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On Chelsea and fairytales

Steve Bardens

"The European champions have the chance to write a new chapter tomorrow in what has been a fairytale 2012 in every sense of the word."

-Source: Daily Mail.

I'm not really down with the Club World Cup. You may have noticed. Part of that is an over-familiarity with the teams involved -- opposition from the FMF and the Brasileiro don't really hold any mystique, and the title of 'World Champions' is a bit of a joke considering the calibre of CONCACAF and COMNEBOL*. The Champions of Europe are Champions of Earth, the Solar System and I'd assume most of the local bubble on top of that, and that we're essentially playing a tournament just because FIFA is really, really hoping we'll be upset is ridiculous.

*Doesn't mean we'll win tomorrow, but so it goes.

All of which means I have trouble caring about the final (if you do, it's on in a handful of hours, so yay?). But that doesn't stop me compulsively reading more or less everything Chelsea related that floats around the internet. And so I was struck by the quote above while perusing an article I didn't really give a fish about one way or the other. 2012 a fairytale in every sense of the world? Really?

I get that the Champions League run was fairytaleish. The Blues were repeatedly down and out only to come back from oblivion -- Fernando Torres even shoving Xavi the evil witch into his own oven for good measure -- and emerged with the one thing the Blues have coveted for years. All well and good. No qualms about that. Last season could easily be described as a fairytale from our perspective.

But 2012? I think not. Let's dig in.

We know the background. Chelsea were one of the most impressive clubs in Europe for the better part of the decade, routinely making a major dent in the Champions League but never quite getting there. But the core was aging and the Andre Villas-Boas revolution has sputtered out. The Blues were struggling in the Premier League and had made it into the group stages by the skin of their teeth. This was a once-great team whose time had come and gone without ever achieving their ultimate goal.

A 3-1 loss at Napoli in the Round of 16 struck a seemingly mortal blow to Chelsea's hopes of making even the quarterfinal stage. The visitors were dismantled by Walter Mazzarri's men, who absorbed Juan Mata's opener and struck back with such venom that the scoreline occasionally threatened to move into embarrassing territory. Out went Andre Villas-Boas. In came interim boss Roberto di Matteo. The Neopolitans were vanquished. Then there was the series against Barcelona, which at 2-1 down on aggregate and down to ten men in the Camp Nou formed an obstacle that rivalled anything from Heracles' dodekathlon.

The climax of the year came at the Allianz Arena on May 19th. All seemed lost, and then a combination of Didier Drogba and Petr Cech combined to bring us the trophy we've been craving ever since our ascent into Europe's top tier. At long last, Chelsea were European Champions, and di Matteo was named permanent manager.

There was, of course, nowhere we could go but down. Summer was exciting, but every single day took us further from the one moment of pure, unadulterated triumph. It was easy to get caught up in the moment then, to forget we would never be satisfied with anything but continued success. And we didn't get it. The league form faltered in late October, racism cases dominated the news and Chelsea were all but eliminated from the Champions League in the group stages by a 3-0 loss to Juventus in week five.

And then we had di Matteo, a Chelsea legend, torn from us, replaced by a man most Blues fans hate by an owner who never seemed to trust his manager. Now we're in the closing out stage, muddling through the season and, hoping the club can bring the Club World Cup back to London mostly because it would be embarrassing if they didn't.

Or, to turn the above into bullet points:

  • Exposition
  • Rising action
  • Climax
  • Falling action
  • Catastrophe/denouement

Chelsea in 2012 follows a dramatic structure, but its certainly not that of a fairytale. Specifically, what we've actually seen is the plot outline of the rise and fall of Roberto di Matteo, who led this team to unthinkable new pinnacles only to be cast down by the universe (personified by Roman Abramovich) for his temerity.

In other words, the best way to describe the calendar year is not as a fairytale but a Greek tragedy.

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