JT: A real life little boy Blue

JT: Comfortable in his own skin whatever anyone else thinks

How good was that Champions League final? If you consider the chief talking point afterwards was the dress code observed by a man who played no part — at least until the serious business of hoisting silverware began — you might have some indication.

If Chelsea were entitled to admiration for successfully using the Nou Camp penalty areas as parking spaces for their luxury coach, the billion pound underdog routine wore a little thin in Munich against a side whose main men spectacularly soiled — to use semi-polite vernacular — the course.

It was a team who froze against one whose negativity was calcified, leaving everyone else equally unmoved by the spectacle. Thomas Muller’s scabby header would have been a fitting means of settling it, until Didier Drogba pounded home the peg we can hang this final on.

This was Drogba’s day. The prodigious flex of his sternocleidomastoids that met Juan Mata’s corner capped a Chelsea career in which he was, at his best, an unmanageable fusion of power and elegance. Unless, of course, somebody tickled him to the ground.

Happily for a succession of Chelsea managers, Drogba’s was a talent that came with a sense of occasion; making nonsense of his conspicuous omission from recent Premier League endeavours to select the standout individuals since football began 20 years ago.

But if Didier showed again in Munich that he has some neck, he still had to give way in that department to his club captain.

The many costume changes that made way for JT’s curtain call with the Big Cup have been lampooned tirelessly on the internet this week, with the joys of photoshop affording him similar celebratory cameos at the moon landing, the felling of the Berlin Wall and countless other big days on which he had just as much involvement.

Much of the amusement focused on the suggestion that our hero even inserted shinpads before elbowing his way onto centre stage, in full kit. Alas, footage of the celebrations suggests this might not be the case, though it’s difficult to be sure.

As Chris Kamara discovered, when rooting through Chelsea’s stuff in the Wembley dressing rooms on cup semi-final day, JT ordinarily sports dainty, entirely impractical, boys’ shinpads, presumably to underline how brave he is.

Whatever the nuts and bolts of his attire, JT’s determination to sample what should be a team-mate’s exclusive moment of ecstasy ought to come as no surprise. If anything, Chelsea fans will give thanks that their leader couldn’t, this time, scupper their hopes with his need to be at the heart of things. As Avram Grant confirmed recently, Salomon Kalou had been earmarked to knock in Chelsea’s fifth penalty in Moscow until JT demanded the right to bungle it.

And they won’t begrudge him in London his chance to party, where he could cry again if he wanted. Should any of us? Returning to Moscow, would we rather JT behaved like Ronaldo, slumped in tears in the centre circle, wrapped up in his own missed penalty, while his team-mates celebrated van der Sar’s winning save? Isn’t there something endearingly childlike about JT and his other banned pals shedding their suits to play dress-up, eager to be there at the end of a road they helped travel?

It’s not quite as joyous as that other maverick Londoner, who famously dresses as a wizard and embeds the chip from his Oyster Card in the tip of a magic wand, casting spells to gain access to the underground each day.

But it is, in a way, more admirable. JT would rather dress as no one but JT. A man entirely comfortable in his own skin, whatever anyone else thinks of him. It’s surely that peace, amid all the off-field madness, that ensured a lapse like the Nou Camp is an unusual blot on a disciplined career.

Compare him to another of English football’s miscreants, whose mammoth ban came through this week. Should Joey Barton have been offered a similar opportunity to climb the Allianz steps, you know he would have done so wearing skinny jeans, with cans that blared Morrissey and carrying a first-edition Nietzsche he’d never opened.

For Joey has always seemed like a man itching to shed his skin, perhaps the principle reason he could never enjoy a career as impressive as JT’s. Remember Barton too took centre-stage on his club’s biggest day this season. But while JT dressed up, all Joey earned was another dressing down.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

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