Friday, August 10, 2012

Some regeneration advice for Chelsea from Doctor Who

Patrick Troughton as Doctor Who
“Life depends on change, renewal”.

These were some of the first words spoken by the second Doctor Who, all the way back in 1966. They were needed because the original actor who played the Doctor, William Hartnell, had left the series and moved on to a retirement home for the terminally crotchety; he was replaced by a younger, fitter, happier – at least initially – actor, Patrick Troughton.

The character of The Doctor, from the eponymous series – starting again in only a matter of weeks – has (mostly) enjoyed a fifty year television existence because when Hartnell's illnesses became too great for the program, they simply subbed in another actor and wrote it into the plot. The Doctor's appearance and mannerisms changed markedly, but his innate character of fairness, equality and just being generally good has remained through eleven actors and half a century. The invention of “regeneration” was so simple and elegant that it allowed a successful program to embrace, and therefore survive, radical change.

This same sort of regeneration is currently in process in West London at Chelsea. Over the summer the Blues cornered the market in tricksy, creative types as they acquired starlets Oscar, Marko Marin and the Hazard brothers, Eden and Thorgan. When combined with last season's best buys, Gary Cahill and Juan Mata, the Blues have replaced their cantankerous old stagers with much more watchable stars.

This is a regeneration with leaguewide implications. The Blues still boasts five of the six most important aspects of the successful last decade – their names are Abramovich, Terry, Lampard, Cole and Cech. Only Drogba has departed. The character of this team doesn't so much depends on this quintet but is actually entirely derived from them: they have the strongest personalities and are the best leaders, the rest of the team will follow or be damned.

Because of this, no matter how important Mata or Hazard become, and despite the obvious cosmetic changes, Chelsea's performance in 2012-13 will revolve around its more venerable elements.

Let's harken back to Who for a moment. Acclimatising to a new Doctor usually took a couple of episodes simply because the characterisation varied so greatly between actors; a new boy was finally accepted as The Doctor (capital T, capital D) after claiming the role with a great performance in a strong story. The same applies at Stamford Bridge. The sheds belong unquestionably to Terry because of his “Mr. Chelsea” aura, his past performances and the memories of success. This has a twofold effect – it promotes team pride but it's hard to argue that it also doesn't lend itself to embracing necessary change. The reinvigoration won't be complete until an alpha dog emerges from this new batch.

For the Blues to walk, rather than reel, into the future, the old salts have to lead by example one last time and embrace regeneration not just of the playing squad, but of the team's leadership group.

Chelsea won't change definitively unless one of Eden Hazard, Fernando Torres, Daniel Sturridge or Mata takes over. While his performances last year justify him the title, Mata's personality may be too mild-mannered to wrest control of the team. With Torres' funk stretching back to the Tennant era, this almost automatically leaves the confident Hazard the best candidate.

The regeneration of body has all but taken. Now the same must occur at the head.

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