm like predicted but he certainly had talent and, perhaps even more surprisingly, seemed a nice guy.

I’ll always think back to a moment at Fratton Park. 

Arshavin hit the deck inside the box and Portsmouth were harshly given a penalty against them. Whilst the Pompey players berated the referee, nobody but the television cameras had picked up the rather confused look across the Russian’s face as he wagged his finger as if to say ‘that’s soft, that wasn’t a penalty’. 

Such honesty was so refreshing, in a time where the Premier League played host to the weekly theatrics of Ronaldo, Drogba and even the likes of Gerrard and Rooney at times.

He just seemed an honest, nice guy off the field who would happily give his time up without complaining and was never too ‘big time’ for the fans.

It was exciting enough for fans with Arsenal just trying to sign the star of Euro 2008 never mind the sheer joy and relief that cascaded around the red part of North London when he actually put pen to paper, posed outside the Armoury with his shirt and uttered the sentence “I am Gooner,” which drove the Arsenal population wild.

After that famous quote, Wenger had seemingly brought in the latest cult hero but whilst he captivated his audience to begin with, Arshavin failed to live up to the hype.

I’m sad to see him go but you just can’t blame him for moving.

He stated right at the beginning of his tenure with the club that one day he’d return home to his beloved Zenit.

Now who does that ‘coming home’ statement remind me of? 

Let’s face it, he is more than just the captain of Russia and he can’t spend the build up to the tournament in the Arsenal reserves. 

So good luck to him, and let’s hope he gets a kick out of being back home and has an enjoyable summer. 

He could well return to Arsenal one day, it is only after all a loan deal, but I don’t think many expect to see Arsenal’s number 23 lining up for the Gunner’s next season.

As for Arsenal, I can’t really understand it.

It just seems such a stupid and bizarre time to get rid of a playmaker.

Wenger still has Chamberlain, Walcott, Gervinho and to a lesser extent Benayoun and Rosicky to deploy on the flanks but apart from the Ox, the others are hardly in form.

Chamberlain is still only young and already has such high expectations placed on his shoulders, Walcott is the king of blowing hot and cold, Gervinho just missed the crucial penalty in the African Cup of Nations final and as for Rosicky and Benayoun, they are hardly winger material and struggle to get into the starting eleven as it is.

Of course all of that may sound silly in the wake of the demolition of Spurs but just how long will these candidates keep it up for? Only time will tell, but it took Arsenal to be 2-0 down at home to their biggest rivals in a North London derby to spark that passion, desire and talented display.

Another thing Arsenal received when bringing Arshavin to the field was that he always had the talent to make something happen and always had it in him to conjure up some magic. 

With the loss of Fabregas, Nasri and the injury to Wilshere, Wenger was already limited in his options for a player to make things happen, something that a few seasons ago would have been unthinkable at Arsenal.

The one thing the club has done right with the exit of Arshavin is that his high wages are being fully covered by Zenit and that the Russian side are forking out a million just for the royalty of their former favourite returning home.

Arshavin probably would have been shown the door by Wenger and the board in the summer, but could have done with the option to bring him off the bench as the Gunners face a fight for fourth. Especially if he was to produce match-winning moments such as his cross for Thierry Henry’s goal at Sunderland.

We will see how it leaves Arsenal for the remainder of the season but until then Andrey Arshavin, a lazy star, may have just played his last game in an Arsenal shirt.

Matt Cotton @FindingCotton

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Another crazy weekend in Serie A

Serie A saw its fair share of controversy over the weekend, with Juventus earning a fortunate point at the San Siro, leaving AC Milan incensed.

With Milan 1-0 up, Sulley Muntari looked to have doubled the advantage, only for the referee and the linesman to wave play on much to the disgust of the Milan’s players.

The Juventus players were themselves furious with the referee as he failed to send off Mexes when the former Roma man appeared to have punched Borriello.

Juventus equalised six minutes from time, through an Alessandro Matri’s goal scored when the Juventus striker appeared to have strayed offside.

The decisions sparked a melee after the game, with AC Milan’s GM Adriano Galliani furious at the referee, while Juventus’ manager Antonio Conte labelled Milan “the football mafia.”

Muntari’s header clearly crossed the line and it was a scandalous decision by the referee not to award the goal and it’s a bit rich for Conte to pretend to have any moral high ground.

The current Juventus manager was part of the team involved in the Calciopoli scandal, which saw the Bianconeri stripped of two titles and relegated to the second division.

Milan were themselves penalised, with Inter the only top side to escape the wrath of the judges and the tensions between the teams have grown since the sentence.

Italy’s captain Buffon yesterday added fuel to the fire, claiming that he wouldn’t have told the referee that the ball had crossed the line had he saw it. “I didn’t see it. Would have I told the ref the ball had crossed the line? No, I don’t think so.”

While Milan and Juventus are locked head to head in the title race, Napoli last night heaped misery on Inter.

After tormenting Chelsea on Tuesday night, Ezequiel Lavezzi scored the winner against the Nerazzuri, with a wonderful right-footed finish that leaves Napoli fifth, five points away from Udinese and Lazio.

Inter’s misery seems endless this season – the Milan’s side have now failed to score in their last five games in all competitions – and look set to miss out on a European spot for next season.

Claudio Ranieri has defended his team and vowed to continue at the helm: “I won’t step down,” said the former Chelsea manager.

Daniele Cancian @MUFC_dan87

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The Fall Of A Glorious Empire At Stamford Bridge

Once upon a time, a Rich Emperor ruled over an army that dreamt of conquering Europe backed by riches beyond the dreams of his enemies.

Money bought loyalty and obedience, and his followers enjoyed some share of the wealth and rewarded it by winning battles on many places, they briefly ruled their island and used that to launch an offensive that took them to Moscow.

However, as history shows, that place has foiled many an army that comes unprepared and the stage tests the will of those who seek to win the war.

In the time of most need their weak willed Captain failed the test of his character and subsequent events showed that to be a failing he would repeat many times over.

The war was lost and the General was removed from office, thus starting the decline of the Empire.

Unable to give the Generals that followed any faith or time to rebuild the confidence of the troops, the cycle of failure led to a lack of investment and strategy.

In fact it turns out that the original strategy relied heavily on a defector named Kenyon, who took plans from the enemy and used the Emperors funds to turn the heads of troops to join the mercenaries in London.

Left wing activists like Robben , gladiators like Essien and weak willed youngsters joined the Roman Army more for money than tradition, selling their souls but not giving their hearts.

As age caught up on the troops, the Emperor began to interfere in the plans of the Generals, and those who had pride left to take over in Spain or other places, while the Emperor bought new clowns to entertain the public with names like Torres and Luiz, more subbuteo than playstation in their style and performance.

The money the troops received turned their heads and they began appearing on the front pages of the town criers script than the back. Cole, Terry and Lampard all featured in this and their performances fell accordingly.

Over time the army slipped into bad ways as the overpaid troops wouldn’t leave and the new recruits found no role models in the ranks.

The Roman Emperor sought ways to build a new Coliseum to quell the uprising in the public, but throwing money at the people only served to weaken his hold on the army.

Eventually the jeering led him to step down and accept that ruling Europe was a fleeting dream that turned into an expensive nightmare.

History shows that money can’t buy you love.

Of course this is just a fairy story.

Steve Burrows @ifollowsteve

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Hazard at the Lane would be a turning point

Well, that was surely a shock to the system hearing that the one and only prodigious Eden Hazard was eager on a move to White Hart Lane. Surely Philippe Auclair was just having Tottenham Hotspur fans on when he tweeted that the Belgian had revealed to France Football that he was ready to move to White Hart Lane.

Translating the quotes; all seemed to be exactly what we wanted to hear. Spurs are a great English club, they play nice football (something we already knew), but it was surely too good to be true? In fact, it was. Hazard denied talks had taken place, but when push came to shove, he admitted, with a straight face I might like to add, that a move to North London could be a real possibility, preferring the Lilywhites to the likes of Manchester United and Manchester City due to first-team opportunities.

Some believe it is a move that wouldn’t happen, not for a million years in fact. But, his quotes sound promising. Spurs are clearly turning heads across Europe this season with the football currently on show at White Hart Lane something similar to that of the great Bill Nicholson double winning side in 1961, or so I’m told. The presentable opportunity of first-team football will surely persuade him to join Harry Redknapp’s revolution in N17.

One major flaw to any move would, of course, be funds. Lille are thought to demanding anything in the region of €30m and upwards. Fortunately, with Belgium not taking part in this summer’s European Championships, that fee is unlikely to rise at an astronomical rate. Many are wondering whether or not he would be worth the fee. In short, the answer if a firm and frank yes. To the Lane and Back isn’t a fan of simply taking the Sven Goran-Eriksson approach and YouTubing a player to determine his quality, but even from glancing at some of his videos; it’s evident that he is an exceptional talent to be.

Watching Lille this season, he is central to the efforts of the defending Ligue 1 champions, with 11 goals and seven assists in 33 games signifying how much of a creative influence he is. His dribbling capabilities are almost Lionel Messi-esc and he appears very, very powerful and confident on the ball. The general consensus of numerous Spurs fans is that he will come in to replace Luka Modric at the end of the season.

This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Hazard and Modric are both two different players with the former preferring to come in from the wing. Should he arrive, and that is a big should, he will surely take his place on the right at the expense of Aaron Lennon, as much as it pains me to say it considering the pint-sized winger has been in instrumental form under Redknapp this campaign.

But, the fact of the matter is; Hazard is a better player. More direct, more clinical in front of goal and better at finding a team-mate with a cross. Should a deal already be in the pipeline, as has been speculated, it will be very, very similar to the Modric deal in 2008, where the move was completed on the down-low before the transfer window opened and amidst much talk as to where the Croatian was going to move to following a hugely impressive Euro 2008.

Whether it is a ploy by the prodigious winger to secure a move to a larger club, who knows. But, what I do know is that yes, I would love Hazard to be turning out in Spurs colours next season. A real indication as to our intentions would be to sign the youngster and to ensure none of the North Londoners rivals swoop in at the last minute and snare him away from White Hart Lane, Levy needs to move quickly in order to secure his signature. Because yes, Eden Hazard is going to be a massive, massive player in the game over the next five years.

Ben McAleer @BenMcAleer1

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Premier League Preview

A preview and score prediction of the weekend’s Premier League matches.

Chelsea v. Bolton

With Chelsea five games without a win the pressure is on Andre Villas-Boas, and despite Roman Abramovich’s seeming faith in the Portuguese, the pressure on the Blues manager seems to be rising to an uncontrollable level. 

Defeat in Napoli in mid-week further highlighted flaws in their tactics, with both David Luiz and Jose Bosingwa looking inept at that level. Luiz is a talented footballer, but a centre back he is not, and playing him against such an attacking threat in Napoli was a grave error. 

The lack of midfield cover would be a concern to any Chelsea supporter, with Malouda, Meireles and Ramires failing to provide any protection to the back four when they needed it most. 

Bolton are poor in the league at the moment despite finding some reprieve in the FA Cup, but seem unable to claw themselves out of the relegation zone, and despite Chelsea’s floundering season, it should be happy days at Stamford Bridge.

Prediction: 2-0 

 

Newcastle United v. Wolves

New Wolves manager Terry Connor is in for a tough test at St James’ Park (Sports Direct Arena), with the Toon Army flying high in sixth place, just one point off of fourth and a lucrative Champions League spot. 

Connor was fourth choice Wolves manager with Alan Curbishley, Walter Smith and Brian McDermott all turning down the position at Molineux, and with just 14 games left to keep Wolves up, the chances are stacked against the former assistant manager. 

Mick McCarthy’s sacking was harsh, especially with no definite replacement lined up, and you could argue that they are in a worse position now than they were under McCarthy. 

The strike partnership of Demba Pa and Papisse Cisse will surely prove too much for Wolves, and I wouldn’t look past a home win.

Prediction: 2-0

 

QPR v. Fulham

Although it is an away game for Fulham, fans and players alike only have to travel 5 miles up the road, so surroundings won’t be too odd.

Mark Hughes is sure to come in for some stick from the Fulham fans after the manner in which he left the club in the summer, but they may well have the last laugh with QPR looking like they may be relegated from the Premier League – despite the millions they have spent on players.

Since taking charge Hughes has only won one of his five matches, and with his new signings needing time to gel (time which they don’t have), things aren’t looking good for the Welshman. 

If the players do manage to gel, then they should manage to avoid the drop, but tomorrow’s game is a ‘must win’ for Hughes and Rangers if they are to settle some of the nerves around the club.

Fulham players who played under Hughes will be fired up, and that will only be aided by the fact that it’s a derby, but I think Fulham will just have the edge over QPR.

Prediction: 1-2

 

West Brom v. Sunderland

Sunderland will be coming into the match with high confidence having knocked Arsenal out of the FA Cup in more than convincing terms, and with Martin O’Neill working miracles at the Stadium of Light it would be harsh to bet against them in any fixture. 

West Brom won’t be too scared of their opposition though, having beaten Wolves 5-1 in their last fixture, a win which sees them go 8 points above the bottom three, something which should ensure their safety for another season. 

Wins at home have been hard to come by however for Roy Hodgson and it won’t be easy against a Sunderland side brimming with confidence. 

West Brom are still looking for a few more wins to guarantee safety, whilst Sunderland are simply seeing how high up the table they can get. Both sides are fairly evenly matched, so going for a draw.

Prediction: 1-1

 

Wigan v. Aston Villa

Villa have taken just one point from their last three games, and that is the reason they are in danger of being dragged into the relegation dog fight. 

McLeish has been deploying some rather defensive tactics, something which seems bizarre seeing as their greatest assets are in attack, boasting the likes of Darren Bent and Gabby Agbonlahor. 

Robbie Keane will partake in his last game before returning to LA Galaxy, and he will be sorely missed after his departure, and his contributions may be crucial if Villa are to walk away with all three points from the DW.

It’s getting desperate for Roberto Martinez and Wigan who need to couple playing well and picking up points, and their dealing with the Villa front line will be pivotal.

If McLeish starts with some more expressive tactics they should have enough to beat Wigan, but if he sticks with the rigid, defensive tactics, it may be even-stevens. 

Prediction: 1-2

 

Man City v. Blackburn 

After a few blips since Christmas Manchester City seem to be back on track and heading for the title after winning four out of four in February thus far.

The demolition of Porto at the Etihad highlighted how the reintroduction of Yaya Toure from the African Cup of Nations is going to help City no end, and facing strugglers Blackburn is just the fixture they want after a busy time in Europe.

The Carlos Tevez saga could also be coming to and end with both club and player seemingly kissing and making up, and his reintroduction into the side would be as good as a new signing. 

Despite all the criticism that Steve Kean comes in for Rovers are the most competitive of the sides involved in the relegation battle, and are more than capable of scoring goals.

In Yakubu they have one of the most prolific strikers in the league, and that will be vital in their bid to climb away from the bottom three and avoid the drop. 

However, they will be up against it at the Etihad and with City looking to extend their lead at the top before United play on Sunday, I can’t see anything but a win for Roberto Mancini’s side.

Prediction: 3-1

 Alex O’Loughlin   @AlexOLoughlin18

 

 

AVB- A renegade who deserves time

A simple abusive tweet or maybe an offensive profanity are the usual choices for fans who don’t agree with their club’s manager. Football phone-ins and armchair pundits also go into overdrive at 5pm every Saturday.

This was not the case for a young Andre Villas-Boas however. Back in 1994, a 16 year-old Porto mad AVB couldn’t believe his luck when the club’s head coach, Bobby Robson, unloaded his belongings into the same apartment block as him. Another thing he couldn’t fathom was why the Englishman was restricting goal-scoring machine Domingos Paciencia to a few substitute appearances in the first team.

It was at this point that the unseasoned Iberian teenager wrote a few words down on a piece of paper that would change the entire direction of his life and future career.

Too shy to confront the legendary English boss to his face, AVB wrote a letter outlining his displeasure of Robson’s team selection and stuck it through his letterbox, an action which as he sealed up the envelope, effectivley also sealed the fate of his life.

So impressed by the young Portuguese boy’s piece of writing and ideas, he confronted and then told him to back up his theories with stats. The pubescent lad duly obliged, with an in-depth analysis of the club’s next few games.

The sheer attention to detail and knowledge shown by Villas-Boas overwhelmed the future Knight Bachelor, who then offered him a job as a trainee with the club’s youth team. He then encouraged him to go and take a coaching course, where he eventually obtained a UEFA Pro Licence.

AVB’s career was a constant upwards trajectory from then on, as he worked his way up the hierachy in the coaching sytem at Porto, before becoming a mainstay in Jose Mourinho’s backroom teams at Chelsea and Inter Milan, which were then followed by successful managerial roles and Academica and Porto.

This all leads up to his current job in West London, his only real sticky patch in what has been a meteoric rise so far. There is no doubt the 34 year-old has a grand plan, a plan that involves a vast re-generation of the Chelsea squad that supporters need to understand and allow him time for.

If he still in charge 18 months from now, don’t be surprised if the Blues are back to being one of the most potent sides in Europe.

Paul Hill @paulhill3

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