There is only one subject worth writing about this week and that’s the events at Tottenham on Sunday where Chelsea recorded a significant victory. In his weekly column, Blues legend Pat Nevin delves deeper…
Hands up anyone who in their heart of hearts would have accepted a point before we played at Tottenham? Yes, every Chelsea fan would have loved the three points but considering everything seemed to be in their favour in the build-up, there was realism rather than a pessimism about this one.Spurs had found some good form, Jose was casting his spell, we had faltered against some struggling sides and it was an away game for us. As an old manager used to say to me a bit nonsensically, ‘Everything in our favour was against us’.Almost the entire afternoon was a triumph; from the players attitude, to the complete dominance of possession and not least by the tactical battle being won brilliantly by Frank, Jody and the team. Much has been made of Jose commenting that it was an Antonio Conte system that was the difference but be fair, Antonio didn’t invent the 3-4-3 system. There are a variety of systems that can be used at any time and you have to find the right one for the right situation. That is the skill and more importantly the intelligence needed to be successful as a manager.
There are plenty of top-flight managers that are wedded to one system or variations on one system. Conte was famously and successfully like that with us in his first season. But you take a chance if you become too rigid. Others can prepare all the more easily to block you. Maurizio Sarri was the same in terms of rigidity of system and he also managed to get success for a period, but there are times when adaptability is just as important, if not more.That is what has arguably been most impressive about Chelsea this season, the willingness to change and the ability to change for different situations. When I am analysing football anywhere in the media, the thing that impresses me most is when a coach does something surprising and unexpected, but only when it works of course. It is clear by Jose’s remarks that the changes Frank made, he absolutely didn’t see coming for a moment. Jose has often been the master of surprise and the unexpected, so it must have been quite a shock to be usurped in this area by a relatively new manager.Maybe even more surprising was that Jose didn’t seem to be able to react to it quickly enough either. He must have quickly spotted that things weren’t working but it was only when his side were 2-0 down that he brought on Eriksen for Dier and changed his team’s shape noticeably. For the man who has regularly made substitutions in the first half to save a situation he was surprisingly reticent to do it this time even though his team were second best by a distance. Maybe he didn’t want to upset any of his players this time, but that isn’t usually his modus operandi.
So well done Frank but that is only round one against Jose Mourinho and doubtless he will be back with plans of his own next time. It must however secretly bolster our current coach’s belief in his tactical awareness, not that he had anything to be unsure about, but this was one of the big dogs in the game being outmanoeuvred and outthought.Before leaving that game behind there was of course the situation regarding Toni Rudiger and the abuse from the stands. I will not crow about this happening at Spurs, we all know only too well these people can crawl out from under any stone and appear at your own ground to embarrass you, and reportedly a Chelsea fan has been arrested for allegedly abusing Son Heung-min. The media made a big splash about it and I am happy they did, this must be given publicity.I am not sure I would agree however that aiming all the abuse at football is either helpful or correct. Racism exists in society and at least the football clubs generally try to do the right things - from life bans for those alleged fans, to education from the clubs, community involvement and constant underlining of the stance that we believe there is no place for discrimination in or at our games. The problem is at nowhere near the level it was a few decades ago in our stadiums but that is no reason to be complacent. We must continue to protect anyone who is at our games, be they players, fans, employees or whoever, from this sort of abuse. The clubs are there already with a zero-tolerance approach. Take a look at statements from Chelsea, Man City, Spurs and others this season when the abuse has been highlighted.
This attitude is long overdue, but even so maybe it is time for a further course of action.I am not fully convinced that walking off and having games abandoned for the odd moronic call from the stands is the answer, although I respect and will back any player who refuses to play under that abuse. If there are large numbers behaving that way, then it is of course different, the game must be halted.For me, too many innocent people are adversely and unfairly affected by a tiny number being racially abusive, the fans who might have paid huge sums of money to get to the games, paid a tidy sum to get in and are then to be denied and made to suffer. That cannot be fair. So, what is there to do, as it cannot be allowed to go on like this?It surely must be time to grow a culture with football fans in general, a culture of outing the perpetrators in the stands when it happens. If the people who are ruining it for everyone, offending our players and indeed breaking the law of the land continue, then surely we as fans should adopt a culture of pointing the finger, literally.If it is indeed lone wolf agitators, what can they do if every single other fan around them, who hears their obnoxious and illegal comments and actions, then points to them? It would ensure when the stewards come over, they can pick out the culprits easily. The offence still has to be proven and I am not suggesting mob rule, but if fan culture turns on them peacefully, they will no longer feel the security of anonymity within the group.I accept that the problem is coming from wider society, but it is also coming from a small number in the stands. It is not the players, not the clubs and nor is it the football authorities, even if the latter has been too slow and light with sanctions. Maybe the answer in the end will have to come from the stands too. I will be approaching the Football Supporters Association to see if they feel this is worth progressing, it is time to reclaim our game. In fact it is long overdue.