So, we face two London sides – in quick succession – that could be said to personify strutting arrogance. Grant James did a great set of replies here last season and didn’t mind a bit bringing his thoughts up to date ahead of the first of those formidable games, home to Chelsea ….
Salut! Sunderland: Arsenal keep winning but the pundits still say it’s between Chelsea and Man City for the title. How do you see things shaping
It’s so hard to say. My preseason prediction was that only City or Chelsea would win the league, but I didn’t rule out other teams from challenging, just said they wouldn’t get over the line. I will admit that I’m wavering a little after Arsenal’s brilliant start, but I just about stand by my prediction. City are clearly the best side in the league, with so much depth and also more consistent match winners than other sides. Whilst we have a very good side, our squad is unbalanced and not suited to the sort of football Mourinho prefers. I guess whichever of the two sides can sort out their away form, will go all the way. We’ll know more after Arsenal face us later this month. In Mourinho’s first season, they started out on fire too. I think their lack of depth in attack or an injury to Mertesacker – brilliant so far – could see them drop some points.
And you’re heavily involved in the major cups, too, the biggest prize of all being the Capital One, of course. I bet you envisage a couple of smash and grab raids on the Stadium of Light in December.
Yes, I do. We have been terrible on the road so far, but looked really good at West Ham and in some away Champions League games. Whilst we lack height in our side, we do have some hardworkers and potent counter attacking players who should help us to improve on the road. The COC is a trophy I’d dearly like to win. It’s all part of the mentality Mourinho believes that you don’t prioritise certain trophies over others, and simply focus on winning the next game. We have quite a few players who need a chance to stake their claim and that led to an exceptionally hard working display at Arsenal in the last round. The likes of Luiz, Essien, De Bruyne, Ba etc. will all be very much up for the cup game. Getting the lineup right for the league game is the challenge. We need to keep rotating to avoid burning out certain players, but there are some we just can’t rest (like Ivanovic who’s crucial for his aerial prowess, or Ramires, who provides much needed athleticism and balance to midfield).
What has Mourinho brought to the club so far, and where is he getting things wrong (if at all)?
He’s brought a positive environment to the fanbase, raised expectations of the fans and most importantly, he “gets” English football and seems to relish that every game will be tough and physical. After all his years in England, I still don’t think Benitez knew what English football was all about.
Another major change is a return to risking defeats and going for the three points by making attacking substitutions. We have turned around quite a few games already by switching to a back three. Draws are what cost you league titles and that’s another thing Benitez never showed he realised. He’s regularly settle for a draw on the road.
I was quite critical of some of his early decisions actually. It’s almost considered sacrilege to criticize him, but I thought after preaching meritocracy in preseason, he didn’t follow that up in his team selections in early Premier League games. Van Ginkel and Lukaku did great in preseason but barely got a kick in the first few games. He also says we’re bringing in a new style of play, but I don’t buy it. We still don’t build up short from the goalkeeper, and aren’t afraid to play a more direct game at times (like in turning around Sunday’s game against Southampton). I’d prefer him to say that he intends to win by any means possible, because that’s the truth.
I also thought that offloading Moses and Lukaku for Willian and Eto’o was a pointless move, but it’s worked out quite well so far . Willian is ridiculously hard working, pressing and tracking as if his life depended on it. That’s not something anyone expected, but he knows that’s how he will play more often and the fierce competition for a place in that area has driven him on. Eto’o is just a wonderful footballer. Yes he’s not as quick, fit or direct as before, but his movement and intelligence is something to behold. Lukaku is doing great at Everton and I don’t blame him for requesting a move. He’ll be just 21 next summer and a better all-round player than if he’d spent most of this season simply being an impact sub. So Mourinho 1-0 Grant on those deals.
On which point, unless already covered, were you embarrassed by his outburst about Mike Riley’s phone call apology to WBA for that point-saving penalty for a foul Ramires simulated and Marriner fell for?
I thought he was 100 per cent right on that issue. If making a mistake against Chelsea means a referee gets a public slap on the wrist from the refereeing boss, but not if he makes mistakes against other sides, it sends a clear message: don’t make mistakes that benefit Chelsea. That’s the gist of what Mourinho said about the phone call and it was a clever move. Let’s see if other managers get phone calls in future.
As for the actual incident – never a penalty. I can’t honestly believe that Mourinho thought it was. But he realised saying otherwise would appear to blame Ramires. I’ve watched that a few times and maybe he did drag his leg. Ramires is not typically a diver, but when you have the strength of a 12-year-old girl, it’s easy to get knocked off balance. I should make it clear I’m talking about Ramires in the past and not on this incident. It does irritate me though that so little was made of a clear off-the-ball kick by Myhill on Ivanovic, Cahill being blocked off by Yacob (a clever routine by Steve Clarke which was a common sight when he was Chelsea assistant), or the foul on Ivanovic in the buildup to the 2nd goal. Balanced reporting would be nice. Mourinho’esque evidence Dossier:
Not everyone, it must be said, finds Chelsea a wholly likeable football club. Can you understand the antipathy or does it just smack of petulant jealousy?
A bit of both. Replies like mine above probably don’t help. When you have so much money, but are willing to speak out over often just perceived injustices, it can irritate fans of other sides.
Becoming as good as we did thanks to Roman’s money is of course another aspect, but few admit we were a pretty good side before – for example in ’99 we finished just four points off the treble winning Utd side, losing only three league games all season. We won the Cup Winners’ Cup and the League Cup in 1998 and won several FA Cups, as well as qualifying for the Champions League in the years BEFORE Roman’s appointment.
Also, and I’ve found this with Utd, is that it’s infuriating when the big sides win after playing poorly. The number of times I’ve seen Utd do it just festered my hatred for them. Not to mention them having so many fans who are uneducated on their own team – I guess opposition fans think we have quite a few of those as well.
The hatred doesn’t overly bother me though, I’m only interested in the on-field events (you will notice I didn’t even mention the off-field events that may make someone hate Chelsea!).
Tell us – I’m sure we’ve forgotten your choices last time – who are the best players you’ve seen, or wish you’d seen in Chelsea colours in years gone by and who should never have been allowed to play for the club?
Last time I mentioned ones like Petrescu, Gudjohnsen and Di Matteo, who are players I adored. However, Drogba is undoubtedly the best (even if Zola was more talented). That man is and was just a special player. There’s so much determination and intelligence in that man, and when he scores so many crucial, match-winning goals, it means he will forever be associated most strongly in my mind with those trophies.
As for crap players, I stand by Neil Sullivan, Enrique De Lucas and Slavisa Jokanovic! I said last time that Torres in finished. Recent weeks have given me hope, so I have to apologise to him and retract that statement for the rest of the season at least!
And you own highs and lows as a supporter?
Well I’ve been spoilt, so anything I say for the lows will sound ridiculous. I hated seeing Di Matteo sacked so unfairly. It made me extremely embarrassed of the club and so sad for Robbie. Losing in Moscow when surrounded by dozens of Utd supporters who know nothing about football was horrible. That night vs. Barcelona in 2009 when those 4 penalties weren’t given was pretty tough to take.
As for highs: Munich and that first title at The Reebok in 2005. Even now, watching those scenes make me quite emotional. It just means more when you love the manager in charge of the big successes, and the way Drogba ended his Chelsea career was truly what he deserved for the 8 years he gave us. I’d have loved to see Di Matteo take over at Sunderland. It just feels wrong that he is unemployed. However, both of those are trumped by that night in the Nou Camp. 2-0 down with 10 men, away from home, to draw 2-2 is impossible to put into words. I can remember getting texts at 2-0, with people taunting me about the 6-0 drubbing we were about to experience. What we did with a makeshift defence (Ramires-Bosingwa-Ivanovic-Cole) that night was truly something special.
The reactionaries among us sometimes mock faraway fans of English clubs playing in towns and cities they could barely locate on a map. What’s your view of that?
It’s not a good default position. Many fans get up in the early hours to watch their sides play, spend hours a week online talking and debating about their team, and many of us know a lot more about our side than even match goers. But I have respect for the commitment it takes to take trains and buses across countries to often see a terrible performance and not even get some polite applause from the players afterwards. It’s funny because I had an argument with a Chelsea fan on Twitter recently that has gone to almost every game for 35 years. She wouldn’t consider my footballing opinion of one of our players purely because of my location, when even regulars at Stamford Bridge shared my sentiments. I guess it also depends on your particular club – we have probably 50 outstanding Twitter accounts, many of whom are not from the UK. Other clubs may have foreign supporters who lack knowledge or balance – we are in that boat too at times with some ludicrous comments after our defeat in Basel last week. I’d just say that it’s a global game, and judge fans for their passion and knowledge, not their location.
And what opinion do you have of Sunderland – in their rightful place at rock bottom or deserving better?
Wow, this is going to turn into a long WAY.
I think you’re on to to better times without Di Clownio. O’Neill calling him a charlatan is probably the most appropriate description I’ve ever heard. From day one, with his focus on double sessions, crazy disciplinary rules and statements suggesting Sunderland and the playing staff were beneath him, it was clear he was a fraud. Seeing as O’Neill was sacked with 31 points from 32 games (I think, not 100 per cent certain), Di Canio didn’t really do anything special to keep you up and had MoN continued with that points-per-game average, you would’ve stayed up anyway.
I must say, when I did this a year ago, I’d watched almost all of your games that season. Even though we get all Sunderland games here, they are mostly shown delayed these days in the early hours so I haven’t seen many of the collection of randoms you signed this summer.
Of course, I know guys like Dossena (dreadful), but less about the likes of Cabral and Celutska. On paper, your team isn’t bad – Johnson, Giaccherini, Fletcher etc are excellent players, and I like Ki Sung-Yueng and Borini a lot. Poyet usually gets his teams to play good passing football, with short buildup from the back, and him bringing Mannone and Bardsley into the side looks a good move. Now just to cut out the flurry of horror tackles (Dossena and Larsson in recent weeks) and win some matches with 11 on the pitch. I don’t see you guys going down.
A few clubs have their own versions, mostly scaled down, of Abramovic; the rest wish they could get their hands on one. What do you make of the money sloshing around at the top of football, and the lack of it elsewhere?
Well I don’t see FFP happening firstly. UEFA will never diminish their prize asset – the Champions League – by excluding the top teams. I personally don’t put too much stock on financial issues. I thought it was brilliant to see a side like Fulham in the Europa League final a few seasons back. That would have been impossible without the debt they had racked up. Yes, they had to scale back for a few years, but that run to the final is a memory their supporters won’t forget. And without the money at Chelsea and City, Utd would have won the last 10 league titles – no one wants that surely?!
What will be this season’s top four in order and who – be blunt – is going down?
City, Chelsea, Arsenal plus one. I won’t sit on the fence so I will take the safe guess and go for Utd.
Relegation is tough. Crystal Palace, Hull and Norwich perhaps.
Are you excited about Brazil 2014 or too concerned about Chelsea’s fortunes to care?
I’m distraught that South Africa won’t be there. It’s too expensive to go to Brazil, so I’m spending the World Cup travelling Europe for the first time. Hopefully there is a good vibe in the major cities, and I can travel to whichever country is playing on that particular day. There are something like 4/5 weeks I think between the season finishing and the first World Cup game, so I will be gagging for football by the time it all starts.
How will you keep tabs on our match and what will be the score?
We get all 380 games here in South Africa, and despite there being nine games that night, it seems there will be five live PL games including this one! So I will be on my couch watching the action unfold. I will go for a 2-1 Chelsea win after falling behind.
Grant James on himself: My support for Chelsea started when I began playing football as a 10-year-old, for the school’s under 11 side. Everyone supported either Utd, Arsenal or Liverpool. Initially I liked Chelsea just because of the blue kit. We didn’t get many games on TV back then, but I can remember Di Matteo smashing in that 42 second goal in the FA Cup final and that cemented Chelsea as my team of choice. Typical glory hunter! My support was insatiable. By the time I hit high school in 2000, I’d go to a friend’s house to listen to Big Blue radio online. We had a special back then to stay connected on a 56k modem for the whole weekend for just 7 rand. Even supporters of other teams would come and sit around the computer and listen to the Chelsea commentary.
As for me, I’m 27 and work full-time as an analyst for ProZone’s Cape Town office. I also coach part-time at Ajax Cape Town, the sister club of Ajax Amsterdam. I previously studies Sports Coaching Science after I finished school. Unfortunately since I’ve started in these two roles, the website I run, and that was mentioned last year, www.football-analysis.com has been completely neglected, but I used to write quite often for the site and for various other football sites. I’m on Twitter @GrantJames_CFC
Interview: Colin Randall
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