Grant James* – passionate South African fan of Chelsea (he manfully confesses why later on), www.football-analysis.com”>football analyst and sports coach – has already been honoured by Salut! Sunderland, his comments on our club’s predicament deemed worthy of publication in advance of this, the full “Who are You?” interview. This is what his assessment of SAFC was taken from. Days before a game many fans of both clubs see as must-win, Grant’s answers provide a fascinating read. His thoughts on Chelsea’s own domestic ructions suggest Rafa’s hopes of endearing himself to the Stamford Bridge faithful are remote …
Salut! Sunderland: With Chelsea, it is difficult to know where to start. the Champions League win, the sacking of RDM, the John Terry affair, Mark Clattenburg, Rafa. Just tell me what you make of the triumph and turmoil or recent times.
To be honest, I hated the turmoil because it detracted from the actual football. I try not to talk too much about off-field matters, but even I got dragged in to it.
The CL win was epic, and Di Matteo deserves massive credit. So much of it has been written off as luck, but if Barcelona would ordinarily have 10 clear chances over 2 legs, but had only 6 because of the way Di Matteo set us up, then that is the very definition of good tactics. This season, he realised that more attractive football was necessary. Sadly, he was handicapped by the club removing 2 central midfielders without replacements, and 4 striking options with no replacements. How was Di Matteo supposed to have a Plan B (such as using 2 strikers or using 3 genuine central midfielders) when he had only Torres up front, and Romeu as CM backup?
The JT affair was very unpleasant, but I don’t believe he is an actual racist (for what that’s worth). Racism is treating people differently based on their skin colour, and marginalising them. There is no way Terry could be the captain of the most diverse, multi-racial club in the country if he were racist. I had no issue with Terry being found guilty using the Balance of Probabilities method, but I did have a problem with some of the pathetic evidence that was allowed to be submitted, including hand written interview notes, and hearsay about Terry’s touchline remarks after his Barcelona red (not recorded), as well the FA circumventing their own rules by very dodgy means to prosecute him after he was cleared in court. My gut feeling is that he said those words because he wanted to hurt Anton Ferdinand. We have all said things in the heat of the moment because we want to hurt the person we are in conflict with. What I found ridiculous is the self-righteousness of people like Rio (who has used both racial and homophobic language), and even people in the general public, who I bet have uttered something racist at some point in their lives.
The fact that Chelsea are perceived as some sort of racist club is disgusting. It’s often forgotten we had a black manager 16 years ago and have a black Sporting Director who is also Jewish right now. We are one of the few clubs who have a history of giving elite jobs to black people.
We all hate Rafa, so at least the support is united on that front!
But the dust has to settle. What will Rafa achieve this season? Will he win the fans over? And is there the slightest possibility he will become a long-term apppointment?
He will not ever win the fans over, in my opinion. I can’t see us achieving too much under him either. The fans don’t want him, and the players don’t appear to be responding to his cold, distant personality, and stifling, boring football. The sooner he goes, the better. Why someone with a deserved reputation for dull football was appointed is beyond me. It’s common knowledge that Roman wants to see attractive football, which is exactly what RDM was serving up.
And Monsieur Salut has become very gloomy: read his latest contribution on the ESPN blog http://soccernet.espn.go.com/blog/_/name/sunderland/id/710?cc=5739
The CL win was applauded at Salut! Sunderland (in the face of those ‘anti-football’ jibes), as was the team’s Premier League performances the season before. Did you sense wider neutral admiration or at least respect until this season’s explosive events?
No, not really. Most of our successes are written off as luck or the result of massive investment. Why was Steven Gerrard given an OBE after Istanbul, but Lampard wasn’t given one after Munich? It was nice to see many opposition supporters writing and saying such nice things about Drogba, though.
If not dealt with already, has Abramovich been force for good or not so good at Chelsea?
Good, obviously. He has saved the club from financial ruin, built the best training ground in Europe, written off all our debt to him, and clearly has a lot of passion for the club. Which other owner do you see watching Youth Cup games? He has given the club the highest of highs with his investment.
Yes, we are upset with his decision to sack Robbie and appoint Benitez, but the good outweighs the bad ten-fold.
The Club World Cup: a cause for excitement or just a distraction?
Excitement, even though I would have enjoyed it more to see Di Matteo win it than Benitez, who will claim it as a title (as he did with Inter Milan). We only miss one league game, so it shouldn’t distract us too much.
When you warned me you’d have plenty to say about Sunderland, I did not get the impression you were about to heap praise on us. Go for it – we’re a thick-skinned lot!
Well I can at least speak from some position of knowledge, as I’ve seen most of your games this season.
I can’t help but feel that O’Neill’s team selections are hurting you most. Last season, I was very impressed with you in the games where Sessegnon played alone up front, with a more fluid midfield breaking forward in support. This season, too many players are out of position. Larsson playing central midfield simply doesn’t work, and the same applied to Gardner – a genuine goalscoring midfielder – playing at right back. He may get plenty of stick, but Bramble is better than any of your other CB’s and Cuellar is far better as a defensive right back. I’m also amazed that Johnson has kept his place despite being truly abject, and also by how little Vaughan plays. Considering you’ve won only one game against 11 men since March, it’s high time some other players get a chance in the side. The McFadden signing made no sense if he’s never going to feature. When fit, Saha can and will score goals. I also don’t understand why Larsson hardly ever takes set-pieces anymore. He was an assist machine when he was used wide and on all freekicks.
Yes. I live in Cape Town, and have sadly never seen the side live. I started supporting Chelsea in 1997 just as football started to get some television coverage here. As a 10 year old, I simply liked the kit, and Di Matteo’s cup final goal sealed the deal. Initially I would listen to an illegal stream of Big Blue Radio to follow the side. In fact, because there was so little coverage, even my friends who support other clubs would gather around a 56k modem and a PC and listen to the Chelsea coverage. Later on, as coverage increased, so did my obsession.
What are your highs and lows of supporting the club?
To be honest, there’ve been extremely few lows. Losing the Champions League final in Moscow was awful. The 2002 FA Cup final defeat was dreadful too. However, Robbie’s recent sacking in the saddest I’ve felt as a Chelsea supporter, though September 20, 2007 comes close – the day Mourinho left the club. The night that Ovrebo robbed us in the Champions League is up there too.
The highs are numerous and never ending really. Munich, of course. But that first league title was the biggest high.
Who are the greatest players you’ve seen in Chelsea colours – or wish you’d seen from earlier times – and who should have been allowed nowhere near them?
Eidur Gudjohnsen, Dan Petresu, Roberto Di Matteo, John Terry and Didier Drogba are some of my favourites. Lampard is the best player in our history though, ever-so-slightly ahead of Drogba. I would have loved to have seen more of Gullit and seen Osgood on more than grainy, black-and-white recordings. I would love to have seen Crespo play in this current side too. He was magnificent.
As for the bad, Enrique De Lucas is the worst I’ve seen, as well as Neil Sullivan and Slavisa Jokanovic. Right now, Fernando Torres should be nowhere near a side with our ambitions, and Ross Turnbull being a Chelsea player is a farce.
Is the Terry/Lampard era pretty much over, what is their legacy and where does the present squad most need strengthening?
Not yet, certainly not in Terry’s case. He is 31 for a few weeks yet, and I can see him being a key player for another 2 seasons and a squad player for 2 more after that. He is still our best defender. Lampard is still a very useful player, and I would definitely keep him at the club for the rest of his career. Sadly, it appears he will depart next summer. Without them, we are completely devoid of leadership, especially with Drogba gone now too.
We desperately need two strikers. Torres has been awful for us for 2 years now, and a good year before he joined us. That is not bad form, he is simply a bad player now. We also lack a deep lying playmaker, and have done for a few seasons. With Meireles and Essien departing on deadline day, we are very short of numbers in central midfield.
I shudder to think how good we could be with a proper striker, a quality passer alongside Mikel, as well as Terry back fit.
Would any current Sunderland player stand a chance of getting a game?
Steven Fletcher would start for us. Fernando Torres is finished, and I cannot wait to see some of our creative players playing behind even a competent centre forward.
What will be this season’s top four in order, who will win the major trophies (including that Club World Cup)?
I expect the Premier League top 4 to be Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea, Tottenham. Although I’ve predicted Arsenal to fall out of the top 4 for 3 seasons now and they always seem to make it.
I expect us to win the Club World Cup, Real Madrid for the Champions League. Considering how few of the top teams are left in the Capital One Cup, I think we might win that one. And if we end up in the Europa League, I hope we will make a decent attempt to win it. Any one who witnessed Zola’s winner against Stuttgart in Stockholm in ’98 in the Cup Winners’ Cup will tell you that that goal meant the world.
Who’s going down and, if not already mentioned, where will our clubs finish?
I expect Sunderland to finish around 14th if I’m honest. Southampton and Reading look likely to go down for me. I refuse to rule out a massive turnaround for QPR, so I think they might somehow stay up on the final day, with Wigan going down.
Chelsea, it seems to me, have been both victims and perpetrators of the practices – diving, feigning injury etc – that pollute football. Which form of cheating most annoys you and is it something we simply have to accept as part of the modern game?
Yes, we do. You see Gareth Bale regularly vaulting challenges, and who can blame him with the injuries he’s had over the years. Personally, none of it annoys me all that much. Any suggestion that diving (a yellow card offence) should somehow be a 3 game ban or something, it frankly ludicrous. I’m more interested in seeing violent play stamped out of the game. Over the years, Drogba has often gone down under even the slightest bit of contact and has certainly exaggerated contact, but he almost never dived under zero contact whatsoever, and he also never won any penalties for his exaggerated falls. The same can’t be said for Ashley Young, Welbeck etc.
Club versus country. Which comes first for you and why?
Club. Whilst I adored having the World Cup in South Africa, and always support Bafana Bafana, Chelsea are far more important. It’s always there. South Africa play only a few times a year, and almost never in Cape Town.
How will you follow our game and what will be the score?
We get all 380 Premier League games in South Africa. A typical weekend will have 6-7 live games, with 3 delayed. So I will be watching it on TV at home. Both teams appear ‘due’ a win, but I expect we will beat Nordsjaelland on Wednesday – we’ll know soon enough – ed – and gain some confidence. So I will go with a 1-0 Chelsea win.
* Grant on Grant: I’m 26. I was born (and live) in Cape Town, South Africa. I have a 2-year diploma in Sports Coaching, and currently work as a Football Analyst for Amisco Africa (which is now the same company as ProZone). I also have a football website which I’m slowly getting off the ground: www.football-analysis.com
Interview: Colin Randall