Who's Manly Now, Guus?

By Paul Gardner

Chelsea lost big-time yesterday. With almost the last action of the game, it lost a 1-0 lead over Barcelona, and so it lost the chance to be in the UEFA Champions league final. But it lost a lot more than that.

As the game finished, the Chelsea players -- particularly Didier Drogba -- lost their heads and hounded Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo, as though his sub-par performance was the cause of their failure. It was ugly. And in those wild scenes, Chelsea lost respect.

Since Roman Abramovich took over at Chelsea and started flinging his money around, the club has acquired an unpleasant coating of arrogance. It is not an easy club to like.

The shallowness of that arrogance (and arrogance usually is a shallow attitude, a cover for some deep-seated weakness) has been pitilessly exposed over the past week during Chelsea's two games with Barcelona.

Chelsea, of course, has considerable reason to believe in itself. It is, it's safe to say, as expensive a bunch of top-class players as has ever been assembled in club soccer. It won the English Premier League in 2005 and 2006, but for the last two years has had to be satisfied with second place -- to Manchester United. A bitter pill to swallow, made even more bitter because it was ManU that beat Chelsea in last year's UEFA Champions League final. And that was Chelsea's only chance so far for European glory.

Chelsea, in other words, has not lived up to its billing -- its own billing, that is. In addition, there is something else that surely irritates the Chelsea brigade. A constant criticism that they're a dull team, not worth watching. Even owner Abramovich is said to feel that way -- and he's still looking for a coach to bring both sparkle and European honors to the club.

Clearly, he has not found the guy in Guus Hiddink. The fiasco of the two games against Barcelona can be laid squarely at Hiddink's door. He was only too willing to appear as the modest genius who had engineered that 0-0 tie in Camp Nou, praising his team (and, implicitly, himself) because no other team this season has been able to shut out Barcelona there.

A major achievement, then? No, not really. Because Chelsea went to Barcelona with a tactical plan to play anti-soccer. Which means, in plain words, to not really play at all. Just sit back and soak up the pressure and come away with at least a 0-0 tie.

When he was criticized for the utter negativity of that approach, Hiddink played it cute, admitting that "I'd like to have taken a little bit more of the initiative . ..." Well he could have fooled me.

There seems to be something too intimidating about Barcelona for English teams. Eight years ago Liverpool -- then coached by Frenchman Gerard Houllier -- went there to play a UEFA Cup game and did exactly what Chelsea has just done. They refused to play. They defended en masse -- and came away with a 0-0 tie. The Barcelona press accused Houllier and Liverpool of "betraying soccer." Houllier also got cute, admitting that "maybe we were a little bit negative." Houllier had the last laugh, as Liverpool squeaked through at Anfield, 1-0 (on a penalty kick).

But Hiddink went further than Houllier. He played the machismo card. Talking of the game in Camp Nou, he said "It was a man's match. There were some collisions, but from either side. It's a man's game."

Well, Hiddink introduced the subject into the discussion, so let's ask the questions that need to be asked. How "manly" is it to take one of the world's top teams to Barcelona and then be simply too scared to play soccer? There is a word for that sort of performance, and that word is not "manly." Cowardly is the word.

And having lost out to Barcelona -- in the end, because of Eric Abidal's ejection, Chelsea lost to 10-man Barcelona -- where now is Chelsea's vaunted manliness? By the standards that Hiddink has applied, should we now be mocking Chelsea as not manly enough?

Hiddink should know better than to spout such tripe. He got his clever tactics wrong. No, we don't know what would have happened if Chelsea had not been so utterly negative in Barcelona. But we do know that the end result for Chelsea could not have been worse. So why not play soccer? Why not go looking for goals? In 180 minutes of mostly unsatisfactory soccer we got only two goals -- Michael Essien's for Chelsea was superb, Andres Iniesta's reply not far behind it. We could have done with more of that.

But no, Hiddink preferred to chicken out of the first game and, implicitly, accuse the Barcelona players of not being manly enough. Manly? How ironic that the final scenes of the Chelsea players at Stamford Bridge had them behaving like petulant boys.

I'm afraid that it's still not easy to admire Chelsea. Good riddance to them. The Champions League final between ManU and Barcelona will give us two teams that have never, in my experience, resorted to anti-soccer.


14 comments about "Who's Manly Now, Guus?".
  1. Andy Dalal, May 7, 2009 at 10:03 a.m.

    "The Champions League final between ManU and Barcelona will give us two teams that have never, in my experience, resorted to anti-soccer."

    I heard on more than one occassion that Chelsea took their style of play out of ManU's playbook from last year's Champion's League semi-finals when the score at Camp Nou was 0-0 and at Old Trafford was 1-0 Man U.

  2. A T, May 7, 2009 at 10:14 a.m.

    Thank you, Paul. I'm a huge Chelsea fan and I was just aghast at their antics yesterday. It looked exactly like spoiled children pitching tantrums after they didn't get their way. Now that ref had to be smuggled out of England due to death threats. If that's the way Chelsea and their fans act, I want no part of it. Apparently "manly" just means "thug" over there.

    (Btw, "whose" should be "who's" in your title.)

  3. Theodore Eison, May 7, 2009 at 10:34 a.m.

    Mr. Gardner,
    I'm a loyal subscriber to Soccer America, but your anti-English bent has always been unattractive -- this was surprising given your English accent when I've heard people interview you. Never once in your article did you mention the 4 pentalties that should have been awarded. Your bias is shocking.
    Barca may have had the possession, but Chelsea had all the chances yesterday. You criticize the negative approach of Chelsea and celebrate Man U, yet Man U got past Barca last year via a negative approach.
    And what could be more negative than the illegal methods which Barca used by preventing Chelsea from scoring by using their hands in the penalty box on multiple occasions as well as employing rugby tackles?
    Please, exhibit some honesty when writing on Chelsea or another example of English football, and preface the rest of your article with "I hate Chelsea and everything else English football, so if you please take everything I write with a grain of salt."

  4. Lorenz e. Quinn jr., May 7, 2009 at 11:06 a.m.

    oh freaking please., I support both Chelsea and Barcelona. I own a Messi hero jersey actually and no Chelsea hero jerseys. Chelsea is just another team freaked out and tired of being a part of a soccer/football world where Referees out right suck and decide the matches. This spot is supposed to be decided on the pitch by the players. That ref was outright disturbing to watch. I watched it in a watching party. The opinion in the end was unanimous and clear. Pro soccer is in danger of loosing it's committed audience if this what will be trying to pass as entertainment. I was also a ref. for 6 years. When refs cost games, they understand what is going on and why players the Drog are yelling. There is no secret why Chelsea waited until after the ref decided the game for them to loose composure. Watch the whole game with open eyes and without bias and before you write another piece on one, or I'll cancel this subscription real quick like. Only Chelsea stood a chance against Manchester United. I hope you enjoy Manchester's new Champion's League Cup. It will be in their trophy case soon enough, thanks to refs. If you watch Chelsea play,they are easy to appreciate... I mean if your into quality soccer that is. They don't keep showing up in the Champions League because they are "arrogant". Only one as arrogant would presume to pass this off as a fact on educated folks. have a great day hating Russians.

  5. Rob Schneiderman, May 7, 2009 at 11:12 a.m.

    After playing such blatantly negative soccer, blaming the referee is pathetic--period.

  6. , May 7, 2009 at 11:32 a.m.

    It was a wonderful, but all too rare moment of redemption when 10-men Barcelona scored yesterday. I agree, with Paul. Good riddance to Gus and Chelsea. I can only imagine how great that team would be to watch if they were allowed to play freely.

  7. Theodore Eison, May 7, 2009 at 12:54 p.m.

    It seems to me Mike Romeo is celebrating Barcelona as the Harlem Globetrotters and criticizing Chelsea because they're not the Washington lackey team

  8. Jesse Zentz, May 7, 2009 at 1:38 p.m.

    As a Barcelona fan I can admit Chelsea deserved probably one penalty, Pique's hand ball, but even some refs might concede the ball played his hand. Nonetheless that was a penalty — but also not a guaranteed goal the was Valdes was playing. The thing that makes me laugh is the English teams always say the Spanish need to muscle up and play the physical game. Well, they did and all Chelsea does is scream for penalties after berating Barca for whining at the Camp Nou, and Abidal was sent off for the lightest touch in the game if any. Kind of hypocritical, and the funniest thing is, one of the more vocal whiners from Chelsea (Ballack) shouldn't have been playing in the second leg had it not been for a failure by the referee to give him his second yellow for elbowing Iniesta at the Camp Nou. Should be an entertaining final, but really the semis should be at neutral sites and one leg, and I think the park the bus syndrome that truly ended Chelsea's hopes would be hung up for good.

  9. Wayne Alfred, May 7, 2009 at 2:57 p.m.

    Paul, you are a very bias man ,firstly, any team playing away to big teams as barcelona man. u , milan and so on there first aim is to come away with a draw ,a draw away is like a win , secondly i did'nt hear you mention about the four fouls in the penalty box that none was given, remember these guys train very hard and for decesions like that to determin the outcome of a game its very bad for the sport . now its wrong for the guys to behave like that after the BUT its understandable. it sounds like you have a beef with Guus, i thought CHELSEA had a good game, Drogba had a chance to seal the deal and he didnt that's how the game goes . dont be

  10. Wayne Alfred, May 7, 2009 at 3:12 p.m.

    Paul, you are a very BIAS man .i can feel it from your words you don't like Chelsea, firstly, any team playing away to big teams like Bacelona Man. U. Milan and so on starts off playing for a draw , a draw away is good , secondly, i didnt hear you mention about the four fouls in the eighteen yards box that not one penalty was given, thats hard on players Paul, did you play football Paul, well you should know what im talking about. I thought CHELSEA played a good game especially in defence, keeping Messi and Eto at bay, Drogba had a chance to seal the deal but he didnt BUT thats how the game goes . YOU on the other hand sounds like you have a beef with GUUS. STOP BEING LIKE THAT PAUL its not nice.

  11. , May 7, 2009 at 4:35 p.m.

    Guus clearly held Chelsea back. He forgot about the time in 2002 when he was in charge of Korea Rep. He benefitted from Italy's equally as negative approach. In that game Trapatoni chose to protect a 1-0 lead. He subbed the talented Del Piero for the workmanlike Gattuso just as Guus did yesterday, taking Dogba off in favor of the more defensive Belletti.

    Guus should have learned something from Italy's mistake because his Korean team tied the game in the 88th and won it in OT.

  12. Trudy Wells, May 8, 2009 at 8:01 a.m.

    Barcelona could feel the 'Sunshine in Spring' in Rome - Chelsea the 'Moneymashine'simply lost. The power of one Goal once again bordering on magic! One may wonder how many candles were lit by the Barcelona Soccer moms . . . that's Spain. Happy Mothere's Day!
    A night of passion, a night of tension - a night when Drogba should have gotten a 'black card' for diving - and, the Barcelona excit simply was not a red card - a referee that needs his eyes checked!
    A Dream-Final coming up. . . .
    Soccer rules!
    Trudy Wells

  13. Matt Sery, May 8, 2009 at 9:11 a.m.

    Paul Gardner, I guess you fail to realize that there should have been atleast three or four penalties that should have gone Chelsea's way.
    If they had even converted one of those penalties, Chlesea would have put this game to bed, at 2-0, or 3-1.
    So, it's ridiculous to blame this loss on "negative tatics." Chelsea were robbed by that horrible referee. And they did, in fact, apologize for what happened at the end of the game.
    It's totally understanable, though. Only a player would understand this kind of frustration and disappoinment.

  14. Phillip Suitts, May 9, 2009 at 11:33 a.m.

    Can we stop already with the four penalties against Barcelona. As Jesse Zentz pointed out there was one legit penalty: Pique's handball. However, I think the referring equals out in the end considering how weak Abidal's red card was. Plus, Barcelona had as much right to complain as Chelsea considering how the first leg was reffed.

    P.S. Someone tell Drogba to stop driving....

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