The Peter Corrigan Column: Only a mutiny can spoil the bounty for Chelsea

It is bound to have dawned on Henry and Van Nistelrooy that there's only one show in town and they aren't in it
Click to follow
The Independent Online

It has the echo of a doomsday scenario about it, but the prospect of the Premiership keeping us warmly engrossed through a long winter was chillingly dismantled by Chelsea's display of supremacy at Anfield.

If we hadn't had England's preparations for yesterday's World Cup qualifier to keep us amused and distracted all week the gloom would have closed in quicker. Having England to marvel at meant that the Premier League was inactive this weekend and Chelsea were deprived of another humiliated victim. They've proved, somewhat emphatically, that boring is not a description they deserve, but if we are to be subjected to a lengthening stretch of their invincibility the word monotonous would not be inappropriate.

It is not a thought to lighten the dark months, but the pattern of the domestic season is likely to consist of only one important game per weekend - ie, Chelsea versus Whoever - and not much else to tempt football's unattached observers. The match will acquire more interest if it is the turn of Arsenal, Manchester United or the hotshot team of the time to batter their brains out against the Chelsea battlements, but even that will pall eventually.

Against all the indications, I remain convinced that someone, somewhere will mount an ambush. Chelsea's inspiring midfielder Frank Lampard allowed for this in his comments after the Liverpool game. "We don't claim to be invincible," he said. "We know that if we drop our standards for one game we can be beaten." The fact that they are already registering the danger makes them less prey to it.

Maintaining a high level of concentration through the long haul of our ridiculous season can be tedious work, especially against humdrum opposition, but apathy doesn't seem to stand much chance of infiltrating the Chelsea ranks. I can't recall a title-winning team who didn't suffer some sort of hiccup during the season but I can't recall, either, any club who were better equipped to survive without a wobble. By gathering such a large, gifted and highly paid squad, Jose Mourinho has already created a way to keep the focus levels of his team topped up over the next eight months. Competition for places is so intense that any member of the player pool will be grateful to be in the team, and intent on staying there, whoever they play.

Inevitably, one or two of Mourinho's squad will rebel against too long a period on the wrong side of the touchline, but the crowded season contains enough games for him to avoid a serious mutiny.

One aspect of the early stranglehold Chelsea have put on the Premiership is that their rivals are hamstrung by the transfer restrictions Fifa introduced two years ago, for a reason I've never quite understood, that confine the movement of players during the season to a window in the month of January. This legislates against those whose squads are weakened by injury, loss of form or because they couldn't afford to store up excess players for the winter as Chelsea did.

The old "open all hours" transfer market at least gave clubs the opportunity to react to their problems, and there is no doubt we would have seen a burst of feverish activity among Chelsea's rivals to replenish squads that suddenly don't look capable of a serious chase.

The other consequence of this static situation, and why the rule needs revision, is that, far from being able to strengthen their squads, Arsenal and United are fighting to hang on to their stars. This will provide intriguing sideshows for connoisseurs of the fragility of footballing loyalty. Thierry Henry has been having contract talks with Arsenal but last week decided to postpone negotiations until next summer, when he will have only one year remaining on his present contract. This has alerted Barcelona and Chelsea, who offered £50 million for the French wizard two years ago, and Arsenal face the prospect not only of a disappointing season but of losing their ace goalscorer just as they are preparing to move into their new stadium.

Manchester United's revitalised goalscorer Ruud van Nistelrooy is another from whose direction emanate noises of difficult contract discussions to come. It is difficult to ignore the suspicion that Henry and Van Nistelrooy are already cocking an envious ear to the sounds of triumph emanating from Stamford Bridge. It is bound to have dawned on them that there's only one show in town and they are not in it.

Happily, a week on Tuesday, the Champions' League returns to help sustain the interest and offer the top clubs a path to glory not yet blocked. But if that door closes, the rest of the season offers a bleak vista. They might even have to take a sudden interest in the Carling Cup.

The impartial onlookers will have to do what we did last year when the title race petered out - concentrate on the battle to beat the drop. It was a gripping cliffhanger that lasted until the final kick, and shows signs of being just as close this season. Perhaps football can be fully enjoyed only if you are attached, body and soul, to a particular team. If you don't have one, I suggest you wait until the bookmakers offer prices on who is going to finish second and buy some excitement for yourself. It is the only way you are going to get it.

Where there's Wie, there's a way

Michelle Wie's entry into the ranks of professional golfers six days before her 16th birthday, and her declared intention of competing with the men whenever she gets the chance, has split the game.

Some wanted her to wait until she finished her education, as Tiger Woods did before he tapped in to the millions available to golfing prodigies. Others are dead set against her eagerness to compete with the men. Even top administrators feel that the sexes should stay apart at that level. The women, particularly, feel that the gender gap should be maintained.

That wouldn't be the view of those involved in junior golf at club level. They are desperate to attract young girls into the game, and give them incentives to encourage them to play with the boys in club teams. Some local leagues offer girl players the incentive of playing off the ladies' tees, often 50 yards or so in front of where the boys tee off, and also add two courtesy shots to their handicap.

This makes good girl players valuable additions to junior teams, so Wie's progress is going to be worth a lot as a recruiting force. Already we are hearing of young girls showing outstanding ability and being fully capable of taking on adults. A nine-year-old girl last week became the youngest female ever to achieve a hole in one.

Apart from the millions that have already winged their way into Wie's bank account, she is predicted to become the most recognised female athlete on the planet for the next 12 to 18 months, and she can expect to earn fortunes just for appearing at a tournament.

The traditionalists may not like it, but if women are allowed to develop their game alongside the men there is no limit to what they can achieve in the sport. I once predicted that a woman will one day win The Open. I thought it might take 100 years, but the arrival of Wie, and the legions of young ladies she can inspire, suggest my timescale was way out.

Comments