PAT NEVIN: OPEN EYES, OPEN MIND
In his column this week, Pat Nevin pays tribute to the first Chelsea manager he remembers who passed away at the weekend, and looks at the start of a new tenure at the Bridge…
First things first, the loss of Dave Sexton (pictured above) this week makes everything else that has happened at the club pale into something approaching insignificance. Many have said it already and very eloquently, but he was a giant in our club's history. The tributes can be found elsewhere on this site, but as a kid of six or seven living in Scotland he even had an effect on me, or at least his team did.
Brought up in a Celtic-supporting household in the east end of Glasgow surrounded by green and white, the first football strip I ever bought was all blue. Some thought it was actually a Rangers outfit, which could have got me lynched at school. But no it was Chelsea because the side that won the FA Cup in 1970, Dave Sexton's team, were just so cool.
I wanted to look like them and many others felt the same. Dave was classy, the team were cool, the players were generally skilful and with Leeds playing the role as bad guys superbly well, the story was irresistible to me, even in Scotland. When Chelsea came to sign me at 19, that was my very first thought, I could be one of those guys. Thanks for what you did for the club Dave Sexton, you will never be forgotten.
On to more mundane topics and the temptation of a link from a great former manager onto the current manager has proved irresistible to many journalists. Rafa Benitez is not the most popular choice as far as the fans are concerned; yes I know that is something of an understatement, but there is no point ignoring it. I was asked on a variety of media outlets if Rafa will ever be accepted by vast swathes of the Chelsea fans and my answer was that if he is successful, wins games along with some silverware while playing attractive football he may eventually be accepted by many, if not necessarily loved.
It wasn't the answer that was wanted, it didn't fit the narrative of the moment but although he wouldn't have been my first choice to replace Robbie I will wait and see what happens in the coming months, I do not want to be unfairly biased because of his past. It got me to thinking about how people have made their minds up about Chelsea over the past without accepting that they might just have a tiny little bit of unfair built-in bias against the club. The story about Mark Clattenburg from beginning to end has infuriated many a normally reasonable journalist who feel that Chelsea have acted 'disgracefully' throughout the entire saga, by leaving the referee to deal with the flak that has come at him due to the accusation.
When I point out that the club have got more flak than the referee, that they needed the entire situation like a hole in the head and that they behaved in only way they possibly could have when an employee said he heard what he felt he did, they stop listening and do the equivalent of sticking their fingers in their ears screaming 'lalalalalala'. I argue that morally and legally the club had to inform the FA, and those who suggest Chelsea should have done it quietly and kept the press out of it are being something approaching wilfully naïve. Do they in their wildest dreams think that story could have been hushed up? In this day and age with very inquisitive journalists surrounding the situation and Twitter everywhere in the ether, there is no chance this could have been dealt with quietly. And anyway had the club tried to keep it 'quiet' because of the subject matter they would have been slaughtered for hushing it up themselves.
I have been chief executive of a professional football club at the highest level in Scotland, I had to deal with similar situations back then and know that there is a golden rule. If in doubt do the correct legal thing, some calls are hard and some people sadly and even unfairly will be damaged en route but if you stay legally sound, follow the rules of the FA, you can and should hold your head up high knowing that your moral position is comfortable.By the way this is a good place to say it was great to see Mark Clattenburg back in the game at the weekend, for all those who have said his career will be ruined by this, once more I say wait and see. I suspect in a few months, actually make that a few weeks, it will all be back to normal for the referee and any abuse he gets will just be the normal levels and types that any referee would be subjected too.
The point is, I am not going to have an extreme knee jerk reaction to Rafa because to be honest I reckon I was biased against him when he was at Liverpool and I wasn't a fan. I mean I have some excuses, a former Everton and Chelsea player isn't really going to be that well-disposed to the Liverpool boss, but it is my job to be fair and honest as a broadcaster and I hope and believe I was when broadcasting about him.
When considering my own initial attitude to Rafa I am reminded of those who are not Chelsea-minded when I ask them what they think of John Terry. The usual diatribe ensues about our captain and then I ask if they have ever met him. When I explain that in person he comes across as one of the sweetest, most helpful, friendly and charismatic people you will ever meet, the eyes glaze over and you can almost hear the internal 'Lalalalalala' while the fingers involuntarily reach for the ears. It doesn't fit the narrative they cling to and it confuses.
There is none so blind as he who will not see, so I am going to open my eyes, take my fingers out of my ears, refuse to shout while the evidence is presented and watch how Rafa Benitez does and indeed wish him the best of luck because he will certainly do his best for the club while he is around. Come on - surely the blue suit, blue shirt and blue tie was something of an attempt to meet us half way?
Not everyone will relent and I respect that position, the fact that Robbie lost his job understandably complicates the matter further and by the way how classy were his comments and behaviour. I will write more about RDM in full in the weeks to come and give his success justice, instead of just a line here.
Actually it is getting late and this has to be posted. There was a game on Sunday where we defended well and got a point against the English champions. There is a game tomorrow against Fulham which would be very nice to win considering our points tally just recently.I just wish I could write more about that sort of thing. Maybe next week will be a quieter week at the club, but I will not hold my breath, it is rarely boring when Chelsea FC are involved these days.
The quiz at least should give some light relief, last week's incredibly easy question was could you tell me the name of any Chelsea player from any era who has won the league championship in more than one country? The list was long and included the following suggestions printed at the bottom.The winner randomly chosen is Kevin Burgess from Wokingham.
This week who to have a chance of being the randomly chosen winner of a DVD of last season's Champions League triumph, signed by Ashley Cole, could you tell me the name of a Chelsea manager who played for Aston Villa? Answers as ever to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Good luck to you and good luck to the team against Fulham.
A list of some of the winners in different countries you suggested were:
Malouda, Essien, Ballack, Alex, Zhirkov, Ferreira, Carvalho, Deco, Belletti, Gudjohnsen, Makelele, Shevchenko, Robben, Crespo, Ivanovic, Anelka, Sutton, Weah, Petit, Brian Laudrup, Maniche, Kezman, Jarosik, Jokanovic, Belletti, Gullit, Johnsen, Desailly.