Pat Nevin: Fun in the sun
column Tue 23 May 2017
Chelsea legend and columnist Pat Nevin was at Stamford Bridge on Sunday to watch the Blues bring the curtain down on the Premier League campaign in suitable style, and with the FA Cup still to play for, he discusses the players readying themselves for one final push...
Sunday was a fabulous day which no Chelsea fan who was at Stamford Bridge will ever forget. The memories and the pictures on the day will certainly be enough to give a warm glow all the way through the summer. In beautiful sunshine and on a balmy afternoon we were title winners, with an excellent 5-1 victory on the day itself. There were medals to be awarded, a trophy to be lifted, the players stayed on the pitch afterwards with their families surrounding them while the fans serenaded them all, especially the manager. This went on long after the game was finished.
There was even a poignant speech by the long-serving departing captain, thanking everybody for the help they gave him throughout his lengthy and incredibly successful career. On the tube out to the airport after the game I met many Chelsea fans who were very moved by the entire occasion, quite a few admitted to tears on seeing and hearing John Terry for the last time. On Chelsea TV we filled our boots with fabulous intimate shots on the pitch and in the dressing room, with friends and families of the players and management relaxing in moments of pure happiness.
It was our party and we had a great time, unfortunately others were looking in and apparently couldn’t cope with the fun we were having. So what was the biggest story? Apparently JT leaving the field after 26 minutes to the applause and thanks of the fans and the appreciation of his team-mates. I will not add to the nonsense other than to say that there are far more important things to get angry about these days, and I strongly believe that no other player in the game would have received such a negative and, at times, vitriolic reaction from parts of the media and beyond. It seemed personal, targeted, unfair and not a reflection of the day and its emotions.
That said, Chelsea fans will not be cowed, the celebrations were great but can’t be allowed to last too long other than at the parade next Sunday, of course. By now, the players are back to the grind of preparation for the next game, which happens to be a rather important one.
Obviously the news coming out of Arsenal has been less than positive for our opponents with Laurent Koscielny out and Gabriel also struggling after their win against Everton. Add to that the torment of finally losing out on next season’s Champions League involvement and a variety of dilemmas in the upper management and, all in all, it is not a great time for the Gunners.
The thing is, that could make them even more dangerous. Their players will certainly be up for it, especially those who think they might be leaving in the summer. They would love to go out on a high with a major trophy and of course they are now serious underdogs in the eyes of most people, which takes the pressure off to some degree. It is also worth remembering that Arsenal are on a good run of form at the moment, with five wins in a row and a combined score of 13-2 during those matches.
The reason for mentioning this is to emphasise the point that the game will not be easy, not at all. You could tell by Antonio’s demeanour after the match against Sunderland that he wanted to enjoy the moment but it was imperative in his mind that nobody would be allowed to lose any of the hunger for success. He was right to mention that in the press conference because it is human nature to relax just a little after that level of success. If you win the league your brain tells you that the job is done so the fun times and rest and recovery can begin. In fact your body can go into a decline. I was ill within a week of the end of every single season during my 19-year career. Part of it must be psychological and part of it is perfectly natural. As you have been pushing the edge of the fitness envelope for so long, something has to give. Antonio and the staff must be, and will be, on high alert to any dip from any player this week.
Fortunately it is not just the coach helping, the body is there to aid once again, and there are few things that give you a natural adrenaline rush more than the thought of playing in an FA Cup final at Wembley. I suspect we will be okay and we needn’t feel any trepidation going into the final.
I suggested that the pressure has been lessened on Arsenal by their underdog status, but whatever happens at Wembley it will still have been a fantastic season for the Blues so the negative pressure is off Conte’s team as well. Winning the title, especially after the trials and tribulations of last season, is special. Winning the Double would make it one of the best seasons in the club’s history. Very few teams have won the Double and this group of players certainly have the capability.
It is the last game of the season and it would be another fine trophy to add to what is becoming an extremely long list for the club and its players. The team has the Premier League pot, N’Golo Kante has the PFA and Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year awards, while the Golden Gloves for most shut-outs belong to Thibaut Courtois. Last night, of course, Antonio Conte was named LMA Manager of the Season. The final award may have been the least surprising of them all considering the success and the standing in which he is held within the game, also by the media and of course there is a slight suspicion that the Chelsea fans are quite keen on him too.
After one season he is considered one of our own, if he guides us to the Double then he will be given legendary status. Every coach or manager who has brought home the big two domestic trophies in the same season at any club is afforded that accolade, it is that rare and that difficult to achieve.