Pat Nevin: Just stay away

In his latest column, Chelsea legend Pat Nevin writes about subtle changes to playing styles and adding options, and he also has strong words for those tarnishing the name of true fans of the club…

December is a huge month in English football. With nine points from 12 so far in the Premier League, qualification also sorted from the Europa League group and the possibility of making our way to the semi-final of the Carabao Cup tonight, amazingly that still leaves three vital games in the league before January arrives.

Others such as Arsenal were slipping and sliding at the weekend as inelegantly as my ice skating in Edinburgh this week (I am sure I used to have better balance), but that is what happens at this time of the year. This many games pushes clubs and squads to breaking point.

In the midst of it all Chelsea have been trying quite subtly to alter the balance of the team. Clearly the Maurizio Sarri-inspired change to shift Eden Hazard into the false-nine position has been pretty successful in the short term. Those who were across the use of Dries Mertens at Napoli under Maurizio will see a very clear and obvious similarity in the tactical switch.

Eden has played there before for Chelsea and for Belgium, but up until now this tactic has only been used in extremis. Even if the idea of the three ‘little’ guys up front in Hazard, Willian and Pedro is far from novel at Stamford Bridge, it may well be that under the Sarri system this idea is better suited than it has ever been. Sarri-ball has never been about anything as coarse as lumping the ball up to a big striker and feeding off the scraps. It has always been a bit more cerebral. So you can see why the HWP axis might just keep on working for a while.

Maybe the perfect striker for this style would be someone like Sergio Aguero, though there aren’t many like him out there to be fair. This is not to write off our taller strikers by any means, there is no doubt that between now and the end of the season (maybe by the end of the month), one or both of our big strikers will be back leading the line. Actually it is quite likely to happen as early as today against Bournemouth in the quarter-final.

What is clear is that there are now a few more options in terms of playing style without losing the essence of what the boss is trying to do. After Spurs the phrase from some appeared to be, to quote Edwin Collins, ‘Rip it Up and Start Again.’ Happily that seems quite obviously to be a bit of an over-reaction now, even for the most excitable onlookers.

So after beating Manchester City in a pulsating game, then disposing of Brighton to consolidate fourth place in the league, things should be hunky dory at the club. Well no, not by a long way.

It is so depressing, infuriating, anger-inducing and downright embarrassing to put up with what has been said and sung by an admittedly small group of people. So-called fans who seem to be labouring under the gross misapprehension that they are representing the club while they affront us and all that the club has tried to do.

The club has made statements underlining what it thinks of this behaviour and I have been vocal these past 35 years too. Believe me, it is getting a bit wearisome as the last lingering vestiges of an unreconstructed age still do not seem to get the message. As such they know what they are doing and seem not to care how badly this reflects on, and offends, the rest of us.

Having been chief executive of a club myself back in Scotland for four years I know what it feels like when the negative reports come filtering through, just as you relax after a game and expect to enjoy a good result. Your heart sinks and you go immediately into high-alert mode. You know this storm of opprobrium is likely to last for days or weeks and in the midst of it you think, ‘What more could we have done?’

So you have pleaded with these so-called fans to stop. You have threatened and then banned the offenders. You install CCTV to find them. You put up posters around the ground. You have announcements at the game. There are notices in the programme, on the website, in local media and you give statements to all the national press. There are programmes of inclusivity developed through the club’s foundation and even as Chelsea have done, very specific programmes and campaigns produced in areas such as combating antisemitism and promoting anti-racism.

You buy in fully to the wider football anti-racism campaigns and initiatives. You talk to fan groups, get players involved to say their part and the upper echelons of the club also make their feelings clear too. You even get past greats to comment (well done Frank Lampard this week).

You look at all areas of education and try to get involved there. You ask and look for advice everywhere and anywhere, be it the FA, UEFA, the police or government agencies willing to do the right thing to curb this behaviour, all the while never dismissing or trying to deflect the abuse you are getting from other areas as you constantly strive to do the right thing.

I do not know the answer other than continuing to do and say the right things, all of us, including you the true fans whose name is being tarnished as well.

photo of Pat Nevin Pat Nevin

I have however always had one strong belief. These people do not seem to really care about the club whatever they say. They certainly do not care above their political and social views which they use the club and its worldwide fame to advertise.

Can I make it any more plain? To everyone at our club, the offensive singing and behaviour that has lately been highlighted is an embarrassment and detracts from everything they do. If you cannot keep those emotions, views and outbursts away from following the team, for the sake of the club if you have any vague affection, just stay away from us all. Harsh as it may sound, we simply do not want you.

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