Adam Bate looks back on a season in which the club's focus on the short-term was fully justified.
By Adam Bate - Follow me @GhostGoal
Last Updated: 20/05/12 3:06pm
Chelsea's UEFA Champions League triumph was an astonishing end to a remarkable season at Stamford Bridge. There have been so many twists and turns it's easy to forget that Andre Villas-Boas was appointed Blues boss less than a year ago, charged with revamping the club following a barren season under Carlo Ancelotti. That the campaign should finish with 34-year-old Didier Drogba scoring the winning penalty before Frank Lampard and John Terry lifted Europe's most prestigious trophy is surely an eye-opening reminder for everybody of the dangers of valuing the future over the present.
Events at Chelsea have defied belief and made a mockery of predictions. In the apparent power struggle between the club's senior players and the rookie manager, it was far from inevitable that the ageing stars would survive. As recently as February, the Telegraph quoted a source claiming Roman Abramovich would launch a summer clear-out. "The old boys are on their way out," announced the source. Others had written off the veteran heroes as early as December. "Didier Drogba is determined to quit Chelsea next month," revealed The Sun. "And Frank Lampard could follow him."
But what might be forgotten in the aftermath of a magical night in Munich is that even some Chelsea fans were prepared to back their young boss in the belief that change was essential. The style of play was not conducive to success in Europe, it was argued. The radio phone-ins indicated a cautious willingness to embrace the rebuilding period that was deemed necessary in order to drive the team forward.
As a result, the immediate reaction to Villas-Boas' sacking in early March was one of anger and confusion. Abramovich had abandoned the project and surely consigned Chelsea to a limp demise through a desperate attempt to cling to his fading stars. Gary Neville told Sky Sports: "Long term - forget short term for Chelsea - but in the long term where they are going to go? Are they going to allow players every single time to get rid of the manager because that's now three managers that these players have seen off. And there is no doubt that there is going to have to be a transition at that football club."
Of course, the problem with transition periods is that, in football, you can never forget the short term - there is always the next trophy to compete for. The danger of looking to the future is that opportunities are missed today. And Chelsea were not only being asked to write off this season's Champions League but also next year's competition in the hope of building a new team to qualify for the 2013-14 tournament.
It has proven tough on youngsters such as Romelu Lukaku, brought in on the understanding that he would be 'the new Drogba'. "I need to play more games," the teenager told Belgian newspaper De Standaard earlier this month. "It has not been as I imagined at Chelsea. Both Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Di Matteo have stuck with experienced players."
Indeed, Di Matteo has restored the trusted stalwarts seemingly bound for the knackers' yard. If the strategy had proven unsuccessful, he would have endured jibes about taking the easy option and favouring the strong dressing room characters he had counted among his team-mates a decade ago. As Lampard joked with Sky Sports reporter Geoff Shreeves on the eve of the final: "The best thing about him is he picks me. Unlike the other guy."
But history is written by the winners and this was an emphatic reminder that you should never get ahead of yourself in football. Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck argued last month that the club's policy of always having "the right manager" at any given time was justified by their trophy cabinet. He could easily have extended that theory to the club's playing staff. After all, in Munich, Chelsea had the right man to lead them out in Lampard; the right man to put the ball in the net in Drogba; and the right man in Di Matteo to keep things ticking over in the dugout.
And when the dust settles on this memorable achievement, amid talk of new contracts for Drogba & co, one suspects the Chelsea supporters would put up with a decade of transition in the knowledge that nothing can take away the joy of becoming London's first Champions League winners.