I watched the great Chelsea v. Arsenal game yesterday in which Chelsea came from behind to beat Arsenal at home 2 to 1. Now, those of you who either know me personally or read this blog enough know that I personally don’t care who wins. I’m just an American who loves English football and I have the luxury of not being a supporter of any one team. I like to see great team play, great individual talent and execution and, when it happens, great tactical adjustments by managers.
Now, if you’re still reading at this point, it’s likely because you like English football, so I don’t have to recap the entire history of Chelsea’s change in management this year – the whole “cult of Mourinho” vs. Avram Grant and so on. Suffice it to say that it seems clear that the Chelsea fans, despite the successes the team has had since Grant’s assignment, still somehow feel that Mourinho is the only person who could possibly lead the team to the Premier League title.
So, with Chelsea down one-nil in the second half, when Grant made a daring double substitution inserting Anelka and Belletti in place of Ballack and Makalele, many in the crowd at Stamford Bridge started the mocking chant “You Don’t Know What You’re Doing”, along with invocations of Mourinho’s name.
Because soccer substitutions are permanent for the course of the game, they represent major strategic and tactical choices. The only American analog I can think of is in baseball, where the removal and substitution of a particular pitcher or hitter at a critical moment in a game can make or break the eventual outcome of that game. However, in my experience, while the fans may boo or moan, they don’t call the manager out in the same way as they do in soccer, where chants and songs are more traditional and commonplace. Instead, fans call up sports talk shows after the game is over and, with perfect 20-20 hindsight, proclaim their brilliance and insight.
Well, in this case, divine justice prevailed as Grant’s substitutes made an immediate and beneficial impact on the game, setting up two Didier Drogba strikes within eight minutes of each other, and giving Chelsea the victory. And although Grant, in an interview after the game, stated that he didn’t notice the fans’ mocking and disapproval, one can only speculate that he had, at least internally, a sense of personal satisfaction.
From my distant vantage point, I do not see or hear the day-to-day commentary or experience the cultural mood that comes with being a Chelsea fan. But it seems to me that Grant has come to Stamford Bridge under very challenging circumstances, produced excellent results and has comported himself with class. You’d think the Chelsea fans would appreciate that fact and enjoy it.
But clearly, “They Don’t Know What They’re Doing”.