Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Hazard in the garden of Eden

Look, I know this is another rant about Chelsea, and that means WWDBD? posts on a plethora of other rip-roaring topics - thankfully non-footballing - are piling up, but I can't let last night's extraordinary scenes at the Liberty Stadium go without comment.

First, there's this contretemps involving a 17-year-old scamp of a ballboy, who must be feeling a proper Charlie in the cold light of day.

Young Morgan didn't exactly cover himself in glory when he apparently covered the ball, only to have £32 million worth of Belgian forward try to hoof it out of his possession.

For a start, his acting skills need a lot of work. Surprising, given that he's been a ballboy for several years and must have seen some horror reactions from players rolling around as if shot by Dirty Harry.

Not that I'm defending Eden Hazard for going in with all boots blazing: even if Morgan had - as is being suggested by his Twitter activity before the match - premeditated the whole thing, the Belgian really should have applied some cool. Now he's facing a minimum three-game ban, and the ignominy of being forever known as 'the footballer who kicked the kid'.

In fairness, Chris Foy had no option to give Hazard a straight red card. No matter how much mischief Morgan was making, Hazard made it impossible for the referee to make any other decision. In the process, he has also created a media monster. Absurdly, Morgan now has more Twitter followers than Swansea FC itself. No doubt by the end of the month he'll be in Celebrity Big Brother or hosting his own game show.

The tragedy of all this is that it completely overshadowed Swansea's admirable and deserved victory over Chelsea, and their securing of a place in their first ever major trophy final. Chelsea, by comparison, were abject in the Capital One Cup Semi-Final second leg. Toothless up front - and looking like an old man with his dentures out by the time Fernando Torres came on to "strengthen" the attack - they were awful in midfield and splittable like a hot knife through butter at the back.

Michael Laudrup's side, however, had their gameplan and stuck to it. They had a 2-0 lead to defend from the first leg, and they dealt with everything Chelsea threw at them, including Demba Ba, Juan Mata, the highly ineffective Oscar and, of course, the appropriately-named Hazard.

So here comes the obligatory opportunity to stick the boot into Rafa Benitez: for the second game in a row, Benitez has demonstrated all the tactical nous of Dick Dastardly's Vulture Squadron. In fact, Klunk of that outfit actually makes more sense.

Last Sunday, against Arsenal, we waited 80 ineffective and sulky minutes of Torres moping about the pitch before Benitez brought on Ba to shore up the attack as they defended a 2-1 lead. 80 minutes. That's like England playing an entire rugby match with only 14 players.

Despite this, we in the East Stand had the pleasure of watching Chelsea's entire bench of substitutes warming up for virtually the length of the game before Benitez decided any of them could play a part. And thus this indecision extended into last night's match in Swansea.

Surely any footballing tactician would know when to change things around to try and wrest control of a game that is slipping from reach for lack of penetration through a well organised wall? Apparently, with Rafa, not. As always, the puffed-up chump knows best.

And, so, Chelsea let slip another piece of silverware for the season. They started out in the hunt for seven different trophies, and now have only the Europa League, the FA Cup and, at a stretch, the Premier League to contend for.

Swansea, on the other hand, go to Wembley with their reputation enhanced even further. Laudrup follows Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers in polishing his management chops at the Welsh club before possibly going on to bigger things. Meanwhile, Swansea themselves - through three almost back-to-back encounters with Chelsea - have sealed the nation's appreciation as upstarts you want to watch. And in Laudrup, a manager going places. Maybe, even, Stamford Bridge...assuming he'd want all that madness to contend with...

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