“Blue is the color, football is the game.
We’re all together, and winning is our aim
So cheer us on through the sun and rain
Cause Chelsea, Chelsea is our name.”
The song echoes every corner of the Stamford Bridge when fans sing it aloud to cheer their team. Their voices reach a crescendo when a goal is scored. But often fans of other clubs have mocked Chelsea supporters by claiming that there is no history at the Stamford Bridge.
Interestingly, the first four lines of the song is their history. It tells all about the club’s past, their present and philosophy. Little do the fans of the rival clubs know that out all the club in England, Chelsea is the only club who still have the same name, ground and ‘Bleed Blue’ since its inception in 1905.
However, it is true that Chelsea have been seen as an elite club recently. Before Abramovich’s takeover in 2003, the London side did not have much to boast about. They won several domestic cup’s in the 90s but the first league cup came knocking in 2004-05 under Jose Mourinho - exactly 50 years after their last title.
Chelsea fans call that season as ‘Year Zero’. It is the success in that season which set the tempo for the next 15 years and beyond. During those 15 years, Chelsea have had a number of managers. It also includes Mourinho - The Special One’s return to the Bridge. Nothing changed in all these years, and the Blues are still guided by the same principle which the Portuguese manager had preached in 2004.
But this season, a former banker has tried to change the method football is looked at Chelsea. But changes are not so easy the Bridge. A footballing theorist, Maurizio Sarri has kept on pressing for possession play and hence has found it hard to make a mark on the league.
One must note that when Mourinho took over as the Chelsea manager in 2004-05 title winning season, the club had set new records. Chelsea conceded just 15 goals in 38 games - a record yet to be broken in Premier League, and had kept 25 clean sheets - another record in the book.
In that season, the Portuguese manager had introduced Chelsea ‘defend and counter-attacking’ philosophy. The London side had misfiring striker in Didier Drogba, had injured brilliance of Arjen Robben and half-trusted Joe Cole. Then how did they pull off a title winning season. Chelsea had become the masters of extra-time goals and had secured many 1-0 wins.
The London side since then have been following the same template - recruit young talented attackers and leave the defence to the veterans. There have been occasions when the likes of Felipe Scolari, and Villas-Boas were signed to bring a more practical approach to the club. But they could not succeed. Managers like Roberto Di Matteo, and Antonio Conte who had a more cautious approach towards the game were the winners.
Even Carlo Ancelotti, who had the best Chelsea side ever also could not get into Abramovich’s good books. Ancelotti’s side in their title winning 2009-10 campaign had scored 100 goals. They were ruthless against their opponents but what lacked was technicality. Abramovich had gone to the extent of chastising Ancelotti for the unattractive football that was played by the club in their opening match in 2010-11. Interestingly, Chelsea had won the match 6-0.
The Russian owner has always fancied an attacking game but later started believing in a result-oriented managers after the coaches like Scolari and Villas-Boas had stumbled. It is this philosophy that now takes the centre-stage in boardroom decisions.
However, the Chelsea fans are a little opposite to their club’s owner. In an era where fans of clubs want their side to have a long-lasting impression on the game, and their managers play the game ‘the right way’, the Blues supporters have no such ambition. They are committed in the preference of the getting the job done regardless of football that is being played. The fans are now accustomed to seeing their defence taking the blows before they stumble and pacey attackers for counter-attacker - be it Damien Duff or Eden Hazard.
However, under Sarri there is paradigm shift taking place at the Bridge. A new ideology has emerged in which Chelsea builds up the game slowly, and methodically, and the fans are usually just sitting at their seats watching the move unravel. It has never been so quieter at Chelsea than this.
After all, these are the same supporters who have spent their last 15 years mocking the clubs like Arsenal and Tottenham for their idea that attractive football is more than winning trophies.
This shows there is a philosophy lurking around somewhere in the corner at Chelsea and is completely contrasting to what other clubs like to relish. Chelsea worship likes of Mourinho, so they like ‘Park the bus’ and counter-attacking football, they adore John Terry, which means they like deep defending, they hail Didier Drogba, which means they like aerial battles, and dirty play, and they boast about N’Golo Kante, which means they like deep defensive midfielder over creative one.
And this is where lies Sarri’s problems. It is not about his tactics, or the quality of players he has. It is about the fact that the Chelsea fans are not ready to support him or his Sarri-ball.
Such instances have surfaced in the past and the result has been quite inevitable. Probably the way Chelsea sack their managers is the reason that they are yet to establish their own legacy.
Moreover, the trophy-oriented ideology of fans and the boardroom is too much to handle. The possession-style football will take its time to develop just like it did at Barcelona under Pep Guardiola. It is not a one season job but an ideology for the future.
However, without results everything falls flat. One instance of the failure of the Sarri-way is against Manchester City. The London side lost 6-0 to City playing the Sarri-way, and fortnight later they played the old-school way and managed to draw at Wembley.
Sarri is adamant to continue his inflexible possession ideology with a side that has got most of their success with the style the Italian loathes. Ultimately, he has not been able to get the desired results for the fans or the boardroom and has found himself doomed with the ‘STAMFORD BRIDGE CURSE’.