Just before I was going to bed last night I strayed for one last time onto twitter. There was a clip of AC after the final whistle at Goodison Park. He was on his way back to what would have been an elated dressing room. He stopped however to greet some fans, have his photo taken and sign autographs. Nothing unusual about that you would say apart from the fact that they were Everton fans.
Being cynical, obviously none of this would have happened had we been stuffed. We hadn’t and he had guided the team to yet another victory and another step closer the title. The club should be delighted they have a manger they can be proud of an who is a brilliant ambassador. There is no sniping in press conferences there is no storm outs in interviews, his answers are always considered. He to my knowledge slagged of referees despite our being on the wrong end of some poor decisions.
The bond he has developed with the fans is amazing. When I saw him at the CPO dinner he said he was genuinely touched at the Italian flag display which appeared at his first home game. The Antonio chant really started at the Everton home game. Many including myself can not remember a better team performance. He had to be told by his number two that his name was being chanted, once he knew his response was infectious.
At that CPO dinner his demeanor was charming laced with steely determination. It was evident that football was his life and I left that evening thanking our lucky stars that he was our manager. What he has done with our team has been simply stunning. Yes, I get it we have a very talented squad, our owner has spent a small fortune assembling it but as I have always said if money was the issue, City would be winning it every year.
You look at our team and you can not point to any of those players who he has not in some way improved. The obvious candidate is Victor Moses. In the last two pre seasons under Jose he has performed well and was immediately sent out on loan. All of us never gave him a second thought and no one would have been sorry to see him go. However, when he is now absent from our team it leaves a huge hole. Not only should AC be applauded for spotting his potential but also for coaching him to defend.
The other wing back was brought in for big money and when we saw he’d previously been at Sunderland and Bolton we inwardly groaned. We looked at Ryan Bertrand and Philip Luis and wondered why we couldn’t get it right. Well do you know what AC has. The talent was obviously there, the seasons constant improvement as he has found his way has been great to watch.
We will never know whether AC wanted David Luiz back but whether he did or not he has introduced a discipline in him which even his harshest critics has been hard to criticise. Both Gary Cahill and my player of the season, César Azpilicueta have played superbly. The latter proving himself to be one of the best defenders I have ever seen play for Chelsea. Our back three works because of him. Again, AC spotted that potential and versatility.
Behind them Thibault has got back to his best. The club will do well to hold onto him. In goalkeeping terms he is still young and will only get better. Apart from one moment against Manchester City his distribution for a keeper is very good. Remember he is doing this because that is what he has been told to do rather than aspire to be an outfield player!
Getting Kante into the club was, after Antonio, the signing of the season, for any club. We were all amazed when he first joined the club. He was everywhere but now he is more. His distribution was improved as has his forward play. Many managers would have looked at him and thought, brilliant, just what we need but not AC, he has made him better.
I thought one of our best players against Everton was Matic. Quietly he got on with it. He is this year’s boo boy and is not allowed to have a bad game. He is however playing well and is an important part of the team. As for Cesc, what a great professional. No longer a starter, I think AC has saved him for the push at the end of the season. He has started more games and his impact as a substitute has been excellent. At the recent home game against Southampton he was near the corner flag at the MHU in about the 70th minute and I could see he had nothing left. His sort of player is not built for the 100 mph football now being played by musclemen and athletes but no one in the premier league can see a pass better than him.
So it can be argued that our strikers were pretty hopeless last year and improving them or putting them back where they should have been should not have been difficult. For me as I have said, Eden was not fully fit last year but no one can say he hasn’t got even better this year. His contribution to the team this year immense. The recent man marking jobs done on him will need to be addressed but he wants it this year and for me seeing a player smiling during a game is brilliant.
As far as Pedro is concerned his work rate has been amazing but he is without doubt the most clinical finisher we have. His versatility meant AC can use him as a wing back and some would point to our defeat at home to Palace was partly due to his non appearance in the box. The importance of his goal yesterday, not to mention its brilliance cannot be underestimated.
Then there is Diego, he started the season on fire. He had stopped rucking after his early season booking fest and did what he does best. No one knows what AC did to turn him round but it was impressive but then we had the whole China meltdown. He hasn’t been the same since but AC has shown him on more than one occasion who is boss.
On top of that he has where he can played some of the youth players. When Ake came on yesterday it was very telling that he was a straight replacement for Luiz. No letting the more experience Cahill mark Romelu, Ake took that role and didn’t lose a challenge. He looks some player. With all the youngsters back it will be fascinating to see what AC can do.
So here’s the thing. Irrespective of how the season ends we have a top, top manager. Hopefully the club can see that and let him dictate who he wants on his bench next year and in the transfer window. History shows that AC can be volatile as he certainly has been in his previous jobs. I would hate to lose this guy, no more Palpable Discord please.
Clayton Beerman Author of “Palpable Discord. A Year of drama and dissent at Chelsea” Published by Gate 17
Podder and blogger for The Chelsea Fancast