Monday, February 18, 2013

Up and Down the Aging Staircase

Ball Harambee By Bagga Wilks

Chelsea disposed Brentford in the F.A. Cup and will go on to the quarterfinals. Brentford gave it their all and held Chelsea to a scoreless draw in the first forty-five minutes. In the second half, Juan Mata opened the scoring and then came the floodgates. Chelsea triumphed 4-0 and since they are out of the league title and the Champion’s League, the F.A. Cup might be their sole opportunity at silverware for the 2012-2013 season.

Chelsea has had a puzzling year. They began the season like gangbusters, and looked poised to be a serious contender for the title race. Then under Di Matteo, Chelsea went into a slump that caused the firing of Di Matteo.

His replacement, Rafael Benitez, who will, unlikely, be the permanent manager, if there is such a thing at Chelsea, has been struggling to find the right mix, the right chemistry on the field. Chelsea has a challenging mix of the old and the new. John Terry, their central defender, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard have entered their third decade and that is a precarious age for ball players. Their star striker for the previous year, Didier Drogba turned 34 and had to seek his soccer fortunes elsewhere, initially in China and now at Galatasaray, Turkey. Ashley Cole, still a starter at left back for England, was only given a one year extension on his contract. John Terry’s future at Chelsea is still undetermined and it appeared that Frank Lampard was definitely on his way to sign with Los Angeles team in the MLS in the United States.

The Lampard situation is exceedingly curious. Lampard is still a starting member of the English team who scored the decisive goal against Brazil at Wembley a few weeks ago in a friendly. For Chelsea, his work rate is not what it used to be but he has scored decisive goals for the club since his return from an injury. Does the club treat Lampard like a wounded thoroughbred and simply put him out of his misery by sending him to the MLS? Chelsea must find a better way to blend the old with the new.

One of the reasons for the optimism at the beginning of the season was Chelsea’s richness of youth. Juan Mata, Ramires, David Luiz, Demba Ba and Mikel are all players in their prime. Victor Moses, Hazard and Oscar are playing with great potential and if that talent is realized in the near future, then Chelsea should be a powerhouse in the E.P.L. and in UEFA in the years to come. One can see the development of Oscar in his first season playing in the EPL. He will finish the last third of the season very strong. Hazard is hazardous to defenders and his improvement throughout the season is readily discernable. Moses has just returned from the Africa Cup triumphantly as his team, Nigeria, defeated Farkina Faso in the final.

It will be interesting to see how Chelsea performs for the remainder of the season. All three tiers of the team have to blend, the aging, those at peak age and those in the making. The Chelsea owner is busy searching for a new manager. Obviously, Rafael Benitez is a mere interim manager but the new manager will have to blend the assortment of talents. Failure for the owner, Abramovic is not an option but whoever is chosen will have an uphill task synchronizing the abundance of talent that has been assembled at Chelsea.

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