Over the Blue Moon / Blue is the Colour…

22 05 2012

Over the Blue Moon

‘Blue Moon

You saw me standing alone

Without a dream in my heart

Without a love of my own…’

‘Blue is the colour football is the game

We’re altogether and winning is our aim

So cheer us on through the sun and rain

Cos Chelsea, Chelsea is our name…’ 

Wearing a red shirt may be associated with long-term team success, according to recent academic research, but there is no doubting blue is the winning colour of the 2011-12 season.

‘Mancini City’ supporters are still over the ‘Blue Moon’, a week on from snatching their first league title in 44 years, in the most dramatic of finales to the Barclays Premiership season. It is hard to imagine how it can ever be surpassed.

Sergio Aguero’s divine right footed winner, four minutes into injury time –  virtually the last kick of the season, guaranteed him eternal legendary status in the blue half of Manchester. His last gasp finish, at the Etihad Stadium, snatching, what would have been, a 20th title from the grasp of United’s ‘Red Devils’ and delivering it, instead, to the ‘noisy neighbours’, by the narrowest of margins – goal difference.

Against all the odds, relegation threatened, QPR were leading 1-2 as the game entered  five minutes of injury time. Despite City’s home advantage, and playing against a team reduced to ten men, following the sending off of Joey Barton, it seemed they had choked, blown their chance.   

United having completed their season, a couple of minutes earlier,  with an away win, courtesy of a Wayne Rooney goal, in Sunderland’s Stadium of Light, thought for a while they had done enough. But as the final act was played out, back in Manchester, they could only stand idly by as their hopes were rudely shattered. 

It was Edin Dzeko who started Sky Blue pulses racing, with a 92nd minute, headed equalizer, and  Aguero, two minutes later, who applied the heart-stopping coup de grace.  

One could be pardoned for thinking, metaphorically at least, that the ‘hand of God’, forever associated with his father in-law, Diego Maradona, had once again come to the assistance of an Argentinian wearing a blue and white shirt.     

It has been a long and painful wait for Manchester City’s loyal fans, seemingly forever in the shadow of their Old Trafford rivals, but not many will begrudge them their success.

It was great to see members of the old 1968 league championship winning side involved at the presentation of the trophy, and in the after match celebrations.

Mike Summerbee, a flying winger and key player, in that exciting 60’s side, is a former pupil of Naunton Park School in Cheltenham, where I was headteacher. While in town, researching his 2008 autobiography, ‘The Story of a True City Legend’, he popped in, and I was pleased to be able to show him around.

A faded black and white team photograph from 1955-56 appears in the book, bearing the caption, ‘I’m the proud 13-year-old captain holding the winners’ shield for Naunton Park Secondary Modern school team.’           

This weekend was all about the Stamford Bridge Blues, Chelsea. Having already landed the FA Cup, at the expense of Liverpool, and ‘King Kenny’, Chelsea’s ‘Pensioners’ somehow contrived to pull off their greatest victory of all time, defeating Bayern Munich in their own backyard, to win the Champions League.   

Never has there been a better example of the old football adage, ‘if your name’s on it…’ and Roman Abramovich, the players, and supporters of Chelsea must still be pinching themselves. Some would argue the new Kings of Europe, are the luckiest, most undeserving, team ever to lay hands on the biggest club trophy in football. But theirs it is and, somehow, it all seemed pre-ordained. 

Club owner, Abramovich, has been single-minded and ruthless in achieving his stated goal, pouring millions of roubles into the club and firing seven, top class, managers along the way – during his nine-year tenure.

So unpredictable is the Russian oligarch, that temporary coach Robert Di Matteo, despite having revived an ailing Chelsea team, from mid-season malaise, and propelled them to the dizzy heights of this most historic night in the club’s history, may still not be appointed to the permanent post, for next season!

When André Villas-Boas, a young managerial talent – and supposedly one for the long-term – was shown the door after just eight months in charge, Chelsea’s season in the Euro zone was looking decidedly precarious.  

But Di Matteo, a former Chelsea player, promoted from his assistant coach role somehow breathed new life into an aging group of players, re-calling old hands, Lampard, Cole, and Drogba, from the bench to pull off an unlikely, group of 16, victory against Napoli – bouncing back from a 3-1, first leg, deficit.  

Despite stubborn resistance from Portuguese side, Benfica, a tricky quarter-final was successfully negotiated and Chelsea’s revival rewarded with a last four tie, against tournament favourites Barcelona. 

Even with a 1-0 first-leg lead, courtesy of a Didier Drogba goal, following  a, backs to the wall, battle of Stamford Bridge, very few pundits gave them a realistic chance of surviving a further Barca onslaught at the Nou Camp.     

They were wrong.

The Catalans got off to a flying start, easing into a 2-0 lead, after Chelsea skipper, John Terry was red carded, in the 37th minute, for a moronic off the ball incident.

But perhaps it was all a bit too easy. Barca, momentarily, switched off in first half injury time and  following a rare counter-attack, Chelsea hit back with a superb chipped goal from Ramires, which took them ahead on away goals.

Three minutes into the second half it should have been game over. Drogba, back defending, tripped Arsenal old boy Cesc Fabregas in the penalty area, but Lionel Messi, of all people, rattled the bar with the resultant kick – and from that moment on, Chelsea started to believe it was their night and, possibly, even their year.  

Barcelona continued to press, with their relentless passing game, but seldom created anything clear-cut. And when they did, Petr Cech, back to his best, stood tall in the Chelsea goal. With the clock ticking down, deep into stoppage time, and the home team pressing forward, final insult was added to injury by, substitute, Fernando Torres.    

The Spanish striker who hasn’t been able to hit the proverbial cow’s backside with a banjo, since his £50 million pound move from Liverpool, raced clear on to a hoofed clearance, before neatly side stepping the keeper, Valdes, and rolling the ball into an empty net. 

On Saturday night Chelsea entered the Munich Allianz Arena believing. If they could beat Barca in their Nou Camp fortress, why not Bayern in Bavaria? 

The match stats serve to show that the force was very much with Chelsea. Despite almost total dominance laying with the men from Munich – four-time previous winners of the trophy – it was they who were finally left singing the blues.        

Munich had 35 attempts on goal to Chelsea’s nine and twenty corners against their one, but could not make them count.  

With 83 minutes on the clock, Bayern’s, tireless, Thomas Müller headed home what appeared to be the winning goal. But with just two minutes remaining, Didier Drogba, muscled his way above the Munich defence to equalise with a bullet header, from Chelsea’s first corner of the game – his ninth goal in nine finals for Chelsea. I think that’s what you call a big match player!    

In extra time, Drogba, momentarily, saint turned sinner, conceded, what is becoming, his customary penalty, with a trip on Franck Ribéry. But Petr Cech spared the Ivory Coast striker’s blushes, saving the spot kick taken by former team-mate, Arjen Robben, superbly touching it on to the post before gathering the rebound.  

Despite falling behind in the penalty shoot-out (following extra-time) the superb Cech epitomised the belief in this rejuvenated Chelsea side, clawing them back into the game, with fine saves from Ivica Olic and Bastian Schweinsteiger, which set up Didier Drogba, who else, with a golden opportunity to make the winning strike, which he did – with aplomb.  

By then we knew he would. After all, somewhere beyond that old blue moon, it had been written in the stars.

As too, no doubt, was suspended captain John Terry’s boorish behaviour, stripping down to his kit and stepping into the spotlight, to lift the coveted trophy, ahead of Frank Lampard, who had led the team so well on the night – with a measured midfield performance and a calming presence throughout.

What of Di Matteo’s future? if I were him I’d thank my lucky stars and walk away from Chelsea, right now. It doesn’t come any better than what he has achieved in the last three, short, months. It is more than likely, from her on in, the only way is down. And yet, with ‘Champions League winner’ on his CV, there will be no shortage of takers elsewhere.     

Earlier in the day, and in keeping with the year of the blues theory, Leinster, re-wrote the rugby record books, in front of 82,000 fans at Twickenham. The Dubliners rampaged to a 42-14 victory, over Ulster, in an all-Irish Heineken Cup Final.

In so doing they, won the trophy, for a third time in four years,  scoring the most tries, most points, and chalking up the biggest winning margin in the 17 year history of Europe’s premier club competition.       

Captain Leo Cullen’s team, packed with talented Irish internationals, can now lay claim to being the greatest club team in Rugby Union history, up there alongside French giants Toulouse.

Legendary centre, Brian O’Driscoll (just eight days after key hole surgery on his knee) flanker Sean O’Brien, loose-head prop Cian Healey, and outside half Jonathan Sexton, were all to the fore in a comprehensive victory.

So too was Ireland full back Rob Kearney, who received the prestigious award of European Player of the Year.                          

                           

                               

 

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