GILES SMITH'S THURSDAY THOUGHTS
Following a cup exit and in the middle of a relatively long build-up to a much-anticipated London derby, Giles Smith puts the week into perspective in his latest column….
Oops. There goes the Capital One Cup.
Pity, of course. This club has a long and proud history of treating the second oldest knock-out competition in English football, and the fourth priority of any side competing in Europe, with the seriousness and application it merits.
We have selected strong teams, competed hard, stayed in as long as possible and known glory in two recent finals (against Liverpool in 2005 and against Arsenal in 2007) and mild sorrow in another (2008).
Over that period, our commitment has been a shining example to other less historically alert clubs, who, unconcerned about giving their supporters value for money and cherishing the long-established traditions of the game, have routinely spoken of the competition as a chore and an irritant, and have sneeringly sent out sides consisting mostly of untried youth team players, the commercial marketing manager and the sister of one of the blokes who does the iron-on lettering in the megastore.
We all know who I mean here, so I don't need to state it. Arsenal and Manchester United.
Our selfless levels of engagement have also been a shining example to teams such as Bolton Wanderers (when they were under Sam Allardyce) and West Ham (who are now under Sam Allardyce), who have, at various times, taken it into their heads to field weakened sides in the League Cup, despite the fact that it was the only trophy they had even the faintest hope of winning, and certainly the only trophy they had the faintest hope of winning that would get them into Europe the following season. But then, I suppose there always will be people who don't recognise a gift horse even when it's standing on their chest and chewing their head off.
We, by contrast, have done nothing but admire and honour the League Cup in its modern incarnation, not least the way it's done and dusted by February, and therefore tidily out of the way for when the real business of the season starts. And, as a consequence, we and the League Cup have had a nice little thing going on. We have been kind to the competition and the competition has been generally kind to us, except the year we got dumped out by Charlton on pens.
Nevertheless, for all that, when push comes to shove, the unavoidable fact does remain that the Capital One is the fourth of our four priorities in any given year - or, to put it another way, the least of our concerns.
Accordingly, when we go up to Sunderland, play all the football, have 85 percent of the possession at one stage (fact), get within three minutes of a victory which no one would have thought was anything but entirely deserved, only to get caught by two, freak sucker punches in an outcome which would be unlikely to be repeated even if the game were replayed 40,000 times using a computer programme… well, call me ungrateful, but it would be unseemly to lose much in the way of sleep over it.
Sometimes you've just got to say 'oops' and move on - 'sometimes' specifically being when you go out of the Capital One Cup in the quarter finals.
On the subject of moving on, there was a moment during Sky Sports' commentary the other night which brought one up a bit short. The suggestion was that we would be 'desperate' to avoid the match going into extra time, on account of the fact that we have 'a huge match at the weekend.'
Well, no doubt, Arsenal away is a pretty big game, what with a position at the top of the league being potentially at stake during it and what with the additional fact that long years of history and various accumulated grievances means there is no such thing as a small or even a medium-sized game between Arsenal and Chelsea, and almost certainly never will be for as long as football is still played with a round ball on grass.
But the thing is, the Arsenal game is next Monday night. And the Sunderland game was on Tuesday. In other words, an entire week separates these encounters. Did the commentator really mean to imply that a half hour's extra exertion was going to have consequences for the energy levels of our players at the Emirates, six whole nights of sleep later?
We have conditioned ourselves these days to think of footballers' bodies as ultra-sensitive, highly delicate machines. Which, of course, they are. But not that ultra-sensitive, nor that highly delicate, surely, that a mere 30 extra minutes of trying to find a way through the heavily armed, concrete exclusion zone erected around the penalty area by Sunderland's eight-man defence would be likely to cause a strain that could still be felt a week later.
These are fit young men, after all. Come next Monday, when the coach pulls up at the back door of the Emirates and that stupid green dinosaur thing more than likely tries to shake hands with John Terry, the game against Sunderland will be ancient history as far as these players' leg muscles are concerned - and also, if they're sensible, as far as their minds are concerned. It was only the Capital One Cup, after all.
Not that there's anything wrong with the Capital One Cup.
According to Brad Friedel, the Tottenham goalkeeper, not one Spurs player wanted Andre Villas-Boas to go. No, and not one Chelsea fan, either, I'm sure. When the results are going your way and everything is so obviously clicking into place, the last thing you want to see is a club's board coming down from on high to meddle and mess everything up.
No question, Tottenham is a darker place without AVB at the helm. Unless, of course, Tim Sherwood can start pulling a few rabbits out of the hat - let's wait and see.
I may just be getting caught up in the emotion of the occasion here (and speaking when you're still flooded with sentiment is never wise), but I think I've felt even closer to AVB these past few weeks (from round about the time of the 0-3 defeat at home to West Ham) than I did when he was manager here.