My attention is drawn to an excellent article by Richard Williams, a Guardian scribe of note, who questions the validity of Chelsea's brave march to the Champions League final. Indeed, a number of European leads lament the fact that a brand of 'anti-football' carried the day over the beautiful game of Barcelona. This does scant justice to Chelsea's fortitude and mental strength in both legs, not to mention their unflagging work-rate with 10 men in the Nou Camp. Yes, Chelsea scored from their one sight of goal at the Bridge, and their only two chances on goal Tuesday night, while Barca were profligate, epitomised by Messi's miss from the spot.
Williams asks, did Chelsea's approach kill football or embellsih it? The question would have been of more relevance put to di Matteo at the final whistle. Football is a results business. The giant scorebaord in the Nou Camp, a silent oracle, confirmed Chelsea had indeed won. Roberto and his players hugged, cried, exhaled, sank to the turf, but the spoils of victory were theirs. Achieved by playing 4-6-0 football for 50 odd minutes and shutting out Pep's supermen. In the aftermath it seemed every connoisseur of the game wept along with all Catalonia.
I'm old enough to remember the early years of the European Cup, Real Madrid's five year run of invincibility culminating with their 7-3 triumph at Hampden (att.135,000) in 1960 over Eintracht Frankfurt. Probably the greatest game of football ever. That was indeed football from another planet (Real beat Barcelona 6-2 on aggregate in the semis, Frankfurt ended Rangers dreams of the final, 12-4!) But by the mid-sixties, as my passion for the game grew, the cavalier style was already the stuff of football annuals. I remember Italian sides holding centre stage, as the word 'catenaccio' entered football's lexicon. Claudio Gentile anyone?
It was safety first football Italian style, the word means 'bolting the door.' It was cautious, boring, built on a strong back line, and all but killed the game as a spectacle. Italian coaches remained wedded to the tactic for 30 years, sadly, because it got results. Along with the time-wasting, playacting, cheating and occasional bribing of officials, the Italian approach, particularly to away legs, cast a pall over my European nights in front of the TV growing up. I've never entirely forgiven them for it.
So let's not be quick to condemn Chelsea, and to a lesser extent, Bayern for their pragmatic approach to both ties this week. They are the ones laughing all the way to May's showpiece final, while Ronaldo, Messi and co will have to watch it on the box along with the rest of us. 'Like a pianist using only one half of the keyboard,' felt Williams. But it's Chelsea who called the tune.
I can find it in my heart to congratulate our neighbours and wish them well, but here's my question for Fulham fans. Are we capable of winning 'ugly?' Can you even find a performance down the seasons that fits the bill? Never mind pulling out a result with 10 men (when did we last do that in the league in fact?), oft times watching the Whites away I've felt we were playing 4-6-0 even with eleven men! To answer my own question, the away performance at Shakhtar comes close to fitting the bill. It seems to me most managers down the years have come out and praised a side for a lop-sided performance where the boys have shown how to 'win ugly.' Does anyone recall these words passing the lips of a Fulham manager in the past decade? There's been a fair bit of the ugly for sure, anytime Michael Brown was on the pitch for a start. The only period where my enthusiasm for Fulham games tailed off for a spell (reviewing some of the horror tackles recently posted brought it all back).
Well, how about it boys. This Saturday we have a match up with Everton. The table suggests we're two evenly matched sides. More or less as we have been ever since we came up. Jelavic has been a coup, but we've got the Pog. I thought Fellaini would blow up this season but he's done well. Somehow they've compensated for the loss of Arteta. Moyes has them organised no question. For ten years we've gone up to Goodison, tried to play the Fulham way, and got NOWT to show for it. We've never scored more than once, and as we all know, never taken a point.
Hear my prayer. Just for once, can we please go up there and WIN UGLY?
Your thoughts welcome. Tell me this is the year we finally do it...Twitter@fulhamphil
More than at any time this season, COYW!!!