The Chelsea ‘IF’C series takes a look at what could have happened IF an event in the past occurred differently at Chelsea FC and how events would unfold there on after. We begin our first instalment with a look at ‘what if’ Nicolas Anelka wasn’t banished from the club and exiled to China. ‘What if’ Nicolas Anelka remained at Chelsea and after the sacking of Villas-Boas, the player nicknamed ‘Le Sulk’ was made the interim manager.
Not many would’ve bet on Nicolas Anelka ever becoming a manager, he never looked the managerial type. Yet, football is an unpredictable game on and off the field and Nicolas Anelka finds himself as player/manager at his current club Shanghai Shenhua to the surprise of many in the footballing world I’m sure.
Rewind, it is March 4th and Chelsea have parted ways with Villas-Boas after his rocky tenure. In a surprise move, Roman Abramovich has bowed down to player power and installed Nicolas Anelka as player manager. His fellow colleagues are delighted at the appointment. Anelka prefers a more Laissez-faire approach compared to the more autocratic style of his predecessor and the players couldn’t be happier. The decision has left fans somewhat bemused but a situation like this requires outside of the box thinking. A criticism of AVB was the lack of playing experience, the same cannot be said for Mr. Anelka.
In his first press conference, Anelka is asked what he thinks owner Roman Abramovich saw in him in terms of managerial qualities and why he decided to take on the role?
“I have always thought that there was a manager in me. I knew it was something I wanted to do ever since I told that fool Domenech where he could go, if he could manage then so could I!” Anelka responded. “As for the qualities I bring… well I get along with the players, I’m a man of the people. I’ve learnt many things from those who have coached me and I will look to impart that knowledge on those that have now become my students. (For those unaware that means teaching laziness and excellent hold up play)
After one too many questions however the Frenchman decided that he was bored of the media’s enquiries and left the press conference in a blaze of glory.
On the training pitch, Anelka’s attempts in boosting team morale mean more sessions playing ‘hide and seek’ and less time focusing on the nuances that are involved in the game of football. He claimed that as a footballer you either have “it” or you don’t. One thing is evident, the players seemed to be enjoying their time under Anelka more than any other manager. For a man nicknamed ‘Le Sulk’ he sure knows how to bring a smile on other people’s faces.
First game in charge. Birmingham Vs Chelsea – FA Cup replay. The blues line up in their traditional 4-3-3 formation with a return of the old guard apparent. Chelsea go on to win the game 3-0. Man of the Match Daniel Sturridge was interviewed on the impact of the new manager and how he thinks it will change his game. “The boss has done a marvellous job in the few days he’s been here. He made us play FIFA and every player had to control themselves on the game and play how they wanted to in real life, I think I managed to do that today.” (Well, at least we have an explanation for his solo play) It would appear that Gary Neville was on to something when he claimed that David Luiz was reminiscent of a player being controlled by a 10 year old kid.
Anelka and Chelsea face their biggest task in the return leg of the Champions League against Napoli, The Blues face a 3-1 deficit after the first leg. It’s nights like these were people find out if a manager is worth their salt. In an incredibly open affair the score stands at 4-2 in the 85th minute, with Chelsea on the verge of elimination via away goals. Growing tired and frustrated at the lack of attacking threat since their fourth goal. Player/Manager Nicolas Anelka subs himself on, a scene reminding Chelsea fans of another former manager Gianluca Vialli. The 33 year old striker comes on with immediate impact, latching on to a flick on from Didier Drogba, Anelka rounds the keeper and slots in the winner. Pandemonium in the stands and Chelsea are through to the Quarter Finals. Chants of “There’s only one Nicolas Anelka” echo into the night, a truly memorable day for the club.
In the league, Chelsea have enjoyed a rich vain of form and occupy 4th spot after a brilliant month. 4 wins out of 4 for Anelka’s boys including a crucial victory over Champions League hopefuls Tottenham result in a manager of the month award for the man being labelled as “Le spécial” has taken the league by storm and earned the plaudits from managers around the league.
“He’s a breath of fresh air, I’m thinking of putting some of his methods to use myself,” said Sir Alex Ferguson
“We French people are brilliant at getting the best out of players and he certainly is no different,” Arsene Wenger added.
Any doubts the fans had over the appointment of Anelka have now been expelled, banners around Stamford Bridge now crying out for Abramovich to make the role permanent for the man who only a few months ago was on the fringe of the squad, but he has never looked back since turning down the Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua.
“It’s great to see the team playing with such style and you can tell they’re enjoying themselves. The unity they show is always on display when everyone does Nico’s butterfly hand celebration,” one Chelsea fanzine editorial noted.
Having breezed into the Semi-Finals of the Champions League after dismantling Portuguese side Benfica, Chelsea set up a clash with European rivals Barcelona. Whilst domestically the club are set for another trip to Wembley having easily dispatched of a Tottenham side suffering a catastrophic collapse in the Semi-Final of the FA Cup (Harry Redknapp was sacked after the game and the FA declared they would be looking elsewhere for their England manager vacancy. A crying shame that).
With their Champions League place virtually secured in the league, the Frenchman’s focus is solely on the upcoming Champions League clash with Barcelona and he does not have fond memories of the club that knocked Chelsea out in controversial fashion only three years ago.
“They’re cheats. Nothing more, nothing less.” Anelka roared in the pre match press conference. “We come into the match with great form and self belief, we haven’t lost a game during the time I’ve been in charge and I think we can avenge the demons that haunt us from those years back.”
In a fierce battle during the first leg at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea marched out victorious. A 3-1 lead is what they take to Catalonia, it would’ve been 3-0 but for an incredible solo effort from Lionel Messi in the 90th minute has given the Spanish giants hope with an all important away goal.
April 24th, Barcelona. The two teams walk out on to the field in front of a packed Camp Nou. The omens aren’t kind on Chelsea, astonishingly UEFA have appointed Ovrebo as referee for the game to the dismay of the fans and club as a whole. 10 minutes in, Jose Bosingwa is sent off for an ‘elbow’ on Busquets, typical. Barcelona make their numbers advantage count and have a 2-0 lead at half time. Anelka and Chelsea have their work cut out, but in an awe inspiring half time team talk, one that Mike Bassett himself would’ve been proud of, Anelka rallies his troop for a monumental effort. The next 45 minutes would go down in history, as Chelsea played at a level few thought capable, especially given the fact they were a man short. In an epic comeback, Juan Mata scored a second half hat trick in a game that finished 3-3, the few Barcelona fans left in the Camp Nou gave the Spaniard a standing ovation as the final whistle blew. A Champions League final visit awaits against former boss Jose Mourinho.
Munich, Allianz Arena. Champions League final. Chelsea finished the season in fourth place after taking their foot off the gas towards the end of the season but bagged silverware along the way with an FA Cup final victory over the red half of Merseyside, courtesy of an Andy Carroll own goal and Torres brace (You couldn’t make this stuff up). Main event time! Anelka faces the team that made him a champion of Europe and wants to recreate the feat as a manager, Mourinho’s team have recently been crowned La Liga champions, with any luck the team will be suffering from a hangover effect from their domestic dominance. This is a ‘what if’ that grabs that notion by the horns and runs with it. Chelsea are the superior side in the final and it’s a fairytale story for the club that seemed doomed at the beginning of March, they go on to win the match 2-1 but the scoreline flatters Real Madrid who were never really in the game.
“Champions of Europe” the Abramovich dream is fulfilled and all thanks to a stroke of genius by the Russian to employ one of his players as manager. History has been rewritten.