Chelsea brought out all that is characteristic in Shearer and Savage when they locked horns on the subject of the champions-in-waiting on Match of the Day at the weekend.
Alan Shearer is not exactly over-flowing with charisma as a pundit, even if he has noticeably developed a little more bite since Alan Hansen hung up his mic.
Robbie Savage, by contrast, is someone of whom it might be said that he is burdened by his own delusional sense of charisma, making him the kind of television personality who, in keeping with his provovative profile as a player, a lot of people love to hate.
“They are the best team,” said Shearer, narrowing his eyes. “They have earned the right, over the last two or three games, to play as they have done.”
“Yeah, but they are dull in the big games, aren’t they?,” piped up Savage. “They’re winners, it’s winning football, but you must say it’s dull to watch at times.”
Here was Shearer, the hard-nosed old pro, saluting success above all else. And here was Savage reminding him – to no avail, mind, to judge by Shearer’s contemptuous expression – that the game is also a branch of the entertainment industry.
And, of course, the irony of their tiff is that they are both right – and it’s precisely because Jose Mourinho and Chelsea have also recognised this truth that they are now just one game away from lifting the Premier League title.
With almost perfect timing following that MOTD spat – one which had crystallised an increasingly popular debate - Chelsea’s 3-1 victory at Leicester on Wednesday night was the perfect microcosm of their season. Albeit in reverse.
This time, the first half was entirely lacking in swagger from the visitors as an admirable Leicester side, fighting to their last breath for Premier League survival, took a lead that would have been shocking had it not been wholly deserved.
Then Mourinho got to work in the half-time dressing room, putting a rocket under his charges to such an extent that they were back on level terms within three minutes of the restart, through Didier Drogba, followed by a second from another old boy, the inspirational John Terry, before Ramires put the icing on the cake with a magnificent strike which sparked a high-spirited chorus of “boring, boring Chelsea” from the visiting fans.
Throw in a man of the match performance by the devastatingly athletic Willian – someone who has understandably played second-fiddle in the recogniton stakes to Hazard and Fabregas – and here was an infectious 45 which would have had even Shearer and Savage singing along in perfect harmony.
Earlier in the season there had been no shortage of champage football from the Blues, including a 6-3 trouncing of Everton at Goodison, a 3-0 dismissal of Spurs and four and five goals notched up in two meetings with Swansea.
And even in one of only two league defeats they have suffered to date, they managed to find the net three times in a bizarre 5-3 reversal to Spurs. (Perhaps even more bizarrely, their other loss was 2-1 away to Newcastle).
The run-in has been starkly different. Up until they belatedly put Leicester to the sword on Wednesday, you’d have to go back to March 1 – when they got revenge on their London rivals by putting two without reply past Spurs - to find Chelsea winning a league game by more than one goal.
And the closer they got to the finishing line, the more it seemed caution eclipsed ambiton, from scraping a win away to struggling QPR to successively choking the life out of Manchester United and Arsenal, the latter the game in which the ‘boring, boring’ chant took wings.
But if you think that’s not a glorious way to go about becoming champions, then just recall the inglorious way that Liverpool – with Chelsea their chief tormentors – let it all slip from a position of strength last season. (And you can be sure that going into tomorrow’s game at Stamford Bridge, Mourinho won’t be slow to remind his players that Crystal Palace also dealt a severe blow to Liverpool’s title hopes, when Bredan Rodgers’ men sensationally surrendered a three-goal lead at Selhurst Park as they sought to eat into Man City’s superior goal difference).
Yesterday’s news that Diego Costa could miss the rest of the season is also a reminder that Chelsea have had to play their last four games without the man whose arrival in west London helped transform the team by scoring nine goals in his first seven Premier League games, en route to a grand total of 19.
But, having begun this column with a spat, I’m afraid we have to end with news of another, as the always rumbling – and increasingly tiresome - war of words between Mourinho and Arsene Wenger popped back into life again yesterday. This time it was the Arsenal manager responding to Mouriho suggesting that there is nothing more boring than a long title drought – itself a response to Gooners mocking Chelsea’s suffocating scoreless draw at the Emirates last Sunday. Yesterday, Wenger suggested that Mourinho needed to show more respect for rival managers which, while hardly explosive stuff, was reason enough for hacks to invite a further response from the Chelsea boss who, for once, declined to take the bait, contenting himself with a wagging finger which suggested that he was anxious to change the subject..
However, anyone expecting peace in our time should be advised that, on past experience, hostilities can be expected to resume at a time and place of Mourinho’s choosing.
The irony in all this, of course, is that if you could mix the Wenger philosophy and European stylings of Arsenal with Mourinho’s inspirational leadership and the winning habits of Chelsea, you would have a side which, not content with claiming the Premier League title, could harbour realistic ambitions of taking on and actually beating the best in Europe. Which, as you might have noticed, is something no English club has has managed for a while.
But, as Chelsea prepare for their expected coronation at the Bridge, best not to rain on their parade by mentioning the war, eh?
Now for something completely different
Further to our interview today with Bohemians’ Poet In Residence Lewis Kenny, I note the Dublin club have announced that, as part of their 125th anniversary programme of events, they will be hosting a literary evening on June 11 which will centre on “the troubled relations between James Joyce and one-time Bohemian footballer, poet and surgeon, Oliver St John Gogarty.”
Which, frankly, is all the excuse I need to share a memorable ode which renowned wit Gogarty penned upon hearing the tragic news that an electrician by the name of Joseph had been killed in a fall while working high up on one of Dublin’s first illuminated signs — an advertisement for Oxo. Tissues at the ready, please:
“Here is my tribute to ‘lectrician Joe
Who fell to his death through the ‘O’ in ‘Oxo’
He has gone to a land that is far, far better
And he went
As he came
Through a hole in a letter.”
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