Football: Chelsea Lose Their Way

By London_Duncan Last edited 110 months ago
Football: Chelsea Lose Their Way

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Picture of Thierry Henry in New York via themikelee's Flickr stream @ http://www.flickr.com/photos/themikelee/2687872472/

I don't know if the referee was wearing a Barcelona shirt because they kicked me all over the place. If the referee did not want us to win he should have said so from the off. Some of the calls were strange. I believe the referee did not do his job. I would have liked to have seen a proper referee. Maybe next time I'll learn how to dive.

Angry words in the heated moments following a devastating Champions League defeat, but, perhaps surprisingly, they are the words of a Barcelona player. It's just that they were uttered three years ago by Thierry Henry immediately after his Arsenal side lost to his current employers in the final in Paris.

Clearly, he's not going to be quite so forthright on this occasion, but that's humanity for you. We wonder if a Chelsea player can be found right now who would be willing to say "That's just football! These things even themselves out over a season." Perhaps last night finally lays that one to rest. Not all refereeing mistakes are equal. We doubt a fortuitous penalty this coming weekend will be seen as adequate compensation for those not given when a chance to make up for last year's desperate disappointment was up for grabs.

Those events in Moscow led inexorably to last night's scenes which demonstrated at least that pampered millionaire footballers actually do care. We suspect Didier Drogba and Michael Ballack were not screaming at the officials about the loss of a win bonus. John Terry and his team-mates must have been brooding all year on the opportunity to put behind them the nightmarish manner in which they let slip the ultimate European club prize, and with it their own individual handholds in sporting folklore, only for it to squirm from their grasp once again during play that was extended, albeit legitimately, at the referee's discretion.

What Chelsea feel they were denied was justice. What Corinthian values demanded of them was to take the whole thing on the chin and look forward to the next game, but, again, the stakes, both commercial and psychological, were so high that they might test even the mettle of the most level-headed. Neverthleless, some of the more hysterical pleas should fall on deaf ears. The former professionals decrying the appointment of an "amateur" referee from a footballing "backwater" such as Norway for such a high profile fixture would do well to reflect on the exemplary performances given by England's finest international officials such as Graham Poll and Howard Webb in recent times and some Italian referees showed through the Calciopoli scandal that they would be willing to lean towards a desirable storyline if that seemed the only way to get on. Until a way is found to clone Pierluigi Collina human weakness will remain as much a part of refereeing as it is of playing. Certainly football's authorities have demonstrated an aversion so tenacious to delegating officiating away from instant decisions by one person with an occasionally obscured view that perhaps only a concerted and remorseless barrage of supporter opinion might see football finally join other sports in embracing technology's assistance.

Nevertheless, for a referee's errors, malign or entirely from misadventure, to make a difference a contest must remain close. The controversial decision to send Manchester United's Darren Fletcher off at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday was acutely painful for the player, but the Champions League holders had put the tie so far out of sight by then through incisive footballing skill that any injustice was minimised.

What even Chelsea's detractors are generally conceding was harsh treatment in terms of referee's decisions on Wednesday might unfortunately obscure the apparently widening gap between West London's nouveaux riches and Manchester's old money. Frank Lampard and John Terry in particular must sense their clubs hair's breadth failures to achieve their ambitions beginning to echo disturbingly their experiences with their national side that seems corporately never quite to have got past the jarring shock of the climax to Italia 90. How many times does history have to repeat before fear of it assumes insurmountable proportions?

As they try to come to terms with their latest reversal of fortune, Chelsea's furious and inconsolable should start by holding their failure to capitalise on missed opportunities in at least as much contempt as they seem willing to apportion to the man with the whistle. Their time for redemption is running out, but it will be all the sweeter if it can be claimed rather than awarded.

Last Updated 07 May 2009