Thursday, November 1, 2012

Juan Mata leads (another) Chelsea revolution

It's hard to be mad at anything that scampers. Likewise disdainful, jealous or irritated. As a word, scamper is used generally when something flits about in a light-footed manner, implying that the observer receives some kind of pleasing entertainment just from the sight.

No-one scampers with malice – it can't be done. Any attempts veer quickly towards scurrying, or it's less desirable cousin, scuttling. A list of things that scamper almost invariably begins with Lionel Messi, kids or puppies; while any of this trio may not be your cup of tea, active disliking toddlers, Messi or puppies is almost always taking things too seriously.

Scampering almost perfectly describes the New Chelsea. After years of solid – but hardly light-footed – play won them a few titles but few friends outside their considerable fan base, the past twelve months has earned them new admirers. Abramovich's ultimate dream has finally become manifest: a team of artful dodgers able not just to compete, but win the Champions League.

This cheekiness isn't just paying off on the pitch: after nearly a decade of being England's pre-eminent “guys you love to hate”, Chelsea Football Club are suddenly somewhat likeable.

There are several reasons for a general mellowing of feeling towards the Blues, even despite their remarkable talent for attracting (and washing off) negative press. Part of this can be put down simply to success; another possibility is the final and extended dissolution of an inner sanctum far more unsavoury together than in its individual parts. But chief among these reasons has been the youthful personification of West London forward play: Marko Marin, Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar.

The latter three may be the most talented players in the Premier League, an on-pitch aria of insightful, constant scampering – with the ball or without, ability (and desire) to pass the ball and technical skill. Over the past decade, professional sport has verged towards an atmosphere of black-and-white tribalism; the intrinsic wit and dextrous nature to the football of Mata, Hazard and Oscar has brought Chelsea and some former critics closer in mutual appreciation.

While there are still some elements at Chelsea the casual observer must tolerate rather than enjoy, Roman Abramovich's mob has moved a long way from the days as the archetypal black hat villains.


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