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Big club, small club

by on February 28, 2013

I have been a football fan for a major chunk of my life now. Though many will vehemently protest my credibility as a ‘real fan’, I beg to differ on this matter. Having realized my inability to play football at any level, amateur or pro, I resorted to resting my bum on a cushy chair and ranting about the games others play. This brings me to my today’s rant, how massive is the brand of your club?

The real fan-glory hunter debate apart, I have often come across this one topic, how big is your club? It’s almost like gauging the macho-ness of Chuck Norris against Rajinikanth, or vice-versa. But at a deeper level, when you sit down with  beer and chips, on one of those long Saturday evenings after an early fixture, to resolve this conundrum, a number of answers seem to prop up. There is a valid argument, maybe your club isn’t big enough.

When you talk about the ‘big `uns’, it is mostly Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal, or AC Milan, Real Madrid or Barca, is some of the most far fetched cases. The English clubs maintain their clout here, strictly for the reason that the Premier League is probably the biggest brand in world football at the moment. But then, most of the clubs I have mentioned here have been successful in European football fields for far too long, and have scripted their names in the annals of football from many ages past.

The Milan clubs and Turin based, Juventus, have been a dominant force in Europe and have provided so many players to the Italian national team, that their ‘big club’ status is a natural. Similarly with Real Madrid that has seen the likes of Ferenc Puskas don their pristine white, while Barca had legends of their own, from Catalonia more often. Again the English clubs have created their own history. Manchester United is a brand built by the likes of Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson. Bob Paisley, Bill Shankley, Kenny Dalglish and co. took the name of Liverpool to places in the farthest recesses of the world.

So where do you put a small club, say Chelsea?

Considering we are talking about clubs as a brand, Chelsea have a good show on display. They are right up there. Small club from Fulham Road, making it to the war field where only the big guns boom. That’s like bringing up a small Smith and Wesson, against a Panzer tank really.

If we really look at the Abramovich era, Chelsea are the perfect business model, in terms of marketing if not the financing. While many would say that Chelsea will collapse into itself, if the oligarch were to abandon his favorite his play toy, I’d beg to differ again. When he leaves, that is if he does, Chelsea will survive.

When you buy stars at a price, when you pump money into a club, you’re not only investing in the club’s performances on the field. Let’s talk about Chelsea’s face, Didier Drogba, for that matter. I wouldn’t really want to call John Terry the face of Chelsea, considering his tarnished image, and a personal dislike for the former England skipper.

Drogba is a player who not only managed to elevate Chelsea to the status of a super club, but also shared the limelight with his national team, Cote d’Ivoire. When Drogba plays on any damned pitch in the world, people throng to the stands to see the man play. It may be some crummy club in Shanghai, or the mighty Galatasaray of Istanbul, but post-Chelsea, Drogba has managed to keep the crowds coming. Besides his impressive goal scoring abilities, Drogba is recognized as an ultimate athlete. The nadir of perfection. Coming from humble origins, a player who went on to win the ultimate glory in European football and hence everything, is the perfect example for any football fan or aspiring player today.

Players like Didier Drogba embody the essence of the old game. The time when football was more about the game and less about the fancy jang that has permeated into its crevices.

This is where Roman Abramovich had a winner. Others like Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, Michael Ballack, Andrey Shevchenko and Petr Cech were similarly lambasted for being big money buys, but they were athletes that heralded the coming of a golden age in football. These players were revered more than gods in churches and temples. These players laid the foundation of a super club, who would go on to kick some major ass in world football.

When Chelsea arrived on the scene, all guns booming, under the leadership of Jose Mourinho, they broke the top order that was a three way tussle between Arsenal, Man United and Liverpool. Chelsea’s impressive young squad took two titles in two years and then went on to win every other domestic glory there was. And then last year, many manager’s later, they took the European Cup.

I have often been disgusted by the way, the trigger fingered Roman has changed the hierarchy at Stamford Bridge, but essentially in modern football, this is the way things work in most cases, unless you are a Ferguson or a Wenger. Sadly, they do not make them like the Stein’s, the Busby’s, the Graham’s or the Shankly’s anymore. Even in those days, the likes of Brian Clough jumped many a ship, when the right one offered a steady plank. So, the firing of managers really cannot be a clause for belittling a club and deriving it of it’s status.

In modern football, we could talk about established clubs, but not of big ones and small ones. Clubs like Chelsea invest in their present to build a base for the future. This comes at a time when the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool have fallen into decay from within. The latter two are trying to build upon their history, while Chelsea are trying to make history. This is where the vast disparity between the two, so-called classes of clubs narrows down. But then again, as we move away from this one point, there is a gaping difference between the status afforded to the two sides.

As Chelsea lie in shambles after winning the European Cup, they are piecing together the fragments and usher in a new era of dominance. Similarly with Man City who took a giant leap, winning the Premier League, but have now fallen into disarray after facing the major problem of player ego’s. In a way, Chelsea have managed to achieve more stability than the other ‘money bags’, considering Abramovich’s tyranny has made sure that no player is above the club. There are no club or fan favorites; you can only make it to Roman’s posse.

Chelsea are a small club in many ways than one, but still deserve a pseudo tag of a super club, for the meanwhile. If their trend up were to continue, they could keep hold of that tag and make it a permanent one. And they are halfway down that route really, after winning the European Cup under such gritty circumstances last year, against overwhelming favorites, Bayern Munich.

In this article, I have simply used Chelsea as a vehicle to put forth my views. The same could be said about Man City, Paris-Saint Germain or Malaga. The big club status is simply as far as the brand goes, beyond that, it is simply about the ninety minutes allotted to you, to make history.



From → Musings

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