Chelsea 2 PSG 0 comment: Ability, desire and luck - how Jose Mourinho reached the Champions League semi-finals
The oft-quoted claim that London is France's sixth-biggest city, with more than a quarter-million cross-Channel migrants, is somewhat disputed, but it certainly sounded like it tonight. There was a distinctly Gallic accent in SW6 as le quartier sud-est, where the away fans are placed at Stamford Bridge, rang with optimistic chants.
For half-an-hour the travelling (and resident) support had reason to be cheerful as Paris St-Germain controlled the tie with an ease that must have worried Jose Mourinho, especially with Eden Hazard, Chelsea's lock-picker, off injured. Then Hazard's replacement Andre Schurrle, scored, Chelsea began to believe, and we had the contest that had been anticipated.
And so we should have had. A two-nil home win, for a club so formidable at home as Chelsea, and as experienced in Europe, was by no means an impossible job especially with Zlatan Ibrahimovic injured. Ahead of this tie Mourinho addressed the Swede's absence and, in that way of his, managed to turn the debate into one which depicted his club as the disadvantaged one.
Having reeled off a list of Chelsea players who were injured, ineligible or suspended he said ‘We are not crying’. He added: ‘The fact that a multi-millionaire club that buys players and players doesn’t play one important player in Ibrahimovic I don’t think is a problem.”
Leaving aside the significant fact that it is the 40-goal striker who elevates PSG from a good side to an excellent one this is a bit rich coming from a man who spent nearly £250m of Roman Abramovich’s money on players in just over three seasons in his first stint at Stamford Bridge.
Even then Mourinho failed to win the Champions League with Chelsea, though the spine of his team were still in situ when they finally did so under Robbie Di Matteo.
While that indicates money does not guarantee success, the fact Chelsea were last night chasing a sixth Champions League semi-final in ten seasons under Abramovich proves it certainly increases the chances. The problem for the Russian and his manager now is that other clubs, both nouveau riche and ancien regime, either have more money, or are more prepared to spend it. PSG are one of the former having spent £225m (net) of Qatari cash in the last two seasons to jump from Ligue 1 challengers to Champions League contenders.
Demba Ba scoops the ball into the roof of the net (Getty) PSG and Chelsea actually spent similar amounts this season, but while the French club only recouped a fifth of their £120m outlay Mourinho had to balance his books more closely selling players such as Juan Mata to reduce his £115m investment to a loss of ‘only’ £50m. The French club will also have a far higher wage bill, even before Francois Hollande imposed a 75 per cent wealth tax, as elite players will have needed incentive to play in Lique 1. Chelsea will not be the only club waiting with keen interest for Uefa's Financial Fair Play inspectors' examination of PSG's accounts.
Whether the money comes from a Russian oligarch or an Arab potentate it is often spent on the same product: a Brazilian footballer. Brazilians are regularly the best-represented nationality in the later stages of the Champions League and even with Ramires suspended there were eight on the pitch compared with a trio of Anglos and a brace of Frenchmen.
For a long it was a trio of this octet that were the dominant players: Thiago Motta (an Italian international, but Brazillian born-and-bred), Alex and Thiago Silva. Motta, in particular, seemed to have so much tie to play, no mean feat in a match with as high a tempo as this. The footballers who grace this stage are now so fit, and so quick in thought and deed, a player requires exceptional close control to be able to compete.
But at this rarified level technique is nothing without desire. As this match fizzed towards the closing stages, and Mourinho threw on forward after forward, the tie came down to heart as much as art.
Small details matter and maybe Mourinho was right when he said of Demba Ba, “The fact I played him [as substitute] before Nando [Torres] made him feel that he doesn't have the No3 striker on his back. His enthusiasm was fantastic.”
Without that boost would Ba, when the ball broke off the legs of Alex, have forced himself ahead of Maxwell to scramble the ball into the roof of the net? No one will ever know, it is another chapter for the Mourinho legend nevertheless.
But it was close, so close. How close was underlined by events in Dortmund where Jurgen Klopp's team could not quite make it a night of comebacks. They hit the post, they were denied by outstanding goalkeeping, but they did not get a fortuitous deflection of the type that provided Ba his chance. Ability, desire... and luck: Football's Holy Trinity.
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