Orlando Figes: Ranieri reign a mere dress rehearsal for our revolution
Thursday 06 May 2004
Same old Chelsea! There have been some heartbreaks - more than I care to remember in 37 years of following the ups and downs of Chelsea Football Club - but this one is the one I will tell my grandchildren. History, in a way, was made last night.
When Frank Lampard scored our second goal, I really thought it would be our night. This might be our year to storm Europe, and join the Premier League of world-class clubs. We've spent so many years as London's second team.
At that point we were playing wonderfully - battling like a team, winning every second ball, creating lots of chances. And even if we did not take them all, time and luck were surely on our side. We knew that Monaco were dangerous on the break, but when they broke they did not score. There were two let-offs, they hit the post, and then, when Fernando Morientes missed an easy chance I thought this was our lucky night. But then our fortune changed, anticipation turned to disbelief. To be rational, their goal was hardly a surprise (and Jesper Gronkjaer and Mario Melchiot were sloppy in defence).
But to be a Chelsea fan, I have to say that I felt cheated by the referee. It was a clear handball - or clear enough to disallow in a crucial game like this. I am a temperate man, and as I say, I've had to bear the knocks over many years of following Chelsea, but watching the replays, I joined my fellow fans in the upper East Stand and booed the referee as he walked off at half-time.
The tie was changed by that goal. If we had gone in 2-0 up at half-time we would have come out for the second half with a much easier task; to shut up shop and play the sort of 0-0 game we have seen all too many of at Stamford Bridge in recent months. Claudio Ranieri is superb as a tactician when asked to be conservative but as it was we had to chase the game. Or did we?
I thought Ranieri got the tactics wrong. At 2-1 up the crucial thing was not to let in a second goal, which would force us to score five. We should have been more cautious, kept things tight and waited for our chance to score that crucial third. Even if the game had gone to extra-time, I felt that it was winnable. But instead we piled forward in the second half leaving ourselves open at the back and their second goal killed the game. Monaco began to play as a team, as we fell apart, playing as individuals (not that well) and even losing our discipline at times. We were full of passion but tactically the game had been thrown away.
So how do I feel now? Like a Chelsea fan. I'm used to disappointment and in all honesty, I cannot really say that I believed the Russian revolution would conquer Europe in its first year. This is just the start. There was at the end an atmosphere of pride with lots of singing from the Chelsea fans. Was this stoicism or optimism?
I think next year will be our year. It is, after all, our centenary. And perhaps this season has just been a dress rehearsal for our revolution. We have some great players, not all of them were available last night. We also have a team. I was proud of them last night but also frustrated. How can it be that we play so well yet let in crucial goals at crucial times. Same old Chelsea.
The one thing we don't have is a world-class manager. Ranieri is a decent man, loveable indeed. But his tactics have frustrated Chelsea fans ever since he came (I still cannot work out why he withdraws strikers when we're two goals down). It's time for him to go. If this is our Russian revolution, then this has been the year of our Provisional Government. Ranieri is our Kerensky. But who will be our Lenin?
Orlando Figes is the author of 'Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia' (Faber)
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