While the values distilled by this competition have become perilously adulterated, perhaps it now discloses more purely than ever the depth – or otherwise – of a player's commitment.
And perhaps the modern game is nowhere near as meretricious as is glibly supposed. Kaka showed Manchester City that a player's essential sense of worth – whether to himself, his club, or its fans – can rarely be reduced entirely to shillings and pence. It is said that the same club has since intimated to Didier Drogba that he is worth far more than Chelsea seem to think nowadays, and he may well find sympathy with that view. But then not even Drogba seems immune to the emotional symmetries that might, for instance, some day return him to Marseilles – or, in the meantime, to Jose Mourinho, wherever he happens to be this summer.
Ostracised for consecutive games by the latest steward of Mourinho's legacy, Drogba was summoned off the bench by Luiz Felipe Scolari as Ipswich, deservedly level at the break, continued to make a nuisance of themselves. But it was two of Mourinho's midfield champions, Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard, who instead clarified the difference in class.
Each scored a sumptuous free-kick that served to remind those who agonise naïvely about the putative construction of hospitals, when measuring the deal declined by Kaka, that even the most deranged spending has its own coherence. These are two of the highest earners in the global game, and both have shown why in ensuring that Chelsea's current exigencies do not get out of hand.
Lampard, against Stoke, and Ballack, here, have done more than anyone to staunch the grievous wounds inflicted by Manchester United. More radical remedies may yet be required, but Chelsea seem adamant that no business will be done during the transfer window. In the meantime, Lampard and Ballack have imposed themselves in a manner that permits no suspicion that either man owes his self-esteem to the satisfaction of avarice.
You might, admittedly, take a different view of Lampard's contract negotiations last summer. In the context of the marketplace, however, his vintage form since represents authentic value. After groping his way back from injury, moreover, Ballack also seems to be retrieving his leonine best. Ray Wilkins, Scolari's assistant, emphasised that both free-kicks had merely decorated their authors' overall fitness, dedication and work-rate. In this respect, indeed, Ballack was "untouchable".
The German's own contract runs out this summer. "I am happy to finish my career here, that's what I want," Ballack said. "I will see how we come together, but I am relaxed. There is a one-year option at the end of the season. I don't want to say too much. But I think we come together. I am 32 now, and everybody can look. We have spoken, and there is no pressure from me or the club. We will speak in the next weeks again, and then I think we will come to a good result."
Ultimately then, the expensive thoroughbreds cantered past the Suffolk punches, though the visitors, after a diffident start, proved neither clumsy nor docile. While their 1978 Cup success belongs to a different era, they remain determined never to traduce the game's best traditions. And if Chelsea learned anything from Burnley and Southend, it is surely the kinship between playing in the right spirit, and playing with spirit. Neither aspiration need ever be confined to the underprivileged.
Goals: Ballack (16) 1-0; Bruce (34) 1-1; Ballack (59) 2-1; Lampard (85) 3-1.
Chelsea (4-5-1): Cech; Bosingwa, Carvalho (Ivanovic, 70), Alex, A Cole; Belletti, Ballack (Deco, 79), Lampard, Malouda (Drogba, 58), Kalou; Anelka. Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Ferreira, Mancienne, Stoch.
Ipswich Town (4-4-2): R Wright; D Wright, McAuley, Bruce, Garvan; Miller (Quinn, 81), Counago, Norris, Balkestein; Haynes (Lisbie, 60), Walters (Stead, 71). Substitutes not used: Supple (gk), Bowditch, Shumulikoski, Thatcher.
Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).
Booked: Ipswich Bruce, Garvan, Lisbie.
Man of the match: Ballack.
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