Chelsea’s defeat to Napoli on Tuesday night completed a thoroughly miserable Italian takeaway for the remaining two English clubs in the Champions League. The 3-1 defeat to the swashbuckling Neapolitans is not necessarily fatal for the Blues; an early goal in the return leg could easily see the tie swing their way. For Arsene Wenger’s Gunners however, the prospects look far, far bleaker. An utter destruction – crushed 4-0 in abject fashion without putting up much of a fight at all – leaves them with pretty well zero hope of progression.
Neither team would have wanted this result though, and it does leave England with the very real prospect of having no participants in the quarter finals of the Champions League for the first time since 1996. There were no English semi-finalists in 2009/10, but English clubs have always made it at least as far as the quarter finals over the past 16 years. With trademark tabloid hyperbole then, should we be declaring this the death of English football?
I’ll answer that one swiftly…no. No, it’s not – I fully expect that next season Manchester City will learn from their slow start and progress through the group, and the prospect of Alex Ferguson repeating his failure two years running is slimmer than a Portsmouth player’s wage packet. The London clubs, however, face a less certain future, and no-one is feeling the impact of this uncertainty more than the two men in charge.
Arsene Wenger seems to be coming under increasing ire from his “long-suffering” fans. Note the quotation marks…I accept that there has been a significant amount of time without a trophy, but I don’t feel that Arsenal fans are being subjected to torture and pain on a weekly basis. The now traditional annual capitulation has been completed with the FA Cup exit leaving their prospects of winning an trophy slimmer than a Portsmouth player’s.. (sorry, mustn’t gloat, I’ll get a new metaphor). Certainly the disappointment is understandable, and even as a neutral I find Arsenal incredibly frustrating to watch – the clear ability and potential is there but so often unrealised – but I do believe that those calling for Wenger’s head would do well to consider the alternatives.
If, and it’s a considerable if, they could get Pep Guardiola to swap Camp Nou for Camp New-and-shiny-and-cripplingly-expensive then he may be the right man to continue the ethos of Wenger’s preferred playing style, but add the crucial ingredient of a bit of silverware. Yet anyone else may well leave the frustrated Gunners fans pining for the good football and relative success they have enjoyed since 1997. Wenger has been close on many occasions over the past 7 years, a Carling Cup final of course, but also the Eduardo season when they were favourites for the title before that snap. He has moreover left an indelible mark on the club and created a legacy that should, in my opinion, leave his account still just about in credit despite this further setback.
In stark contrast to the Wenger dynasty, Chelsea have been collecting managers like horrendously expensive Pokemon of late. The latest incumbent, Andre Villas Boas, is by far the youngest manager to take charge of the Blues and after only 7 months in charge is facing up to some fairly difficult questions. A 5 game winless run is not good and the pursuit for fourth is by no means guaranteed, but at least Chelsea are still fighting on two fronts. If they do find a way past Napoli in the return leg at Stamford Bridge, I would back them to progress past most of the teams in the draw. Real Madrid and Barcelona will defeat everyone except each other, but any of the remaining teams would not fancy drawing the Blues.
As with Wenger, I’d urge the decision makers at Chelsea (Roman, I know you’re reading this) to stick with their manager. Villas-Boas has inherited a tough situation with the well-established old guard at Chelsea an obvious threat to his authority. Within a short space of time he will be able to move them aside bit by bit and build his team around the younger players they have gradually accumulated; the likes of Sturridge, Cahill, Luiz and Romeu. These players should be more adaptable and receptive to his ideas and playing style (JT never has and never will be suited to a high defensive line) and perhaps he can begin to achieve the type of results he managed in that superlative season at Porto.
Clearly though in the wake of these poor results, tough decisions need to be made, for the London clubs to get back to where they belong.
The current situation, with Tottenham the indisputably dominant club in the capital, has not been the way for 20 years. Ironically as the one club that won’t be choosing to sack their manager right now, they may be the most likely to lose him. With ‘Arry eyeing up the England job, Spurs could find their current supremacy undone before it really takes hold…provided of course, the men in charge of Chelsea and Arsenal heed my advice and stick with it. If things get back on track and Spurs continue to operate at this scintillating level, in a year from now, the rest of Europe may well hear London Calling once again…