Bob Lethaby celebrates the master of being a complete bastard.
I was destined to watch the Liverpool v Chelsea game unfold yesterday from the moment the heavens opened and put a spiteful end to the first day of the new cricket season.
With a free living room, I was allowed the time to take in the pre-match hype on Sky TV as the Liverpool runaway train, fired on high emotion and memories of the 96 murdered by state, was set to blow away the next obstacle standing in the way of a remarkable Premier League title.
The team bus approaching the ground was engulfed in red smoke, banners and scarves as chants of “We’re Going to Win the League” in between stirring renditions of “You’re Never Walk Alone” echoed around the terraced streets. As an outsider, it all felt a bit premature.
Then, inside the ground as kick off approached, the most stirring rendition of YNWA yet as the Sky cameraman, quite brilliantly captured Brendan Rodgers glancing to the sea of red in the Kop to his right; this was his moment to savour and seize, the Premiership title courtesy of a victory over a weakened Chelsea, in touching distance.
The neutrals, including me, knew he deserved it. Liverpool have emerged from the shadow of the torturous re-employment of “King” Kenny into a team of youth, verve and excitement, led brilliantly by their on-field talisman, Steven Gerrard, sitting deep and dictating proceedings in a manner which is only possible with his experience and excellence that was so distastefully dismissed by the bitter mouth of Alex Ferguson.
However…No one took into account one Jose Mourinho.
If you knew someone you hated, and they were having a party you wanted to ruin, you would get Mourinho to ruin it for you. If you had to put your life on someone winning you a football match, you would choose Mourinho. He is the master of being a complete bastard.
I started sensing what was going to happen a minute or two before kick-off. The Liverpool fans were far too victorious and then, as has happened in recent weeks to clubs such as Manchester City, they were, in my opinion, just too hateful towards the opposition to remember to drive their own side onwards.
Then Mourinho entered, not in a designer suit, but with a look of someone nursing a Sunday morning hangover in the only clothes he could find. It mattered little as the scowl and steely determination of a hated man was in full view and if there was one tactic Liverpool fans were about to get wrong in cataclysmic fashion, it was goading the angry one who has remember, successfully pissed on a plethora of European parades from Barcelona to Manchester.
Who can forget Mourinho jigging down the touchline at Old Trafford or sliding, on his knees, through the sodden turf at the Bernabeu, love him or loathe him, they were epic moments in the modern game. Yesterday he wanted more.
The game itself was a tactical masterpiece of spoiling, time-wasting and disruption and Mourinho knew that if Chelsea could defend stoutly for the opening period when Liverpool were at their most dangerous, the doubts would slowly emerge and the one error required, would duly arrive.
When it eventually did, for this to be genuine box office tragi-comedy, it had to come from one man, Steven Gerrard. For a Mourinho show to be a classic, it needs the golden boy who falls spectacularly from grace and Gerrard, who all but signed for Mourinho many years ago, delivered with aplomb.
Miss-trapping the ball before slipping, Gerrard, a wonderful player and talisman, gave everything in his ageing legs and lungs to rescue his error but Demba Baa was away, a recent return to form allowing him to finish with the precision of the striker he once was.
It was an error that could have happened to anyone but on this occasion, it just had to be Stevie G.
The second half became increasingly desperate with Chelsea, set out to defend in numbers, brilliantly stifling the threat, time and time again. Not pretty, admittedly, but it never ceases to amaze me that so many people forget that in football you attack and you defend; why on earth would Chelsea attack with abandon and play into the hands of Liverpool’s devastating speed?
There was no way back for Liverpool; Gerrard, attempting to emulate David Beckham’s one man rescue job when England salvaged a last gasp draw against Greece in 2001, shot at every given opportunity but as his legs tired with both emotional and physical strain, the bullets he delivered dissolved from steel, to rubber, to sponge.
The game was up.
Chelsea put Liverpool fans out of their misery when Torres and Willan waltzed through in comedic fashion before Willan walked the ball into the empty net in a manner that was bordering on apologetic.
It was Goodnight Vienna and as the fat lady retreated home, at least for now, Liverpool are now desperately looking to a fading Everton side to upset Manchester City, who, whilst playing their own part as bemused and innocent bystanders as yesterday’s chaos unfolded, are suddenly favourites again.
Before the game, I wanted Liverpool to win, mainly for the 96, Gerrard and the audacity of Rodgers to take his underdogs so far, so quickly, with young players, many of whom, play, or will play for England. However, on this occasion, the apprentice got well and truly turned over by his former master.
By the end, I was glad of Chelsea’s contribution to a memorable occasion, because had they rolled over and turned their concentration on Wednesday’s European semi-final instead, the integrity of football would have been dealt another savage blow.
Just like in a James Bond film, football needs a baddie and Jose Mourinho delivers every time. I’m sorry, but as a neutral, I just can’t help but laugh when it happens as did, one suspects, the whole of Manchester, rather than the just the red side.