Giles Smith’s Thursday Thoughts
column Thu 18 May 2017
Like all Chelsea fans, columnist Giles Smith has plenty to be happy about, and he has titles on his mind…
I don’t know whether Michy Batshuayi was actually trying to write the title for this year’s end-of-season DVD during the celebratory scenes after the West Brom game last Friday. But he had two pretty good shots at it, in my estimation.
First there was the phrase he came up with during his post-match interview on the pitch for Sky Sports, with Thibaut Courtois alongside Michy to translate the questions into French, but with the man who now finds himself eternally etched into Chelsea history as the scorer of the 2016/17 title-clinching goal nobly taking the trouble to answer for himself in English: ‘Every people is happy,’ he said.
Which practically inscribes itself on the covers, doesn’t it? ‘Every People Is Happy: Chelsea’s Premier League-Winning 2016/17 Season.’
Then, a little while later, and possibly even better, deep into the celebration zone, there was Michy’s tweet: ‘Don’t worry, I got this y’all.’ Again, an effortless contender, right off the cuff, for a proud place on the front of the boxes: ‘Don’t Worry, I Got This Y’All: The Chelsea Story, 2016/17.’
Or it’s a t-shirt slogan at the very least. Help yourself, Megastore people.
Cesc Fabregas also had a stab at a DVD title during the euphoric and inevitably somewhat excited aftermath on the pitch at the Hawthorns that night. But Sky Sports immediately apologised for it and Cesc almost certainly didn’t mean to go there, and we’ve all moved on, unaffected, I’m sure.
Relief and joy all round, though. I was in two minds about Friday night football, but I’m completely converted to it now. What a way to set up your weekend, and, indeed, your entire summer. And then, of course, the mood simply flowed on into the Watford game on Monday night, complete with its late Fabregas winner, without which the fireworks that exploded off the roof and the clouds of streamers that fell out of the sky on the final whistle might have felt… well, no less called-for, actually. But they gained a little extra something for coming on the back of a 4-3 win.
It was interesting to weigh that match against what Arsene Wenger has been saying recently, regarding his sense that some teams have already given up and gone on holiday, disrupting, he feels, the evenness of the playing field as the season comes to a close. Does that happen, though? I’m not sure that it does. On Monday we watched two sides with, technically, nothing whatsoever riding on the outcome, produce a seven-goal battle which even inspired an outbreak of niggle towards the end, as well as a late sending-off. No sign of packed suitcases there. Packed handbags, maybe. But not packed suitcases.
Or what about, a short while ago, Sunderland, already relegated, going away and beating Hull, who desperately needed points? Make all the complaints you like about people’s desire to find themselves in Dubai now that May is here, but competitiveness seems to endure.
It was also interesting to weigh Monday’s match against the notion that our league campaign might have had a different shape had we had European football to throw into the schedule. On the contrary, I’m slightly frustrated that we didn’t get to see this particular team play in Europe, because it’s tantalising to wonder how far it might have gone there, especially in a season in which Bayern Munich and Barcelona have faltered. And as for extra football stretching the squad… well, as the team selection against Watford compellingly revealed, we had a superbly capable shadow side revved up and ready to go all along.
So much will be written about this, I’m sure, but what a remarkable turn-around we have been privileged to witness these past nine months. Perhaps that accounts for the feeling which I’m sure I’m not alone in having, that this is the sweetest of the title triumphs since 2004/05, when the experience had an additional helping of novelty on its side.
And it’s why I slightly disagreed with Mauricio Pochettino not long ago when the Spurs manager spoke about a difference that he perceived in the national mood this year, by contrast with last year. Quite late on in this campaign, the Spurs manager observed how, last season, with Leicester making the least foreseen bid for the Premier League title that had ever been witnessed, Spurs, closing in on them, felt a little ganged-up against – like they were hunting Bambi, or something, and trying to bring about an outcome that nobody else in the country, beyond their own fans, wanted to see, or was willing them to achieve.
That sounds accurate, and I’m sure it must have felt uncomfortable. But (and this is where I differ from Pochettino) I don’t think anybody particularly wanted Spurs to win it this time, either. Or at least, the narrative that the nation fastened onto this season was the gripping and compelling one in which a team that had finished 10th in 2015/16 was now sweeping back to glory in a breath-taking manner that nobody had predicted back in August. (You will have revisited by now, I hope, as part of your triumphant, season-ending pitch walkabout, the clip from the BT Sport punditry studio in September when Jake Humphrey asks Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes and Owen Hargreaves – one of those typically well-balanced BT Sport punditry panels - for a one-word answer to the question, ‘Will Chelsea win the league?’, and gets the unhesitating responses, ‘No,’ ‘No,’ and ‘No.’ It’s absolutely beautiful and will lose nothing with time.)
Accordingly, as the gap closed slightly near the end there, the watching nation was once again forced to regard Spurs as, if not potential fairy tale wreckers, then at least as spoilers of a deeply inspiring and uplifting story of rejuvenation and redemption, and therefore once more as party poopers in waiting.
Or maybe I’m biased.
Anyway, it’s not over yet, of course. There’s still one more Premier League game to come, at home to Sunderland on Sunday, when we could potentially break our own record for the most victories in a 38-game Premier League season; and beyond that lies the FA Cup final, which now has ‘party central’ written all over it, pretty much irrespective of what happens on the pitch.
But we’re still taking it one game at a time, I’m sure. That’s been the rule and the mind-set all season, beautifully applied and tactfully held in place by Antonio Conte and his staff, and I don’t see any reason why it should change now, just because (to quote Michy) every people is happy and because we’re… you know… champions.