The Nick Townsend Column: Osgood was good, very good - in the days Chelsea fans could forgive defeat

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The Independent Online

If they put their mind to it, those of a certain age and affiliation can still hear that familiar refrain rolling off the Shed, adapted from The First Noël: "Born is the k-i-ing of Stamford Bridge". The subject would respond by flourishing a wave; his old-fashioned features, bordered by those absurdly abundant sideburns synonymous with the period, breaking into an impudent grin.

Peter Osgood. A name created for headlines, and only one vowel away from being a statement of fact. Now the king is dead. And long live his memory. Because the line of succession ended with him. Both Osgood and George Best gone, within weeks of each other, and well before their time.

Who generates such a veneration now, not just at Chelsea, but anywhere? Not Frank Lampard, John Terry or even one of the most innately gifted players in English football, Joe Cole, who has had to sublimate his instincts to meet the requirements of the modern game and the team ethic. Thierry Henry maybe, in his own way? Wayne Rooney? Cristiano Ronaldo?

Today, the mantra is "high tempo" - several players broached its importance to England on Wednesday night after the defeat of Uruguay - "pace", "discipline", "winning is all". The individual has succumbed to The Machine. It can be soulless. Everyone a well-oiled, compliant component; even those, like Rooney, who are permitted some licence for adventure.

The rebels, the mavericks such as Osgood, Tony Currie, Frank Worthington, Stan Bowles, Rodney Marsh, would not be tolerated in today's ethos. It is a culture that demands herculean fitness levels, and it is certainly true that today's players are technically far more proficient, though how many passes did we witness on Wednesday night at Anfield, even from England's élite, dispatched without purpose? Too many. It's football, Jim. But is it entertainment?

Osgood's name was a byword for the latter. It has to be understood that Chelsea followers then could forgive defeat as long as they could reflect on their team occupying the moral high ground in the capacity to enthral, and Osgood epitomised that attitude. Honours were almost a bonus, something which occurred to that Chelsea team despite themselves.

The Chelsea striker told of how, on the eve of the 1971 Euro-pean Cup-Winners' Cup final replay in Athens against Real Madrid, he, Tommy Baldwin and Charlie Cooke demolished "a conveyor belt of cocktails". Alan Hudson arrived, and was horrified by the state of the trio. "Don't you worry about that, young Huddy," Osgood assured him through glazed eyes. "I will win the game for us tomorrow." And, of course, he did, scoring the decisive goal.

They worshipped him in The Shed, and beyond, not just because he was strong, beautifully balanced for a man of 6ft 3in, possessed supreme guile and an executioner's eye for goal, but because he was the ultimate showman. The faithful admired him for his confidence that readily seeped over into outright arrogance. Modesty was not in his psyche. In the days when players were content to dress up at a press photographer's bidding, he was persuaded to don a wizard's cloak (the Wizard of Os, geddit?), and was depicted casting a spell over a football. He loved to rile and mock the opposition, particularly after scoring against what he perceived as the ultra-defensive sides of the time, Arsenal and his nemesis Leeds United.

The antipathy Osgood and his great pal, the striker Ian Hutchinson, felt for Don Revie's men, and particularly Jack Charlton, was an open secret. Osgood conceded that it made their night when they heard that Charlton had walked out of Old Trafford in disgust, refusing to collect his losers' medal, after the 1970 FA Cup final replay.

Osgood had scored an equal-iser with one of his finest goals, a diving header finishing off a move he had instigated. Chelsea's former chairman Brian Mears may be slightly overstating its significance by comparing the goal to the moment Muhammad Ali "looked inside himself and found some extraordinary power" when he fought George Foreman in Kinshasa. But after years for the Mears family without a trophy it was perhaps understandable.

There was no pretence that Osgood and his team would have secured fair-play awards. This team were a combination of ball-players and brutal assassins. After breaking his leg badly early in his career, Osgood became an associate member of the latter club. "I sent out the message to defenders not to go over the top on me. If someone was aggressive, I was aggressive back. Sometimes I'd get my defence in first."

Old bufferdom is surely ominously approaching when you are caught out eulogising over football in the late Sixties and early Seventies. It is to be hoped that those of us who have done will be excused that indulgence. During the reign of Chelsea's original "Special One", Stamford Bridge, in its slightly unprepossessing way, possessed a unique charm. That began to expire from the moment manager Dave Sexton's stewardship concluded in 1974. By then Osgood had moved on to The Dell, where he won another FA Cup winner's medal, although, as Mears puts it: "As a vehicle for Osgood's career, Southampton was a hearse."

Rather callous, but Osgood would have chuckled. Laughter came easily to him, as did his crucial contribution to the Blues brotherhood. The final words of his autobiography, Ossie: King of Stamford Bridge, refer to the death of Hutchinson in 2002. "See you again, bruv," he wrote. He could not have known it would be so soon.

Sheri support an indictment of slim resources

Somewhere within the cattle show of managers parading their prime beasts for England consideration, West Ham's Alan Pardew could be heard offering all four of his strikers, including the 39-year-old Teddy Sheringham. It is not such an outlandish thought. Age has not diminished Teddy's pace because he has never had any. And he would bring the interesting dimension of an authentic football brain to the strikeforce for Germany.

But the fact that Pardew and his counterparts are still campaigning for such players high-lights that England have less "the best group of players for generations" - that commonly held perception - but more a hard core of Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, John Terry and the injury-prone Michael Owen - and any number of fair to middling players who may or may not not flourish on the World Cup stage.

Yet even mentioning Sheringham is an indictment of the dearth in international quality among the young contenders. The former England and Ars-enal captain Tony Adams, for one, is profoundly concerned about England's future, and with good reason. "In the first weekend of the season, there were only 25 Englishmen playing in the Premiership, so you have to ask where they have all gone and where they are learning their trade," he said.

"Either they stay in reserve sides or go down to the Championship, where 70 per cent of all play involves no passes. It's a different game."

That is a harsh observation of the grandly named Championship, but not entirely unjustified. Outside the top few teams there is too much "percentage" football. Adams raises a highly valid point.

For all the enthusiasm mustered ahead of Germany in June, the future trend is clear to observe. It is not one that bodes well for England's future.

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