Giles Smith’s Thursday Thoughts
column Thu 4 May 2017
Can too much be read into single Sunday afternoon success up north? Columnist and Chelsea fan Giles Smith reckons so as he insists it ain’t over until it’s over…
There was something about that 3-0 win at Everton which seemed to instil confidence in people. Confidence in large measures.
Like, for example, the reporter who wrote: ‘This was the win, the victory which almost certainly guarantees the return of the Premier League trophy to Stamford Bridge.’
Or like the reporter who wrote, ‘They will not slip up now.’
Or like the reporter who wrote, concluding a description of Antonio Conte’s delighted stomp around the pitch at the end of the game, extending handshakes and clasps to all: ‘They were the celebrations of a manager who knew his side had just secured the title.’
Now, these were, of course, sweet words to read, and handsome sentiments to see loaned the authority of print, here at the beginning of May and with four games still to play. To peruse them was to glow with pleasure and satisfaction and, perhaps above all, relief. It was reassuring, too, to remember that the authors of these words were people who watch an awful lot of football, and from a properly dispassionate position, and genuinely know what they’re talking about.
I only wish I shared their confidence, though. Because even now, with our team sitting at the top of the table with a four-point advantage and needing a maximum of nine points from four games, three of which are at home, confidence, as so often, doesn’t feel like the natural response. Or not to me, at any rate. I can do confidence in short bursts – while reading those newspaper reports, for instance. Most of the rest of the time, however, it’s anxiety, with occasional bouts of fear and the odd moment of blind terror.
And, funnily enough, one of the things most likely to produce fear (very soon after it produces the opposite, in fact) is people saying things about how the title is already secure. Why? Who said? How do you know?
‘They will not slip up now.’ He’s almost certainly right. Did the team that won so comprehensively at Everton, finding three different ways to score, look like the kind of team that was likely to slip up at home to Middlesbrough, Watford and Sunderland? Or even away at Tony Pulis’s West Brom, where buses are bound to be parked? No, it did not. In one’s rational moments, one fully appreciates this.
At the same time, isn’t the thing about slipping up that it’s slightly beyond your control? It’s the patch of ice you didn’t see, it’s the raised paving slab that you didn’t know was there. Deflected goals, injuries, sendings-off, erroneously-given penalties, last-minute moments of madness, plagues of locusts… ‘They will not slip up now.’ Well, I certainly hope not. But how is it possible to think that and, deep down, be sure? Wouldn’t you love to know?
One thing I think we can set aside fairly quickly is the notion that those post-match scenes last Sunday were ‘the celebrations of a manager who knew his side had just secured the title.’ This, after all, is the manager who, as long ago as February, spent the moments after Eden Hazard’s defence-shredding goal against Arsenal in February lying on top of the first three rows of the East Stand lower tier. Nobody suggested that he was celebrating the title then. He was just celebrating a goal against Arsenal.
This is also the manager who has been seen swinging from the roofs of various dug-outs and sprinting the length of various touchlines at similar moments of elation, and who has been doing these things, if we’re honest, since August. This is not, in short, a manager much inclined to hide his emotions and I’m not sure an eager on-the-pitch party at Goodison necessarily marks a break with tradition. Was this a manager who knew his side had just won the title? Or was this a manager who knew his team had just beaten Everton 3-0, bringing the title three points closer, but no further? I’m going with the latter. Nothing we know about Antonio, his realism and his clarity of purpose, would indicate otherwise.
Of course, all of our anxieties begins to lift if Spurs drop points – so, in West Ham we trust, perhaps. (Spurs go there on Friday.) But then, in Crystal Palace we trusted, too, and that didn’t work out so well. In Arsenal, we didn’t trust. You simply can’t any more. But we might feel inclined to trust in Manchester United, and perhaps statistically you would fancy them for a draw, given that they seem to draw with everyone these days (except us, unfortunately). However, they’ll almost certainly be concentrating on the Europa League and a backdoor entrance into next year’s Champions League, so again, our trust might prove misguided.
Leicester? Well, they certainly owe us, and a nice piece of symmetry beckons. Indeed, Gary Lineker has already raised the possible scenario of Chelsea players tweeting pictures from a house party while Leicester hand them the league with a draw against Tottenham – a parallel prospect to relish, indeed. But how often does football organise itself according to symmetry?
And then there’s Hull, who will most probably be on holiday.
Ignore all that, then. Cast it from your mind. Nine points needed, four games to get them in. It doesn’t seem sensible to think about it any other way – and certainly not with Tottenham doing their best impression of Glenn Close in the bath in ‘Fatal Attraction’. What we need, in these agonising final days of the campaign, is confidence without complacency – something which this team has been reassuringly good at showing up to now. Best to decide that nothing is decided, and to insist that it’s all up for grabs until the moment when it’s no longer up for grabs. That’s my approach, anyway. There’ll be plenty of time to feel complacent over the summer.