Friday, March 18, 2011

Chelsea to scare United fans again

To go all nerd-alert on you, the Jedi code states that fear breeds hate. In football circles that's not quite right: it's one or more of success, arrogance or tactics which breed disdain. To expand a little, Manchester United is a love-or-hate proposition due to their combination of success and arrogance; Sam Allardyce's propensity for ugly football means he'sproductive but unpopular almost anywhere he goes and Kevin Muscat earned the title of "football's most hated" for mixing healthy doses of all three.

As a United fan, I've never really feared Liverpool. Fernando Torres definitely scared me - I'm sure Nemanja Vidic still can't sleep for the Anfield horrors the Spaniard regularly inflicted on him - and am glad he's gone. I don't despise Liverpool's past successes because during my football-following lifetime, any title or cup wins haven't come at United's expense. Any ill-feeling I bear towards the Scouse nation is due to my perception of their fans arrogance; but as a Red Devil supporter I'm also hardly above blame in this department. Although I admit to the rivalry between Arsenal and United and envy the North Londoners' ability to attract top youth prospects, I don't fear them either - how could you be frightened of a team whose enforcer is probably the mad Teutonic goalkeeper they just re-employed?

However, I fear Chelsea. Since I started the topsy-turvy life of a serious football follower early this century, almost everything about them has irritated me beyond all reason. This ire isn't the result of one factor but of many: billions of readily available roubles; nouveau riche fan attitudes; the existence of Dennis Wise and John Terry; other players whose attitude/talent combination elicits just the right amount of bile like Drogba, Anelka and Torres; and tactically astute managers (probably except Avram Grant). Finally - and most importantly - Chelsea are a team accustomed to beating Man U. Only their three League titles and four FA Cups since the millennium can compare with United's haul. For relatively recent fans of the league, the big rivalry isn't Red vs. Red Devil - it's now Blue vs. Red Devil.

And this is what makes the Champions' League Quarter-Finals so enticing and nerve-wracking. These two teams will play in a replay of the 2008 UCL final, an event made more delicious for victorious Red Devil fans when the deciding penalty was missed by John Terry. To make one of the best days ever even better, he then cried on the pitch. Though '99 was special, this was every United fan's decade-long dream. Since that day, Chelsea have proved stronger in most encounters as if jointly motivated and repelled by the failure in Moscow. Both teams don't sport vintage line-ups this year, but battle will commence again.

And it will be a frighteningly watchable spectacle.

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