In memoriam: Johnny Killed (2011-2014)

Laurence Griffiths

If you're traveling the north country fair, where the winds hit heavy on the borderline; remember me to one who lives there, for she once was a true love of mine.

I've been wrestling with the thought of and then the actual writing of this post for the last few days.  At one point, it was going to be full of harsh words.  But then he wrote me a letter (he wrote you one, too!) ... before getting his ticket for the airplane helicopter; ain't got time to take the fast train.

Still, how do you handle a loss that would've been beyond incomprehensible six months ago?  How do you handle a fan favorite ending up at a rival (as much as any team can be considered Chelsea's rival)?  Anger?  Apathy?  Regret?  Hurt?  Flight?  Fight?  Pity?  Melodrama?  Depression?  In his letter, Mata talks about having to handle a "new situation" under Jose Mourinho - well, how do you handle this new situation as a Chelsea fan?  And no, you cannot just transfer to United as a solution.

Chelsea - and by extension Chelsea fans - are not in the business of losing their biggest stars in the primes of their career.  We're a buying club; not a selling club.  Not now, not ever.  And by ever I mean since most us have been alive.  Arjen Robben, our previous record sale is probably the closest parallel, but as much fun as he was when he was not injured, he was not the defending, back-to-back player of the year.  Maybe 'defending' was the wrong term to use just then.

That's not to say we haven't said goodbye to big stars and fan favorites before.  Didier Drogba left, but his was arguably the most poetic, beautiful, and fitting exit in club history.  Gianfranco Zola left, too, but he was loved by others (almost) as much as by us.  Personal favorites like Salomon Kalou and cult favorites like Raul Meireles have come and gone as well, but Mata is different.  At least to me.  I mean, Chris Chelios once traded the Blackhawks for the scum Red Wings, but I just shrugged my shoulders.  Not to mention, he was 37 and I doubt many expected him to play for another decade.  But I digress.

All of us - players, directors, managers - are passing through a football club. Supporters are there always. And they never forget.

-Gianfranco Zola, Chelsea Football Club: The Official History in Pictures

Roger Bennett is one half - the funnier half - of Men in Blazers.  As an Everton fan, he's often talked about what it's like to lose his club's heroes to other teams in the league.  To him, Evertonians recently departed are basically dead.  Like a Band Aid ripped off: they once were great and useful but now they're gone and that's that.  Fellaini:  dead to him.  Arteta:  dead to him.  Pienaar:  dead to him (then resurrected!).  Moyes:  dead to him.  Lukaku next season:  dead to him.  The combination of the harsh, absurd finality and the absolute, purposeful lack of any mixed feelings had always drawn a hearty chuckle from me even though I couldn't quite relate to the situation.

After the events of the last week, I can now finally, truly understand.  Dead to me.  So thanks for that, Juan Mata.

That doesn't mean I'll forget all the goals, the assists, the set pieces, the flicks, and the tricks.  The goal against Norwich City.  That goal against Manchester United.  The goal in Naples and the corner in Munich (and a year later against Benfica as well).  Those impossible free kicks.  That game against Spurs.  The telepathic link with Eden Hazard.  Those stay and nothing can take those memories away from me.

But the player, that wonderful little magic box of tricks, flicks, class, and vision, that player is now gone.  Dead to me.  He was once a blue, now he's a red.  And that, my friends, that's that line crossed.  Juan Mata: dead to me.

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