Clem Sunter

True Blue

2010-05-12 14:05

Sunday was the most beautiful day on which the most beautiful team won the most beautiful trophy in the most beautiful game in the world. Sorry for the understatement.

Of course I am talking about Chelsea Football Club ending up at the top of the Barclays Premier League. I have been a supporter for 60 years, having been brought up in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. They first won the coveted title in 1955 when I was just 10.

I remember going to watch them in the Shed in the early 1960s. This was the rowdiest stand at Stamford Bridge. At one stage they confiscated the belts of supporters at the gate so that they had to hold their trousers up during the game and could not engage in fisticuffs with supporters of the opposition. It was a barren period of 50 years that we had to endure and the joke doing the rounds was: “There are only three certainties in life: death, taxes and Chelsea disappoints.”

But then came a Russian owner and a Portuguese manager called the Special One alias Jose Mourinho. We won the Premier League two years in a row in 2005 and 2006. After that, there was a brief intermission of three years while that other team from up north, whose name briefly escapes me, were inconveniently victorious. Now we are the champions again.

Sunday was so sweet. We didn’t just beat Wigan, it was a rugby score: 8-0. By so doing, Chelsea notched up a record number of goals for one season. Who said they played boring football? Didier Drogba, a far more important inhabitant on this Earth than Barack Obama, not only scored a hat-trick but won the golden boot as the player scoring the most goals in the season. Petr Cech won the golden glove as the goalkeeper with the most clean sheets. Altogether, a most satisfactory result.

So what are the lessons we can learn in South Africa from the success of Chelsea or, as they are more affectionately known, the Blues?

1. You can reach the summit with an incredibly diverse team providing you have singularity of purpose. Indeed, diversity is a strength not a weakness. Chelsea has an amazing array of nationalities in its management and its team, but they all know the rules of the game and they all want to win. Black and white disappear into the green of the football pitch.

2. The manager is chosen for his knowledge of the game, his expertise in strategy and tactics and his ability to motivate the players. How many South African CEOs are appointed for those reasons?

3. Each weekend the side is selected on the current performance of the players. Nothing else counts. Moreover, the star players in some cases earn more than the manager because of their perceived contribution to the overall success of the venture. Do you know of a company in South Africa where a really talented employee is paid more than the CEO in order to retain his or her services?

4. Stamford Bridge now has fantastic training facilities as well as marvellous seating arrangements (much better than when I was a regular visitor). A winning nation, likewise, needs a quality education system and a decent infrastructure. In a knowledge-intensive global economy, you cannot win without them.

5. No soccer team wins the title without fanatic fans. No country moves up the Premier League of Nations without patriotic citizens. Unity of spirit is a prerequisite to a better life for all.

I promise I won’t write another article about Chelsea next week if they do the double and win the FA Cup. I’ve crowed enough! And I did receive a gracious SMS congratulating my team from a friend of mine, Gary Bailey who - now I remember their name - was one of the best goalkeepers Manchester United ever had.

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