Chelsea fan and columnist Giles Smith gives his take on where we are with the season so far, and looks forward to a king being crowned once again…
Ideally, that 45-minute clattering of Tottenham on Tuesday night would have carried on to become a 90-minute clattering of Tottenham and our team would have exited the depressingly empty stadium with a well-earned if ultimately unsurprising triumph.Alas, the energy wasn’t quite there for that outcome and in the end we had to settle for an away draw, followed immediately afterwards by a toss of the coin (or the sporting equivalent of that, which is a penalty shoot-out). And, alas again, as a result of that coin-toss, it’s Tottenham and not us who march on into the quarter-finals, where, of course, we sportingly wish them continued happiness as we look ahead to this evening’s Champions League draw.The exciting and utterly consoling thing, of course, is that sometime, perhaps relatively soon, we look set to see a performance in which Tuesday’s first-half clattering of Tottenham gets wedded to last Saturday’s second-half clattering of West Brom and we end up winning at least 4-0 and going home quite pleased.
In the meantime, though, it would be plainly unreasonable to be getting ahead of ourselves. The new season is barely out of the packet. So many were the critical additions to the squad this summer that we haven’t even seen them all yet, let alone seen them all blended.A major reconstruction exercise is underway and there’s no cause for us to forget what we’re witnessing in these early stages, as the foundations go in. Sometimes it’s going to look a bit ugly, sometimes it’s going to be messy, and sometimes it’s going to be pure process. For all that it was on television and everything, Tuesday’s game was essentially a rapidly-organised friendly to give Ben Chilwell another hour, hand Edouard Mendy a debut, give Timo Werner the opportunity to get off the mark and try out a few combinations that might come in useful during struggles that actually matter further down the line. To that end, it entirely and satisfactorily fulfilled its function.
On a broader theme, perhaps like you, I’ve had cause to reflect, both before and after the game, on Jose Mourinho’s feeling, voiced last weekend, that Tottenham deserve more ‘respect.’ This was an alleged shortfall that came to light when our revered former manager was asked to comment on the last-gasp, VAR-assisted penalty that was awarded against Tottenham in their Premier League match against Newcastle.‘The only feeling I am ready to share,’ Jose said, ‘is that I don’t feel Tottenham is respected according to what the club is… I feel we deserve more respect.’Who can he possibly have been alluding to? Not this column, I can safely say. Well aware that they are the second biggest club in north London and the proud owners of two top-flight league titles, earned 60 and 70 years ago respectively, this column has always been extremely scrupulous about giving our London neighbours their due and always will be.Heck, the last time Tottenham completed an adventure in silverware accumulation (12 years ago, the League Cup), they did so against us, and that’s a lesson about respect that you don’t easily forget.Plus this column is constantly going on about what a lovely stadium they’ve got – it has the longest bar in British football, you know, and we’re all respect, all the time where that’s concerned.However, others may not be so fastidiously polite and sensitive in this area as we are. Jose clearly thinks so, and - without wishing to read between the lines too hard - he seemed to be implying that referees were chief among their number.
Really, though? How so? I’m not sure it was a lack of respect for Tottenham personally that led to Eric Dier getting penalised at that crucial moment against Newcastle, so much as an abundance of respect on the part of the referee for the re-written handball laws.
And those, of course, we can discuss, joining the thousands of other fans currently doing so - although, I must say, that strange whirligig motion that Dier made with his arm as he leapt was one of the least natural movements I have seen a central defender make in quite a while, whatever his intentions might have been, so, even there, you can kind of see what the ref was getting at.But what’s a referee supposed to think in such a circumstance? ‘Now, I can see that, by the letters of the latest regulations on handball incidents, as counter-intuitive as they are, that’s a stonewall penalty. However, at the same time, I acknowledge that this is the club of Bill Nicholson – one-time double-winners in the era before The Beatles and colour television. So on that basis, no penalty, and three much-needed points for the home side.’That’s not how refereeing works, is it? Except possibly at Old Trafford when Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge. And nobody wants to see those bad old days return. Never mind those new handball rules, which are ruinous enough; but if football is to be refereed according to historically founded ‘respect’, the game really will be gone.So, in summary, Jose Mourinho might or might not have a legitimate grievance about Spurs and respect. But I think he’s looking to the wrong people if he wants it to come from referees. He should be looking to people like us. And, as I say, we’re happy to supply it.On the subject of respect, we note the intention to bestow upon Didier Drogba the 2020 UEFA President’s Award in among the usual business with the Kinder eggs at today’s UCL draw in Geneva. Naturally, we rise to applaud it – and will remain standing to applaud it, whoever the Kinder eggs eventually shove us in with. (At least it won’t be Barcelona again. They’re in our pot.)
Of course, in some senses it’s just another honour for the man who has already, in our minds, been crowned King of the World. But as time ticks by, it’s good to see the titles continuing to accumulate and the cloud of glory inflating still further. Never to be forgotten.