There are some days when a game of football leaves you with a warm, happy glow. Admittedly this doesn’t happen often where I live in freezing Scotland in the middle of a bitterly cold January, but that was the feeling in west London this week. First of all, those retro shirts were jaw-droppingly classy to those of us of a certain age. What a great idea and they looked so perfect, especially with those big yellow numbers and stripes down the side of the shorts.
As a kid in Glasgow, I bought a ‘Chelsea’ shirt from that era because of that team in the early 1970s. It was the first football shirt I owned, very unusual for a Scottish kid in those days. You couldn’t get the numbers back then, so I cut mine out from some old cloth and my mum sewed it lovingly on to the back. To see the current players walk onto the pitch wearing that almost identical kit was brilliant. So the warm nostalgic feeling was settled for me before a ball was kicked at the weekend.
It glowed brighter quickly when Callum Hudson-Odoi scored the opener after six minutes. It hasn’t been easy for Callum to get back to his sharpest self in matches and I suspect there are several reasons for that. Coming back from injury, especially a serious one, is different for every single player. When it is the first major injury of your pro career it can play with your mind a bit.
The immediate thought lodged in the back of your brain is, ‘Will I ever get back and will I be able to do all the same things I used to do at the same speed?’ Most of the time you are ultra-positive and doubtless these days there are good psychologists trying to get inside the minds of the young players trying to winkle out these negative thoughts. They are however lodged there nagging in the background until you are back in the team, you play your first really good game and vitally, you make or score the first goal that is reminiscent of those you had before the injury. Callum fortunately ticked all those boxes against Nottingham Forest and it was a great relief to him and to everyone watching.
With any luck, that is him back and he will not have to consider that injury and those painful times again. The other thing of course was that while he was recuperating, other youngsters were stepping into his shoes, actually that should be ‘boots’ obviously. They were his mates of course but from being the golden boy along with Ruben Loftus-Cheek, suddenly Tammy, Mason, Reece and Fikayo were getting all the plaudits once reserved for him. He wouldn’t have been jealous as such, but again somewhere deep down there must have been real pain that he was missing out while everyone else was having a ball, all because of a moment’s bad luck with that bizarre injury.
With Willian flying, Christian Pulisic having some fantastic games too and Pedro one of the most decorated players on the planet, it would have been daunting to think about getting back into the team. With all of them there between him and a starting berth, it takes a lot to keep on believing, smiling and being positive around the club. The performance at the weekend and the belief shown by the boss will have given him an enormous boost.
The thing I was waiting for wasn’t the goal he scored, but that first burst of pace that took him past a defender or indeed inside to create space. There was a decent amount of that sort of acceleration on Sunday and hopefully there is plenty more to come. Callum has many talents, but that ability to go past defenders and disrupt organised defences is priceless in the modern game. Actually it has always been important but it is all the more noticeable now there are fewer players who can actually do it regularly.
This is the thing we have been missing more than anything else, at home particularly. A player who can drive past two or three defenders will be needed if we are to kill off the stuffy teams such as Bournemouth and Southampton among others. Another team who will be incredibly stuffy and hard to beat is our next opponent Burnley. They will have studied what has stymied Chelsea of late and we will need that type of skilful player who can unlock that particular door.
Maybe in Callum we already have this player at the club, even if the likes of Wilfried Zaha have been mentioned in dispatches. To be fair, he has been mentioned by me as much as anyone else on the BBC regarding Chelsea, but that is only my personal conjecture.
My own warm glowing feelings this week might have been tainted by an icy-cold feeling that runs down my back when a certain memory is invoked. I told this light-hearted tale on a radio show in Scotland on Saturday and it was picked up by The Times! So, even though it was probably only there because it was a particularly slow news day, you probably ought to hear the entire story here.
A few years back I was holidaying on a small Scottish island off the west coast of Scotland. As I was driving along the northern coast road on a fine sunny day, I took a sharp corner and blinded momentarily by the sun, I almost took out a couple of cyclists going the other way on the narrow tarmac.
I got out of the way in time and it was my fault entirely but as I drove past, I thought, ‘One of those cyclists looked awfully like Roman Abramovich’. But of course it couldn’t be, our club’s owner and benefactor would never be holidaying on this remote, though admittedly beautiful, Scottish Island that I have visited every year for the past three decades. That would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it?
A little while later a story appeared in the press in Scotland, that Roman had indeed been on the island. That rather sizeable yacht out in the Mull of Kintyre should have been a bit of a giveaway in hindsight. A young lad had fallen out of a tree trying to get a glimpse of him and he and his friends had helped the youngster recover.
I never did get to say, if it was indeed Mr Abramovich, ‘Oops, sorry!’ So I am saying it now. It did reach the newspaper this week on the inside page, but I don’t even want to consider the level of coverage it would have attracted had I been going 20mph faster and cut a few more feet off that corner. It doesn’t bear thinking about. The warm glow this week is still tempered by that icy shiver.