Wednesday, October 22, 2008 ESPNsoccernet: October 23, 11:56 AM UK
Terry lifts Chelsea from torpor
Chelsea 1 - 0 Roma
Even though captain John Terry found a typically heroic winner to secure a victory in this Champions League Group A clash, this was another night when the holes in Chelsea's expensively applied make-up were exposed.
A few hundred million pounds has been lavished in a bid to place this West London club at the forefront of the world game, yet occasions like this suggest Chelsea still have some way to go before they can genuinely call themselves a 'big' club.
Roman Abramovich's investment may have ensured his plaything has arrived as a major force on the football pitch, but their ambition to become a top club without relying on the vast riches of their wealthy benefactor depends on more than just the odd major trophy here and there.
Chelsea's dream of establishing themselves as a truly great football club can only be partly achieved on the field. Their target of joining the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United and AC Milan as global super-clubs is still not there. This eerie night confirmed the Blues master plan is still at its formative stage.
Alan Green, the often grumpy BBC radio reporter, described the atmosphere at Stamford Bridge as "manufactured" and "lacking any form of intimidation" during one of his recent broadcasts and the sight of Chelsea handing out free scarves to their 'supporters' before this Champions League tie suggested they are still seeking to build a fan base.
The club donated giant flags at previous Champions League games, even though some away fans have been banned from brandishing such 'offensive weapons' at Stamford Bridge, and this time it was the traditional symbol of the soccer fan that was used to woo some new-found customers.
Chelsea's expensive ticket prices would explain why many supporters can't afford to attend every Stamford Bridge game, yet the muted atmosphere and lack of passion displayed from the stands for the visit of Roma was proof that instant success on the field cannot buy a club its soul.
Champions League nights at Anfield, the San Siro or Old Trafford are special occasions for supporters who revel in chanting the songs that have been sung by their father and grandfathers before them over the last century, but Chelsea simply don't have such heritage to call upon.
It's not the fault of their players, coach Luiz Felipe Scolari or even Abramovich that their fantasy of turning Chelsea into the world's biggest club may simply be impossible, but reality may one day bite hard for the all concerned.
Departed boss Jose Mourinho recently suggested his former congregation were little more than "soft fans who don't get behind their team so much and that's why Chelsea have a problem asserting themselves as a great club of English football".
Sitting in a muted stadium lacking in any sense of drama, you couldn't help but agree with the maverick coach now in charge of Internazionale. The atmosphere was more akin to something you may expect at a pre-season friendly or for the support act at a gig before U2 or Bon Jovi take centre stage. This was a major Champions League game, but you would never have known it.
With that in mind, the players wearing the blue shirt for the last five years have done a fine job in rising above the lack of noise to turn Stamford Bridge into a formidable fortress. More than four years have passed since they lost a Premier League game here and Roma did little to suggest they believed they could emerge victorious from their trip to the ice-cold caldron.
Playing with skipper Francesco Totti as their only vague attacking option, the out-of-form Italians were content to pack the midfield and stop the likes of Frank Lampard and Deco tearing them apart. Nicolas Anelka was not getting the sort of service he needs, while the disappointing Florent Malouda continued to, well, disappoint.
Other than a free kick from Lampard that flicked off the crossbar mid-way through the first half, Roma passed their first 45 minute exam with distinction. Their tactics were effective, yet an interval coffee was required to ensure the eyes of onlookers did not dip before time.
With the belated and somewhat restrained cries of "come on Chelsea" echoing around the ground, the second half kicked off in a similar moribund vein. When you are not a long-term fan of a team and come merely to be entertained by some nice football, games like this are not ideal and the supporters sitting around us in the press overflow area were looking more than a little bemused by the lack of goalmouth action.
With the Roma fans comfortably out-singing their Chelsea counterparts, the stalemate masterminded by Roma coach Luciano Spalletti was nearly shattered as Salomon Kalou tested keeper Doni with a solid header as he latched onto Lampard's curling free-kick.
Then, just when it seemed as if this game was drifting towards a bore draw, the ever reliable Terry latched onto Lampard's corner and Chelsea had their victory. Their persistence in the face of Roma negativity meant they deserved the points and Scolari was jovial as he met the press.
"It was a very good win because we only have one more group game at home and this victory was so important for us," stated the Brazilian. "They played a tactical game and it was difficult for us. Okay it was not so exciting, but I think this was still a beautiful game as my players tried to pass the pass and didn't just rush forward.
"I have respect for Roma and we had to break them down with hard work. We have to play them again in the next fixture and hopefully they will have to pressure us more next time. Maybe we will get more space in Rome. We are in a good position to progress."
The energetic Giallorossi fans perched to the left of the press box were singing long after their less-than-vocal rivals had headed for Fulham Broadway underground station and after so many years of negative publicity, they emerged from this occasions with their tarnished reputation enhanced.
As for Chelsea, the questions still remain. Their team produced the goods once again, but the curious collection of tourists, passers by and schoolkids who follow the club meant their achievement felt more than a little hollow.
There may yet be a big club in West London one day, but they have not arrived yet.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Frank Lampard
It was hard to pick out a star turn on a night when few sparkled, but Lampard was always Chelsea's most creative force. He put in the perfect ball for Terry to snatch the winner.
PRESS BOX MAYHEM: The cramped Stamford Bridge press room could barely cope with the vast influx of Italian journalists for this game. Apparently, almost 200 applications were received for the game and only a couple of dozen looked as if they were actually working reporters.
ROMA VERDICT: After their troubled start to the season, this was a more solid effort from Spalletti's men. Well drilled, they were so close to claiming a valuable point from this game and can take some positives from their display after their weekend rout against Inter.
CHELSEA VERDICT: It was hard to assess their Champions League credentials on a night when they were stifled by a dour Roma gameplan, but their ability to find a winner bodes well. The Blues are far more likely to be in Rome for the Final than the team hosting the showpiece occasion.