Money talks, and in the case of Chelsea it does make the club sing and dance and it makes a hell of a lot of fine football men walk too, to paraphrase the Neil Diamond classic.
Roman Abramovich’s toxic influence on the team management at the London club has descended the situation into farce. How any true blue supporter can stand watching their side being used as a play thing by an oligarch playboy and yet continue to support them – and in doing so add to his fortune – is beyond me. OK, there’s no argument against the fact his billions have bought the club success.
Since his arrival in 2003 the club has won three premiership titles (against its single national league title success in 1955), four FA Cups (again the club had only won one prior to 2003), before finally achieving the ultimate success the Russian so desperately sought in winning the Champions League last year.
And how does he show his and the club’s respect and gratitude to Roberto Di Matteo, the man who got them there? He sacks him. His replacement, the dour though occasionally discerning Rafael Benitez has been appointed on an interim basis, as had Di Matteo been when he took over from André Villas-Boas. The future doesn’t bode well on those terms Rafa.
If such terms were being applied to employment contracts in the open market the respective unions would be up in arms. But these managers receive such enormous pay-cheques in the role and such huge pay-offs when sacked that they are willing to play that game, take that chance, and remain at the whim of a spoilt, monied, multi-billionaire than hold true to any real sense of dignity and self-respect.
I’m not a big fan of the Premiership. I’ve never really followed a team. When I played soccer regularly in the Sligo Leitrim league with Cliffoney Celtic I used to enjoy sitting on a Saturday night before a Sunday morning game and watching Match of the Day. I found it a good way to prepare for the game ahead and to get the mind tuned into soccer again after a week of Gaelic football training. I also enjoyed that elements of either codes could compliment my potential performance in the other.
I played most of my soccer in the winter months when the GAA season was most quite and it was a great way to keep the fitness levels high. I always lined out at central midfield and you cover a lot of ground there, not to mention the fact that the game is 90 minutes long. You need great spatial awareness to play central midfield, you need to be able to read a game well, and anticipate your team mates’ likely moves and runs as a lot of ball goes through you. And you need to have a great engine. All those attributes leant themselves well to the type of game I tended to play for club and county – the linking game around the midfield.
Those Saturday nights with Des Lynam and co used to be a fond and welcome routine but now I find it hard to sit through the entire show of highlights on BBC (where everything is wonderful, mate, and they dare to call each other nicknames names such as ‘Lawro’ [see Mark Lawrenson] on air) or on RTE (where I find Dunphy and Giles’ endless, repetitive ramblings predictable and tiresome).
Watching a full soccer match is virtually beyond me unless there is really something significant to it, for example Celtic’s recent home win over Barcelona. I watched the highlights of their drawn match just the evening before while on a treadmill in a GYM and I was interested to see could they repeat a similarly impressive performance at home. It was a great game to have caught, really thrilling, edge of the seat stuff.
(One thing struck me after that game: the way the Irish media rightly praised it as being a wonderful achievement and a tactical victory for Neil Lennon in the way he had coached and then deployed his team in a defensive manner capable of withstanding the Barcelona attacking onslaught.
Jim McGuinness was in the crowd that night and I’m sure the irony of the Irish sporting media heaping praise on the backs of the Celtic Buoys wasn’t lost on him considering many of them had chastised him for doing the same thing with Donegal in the 2011 championship series. )
As I said I was never a big enough fan of the footy across the water to commit myself to a team or to follow it religiously (as my Man United fanatical brother Stuart does). I used to enjoy watching it for what I could learn from it. But gradually, throughout the last decade, it had become clear it had sold its soul. And watching a soulless thing is like watching Dorian Gray’s picture hanging in the attic, vile and treacherous and devoid of any love and compassion.
And that soulless state, bought by too much money and the promise of success and celebrity rather than sport, has transferred into the attitudes of too many players both on the field and off it.
True it is unfair to taint all professional footballers in such a manner, and there remain many who play with integrity and for the love of the game. But if I was given the option of watching two teams of over-paid Premiership footballers on the box or a live game of Leitrim league football, I know where I’d be heading.