As far as ex-footballers go, Paul Scholes is a fairly credible candidate to distinguish between truly great teams and sides that are but a seasonal flash in the pan.
The former Old Trafford hero spent the entirety of his career with Manchester United, acting as the playmaker in more than one team classified as well above average in terms of ability. His trophy cabinet is no doubt bursting at the hinges with silverware as a result, and his legacy as a Premier League legend has been long since secured.
Such measured success gives him the right to be able to call out Chelsea’s current team on not being ‘great’ yet, despite the fact they sit top of the Premier League and look very comfortable in their seat.
His claim this morning was not an effort to be controversial merely for the sake of it - he’s been criticised for as much in the past - nor was it lathered in a Martin Keown-type dressing of bitterness for an old rival. The assessment that Chelsea haven’t earned a portion of the plaudits being fired at Stamford Bridge is a fair one.
As things stand Mourinho’s men, though obviously well-furnished in the world-class players department, are champions of nothing. The frame of the squad was present last year when Chelsea finished third in the Premier League, were knocked out of the Champions League at the hands of Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals, and fell at the fifth round in both domestic cups.
Refinements were made over the course of last summer as Mourinho addressed the minute problems with his side, and since then they’ve much lived up to their pre-campaign hype.
A classy outfit
Structurally speaking, they have all the components needed to make a great team; Diego Costa is as powerful a forward as there is, Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic complement each other better than almost all midfield pairings, John Terry and Gary Cahill are experienced and excellently organised, and in Thibaut Courtois and Petr Cech the Blues boast arguably the two best goalkeepers in England. That’s without even taking the likes of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Branislav Ivanovic - all star performers in their positions - into consideration.
But what really defines great? Is it how a team plays on the pitch? Is it the results that they can put together against the best opposition? Or is it simply the amount of trophies a side can win?
Surely it can’t be the first one. Arsene Wenger has worked like a dog to ensure that Arsenal produce a brand of football that is as aesthetically pleasing to watch as possible, and yet there’s barely been a season since the ‘Invincibles’ term where fans haven’t called for his head and his team’s performances haven’t been slandered.
Again with the second idea, teams can routinely pick up hard-earned points against the big boys, and even hold their own in the latter stages of the Champions League, but that hardly guarantees success, and unless it’s in a cup final of some sort it won’t deliver a trophy.
In the end silverware is the be all and end all of any club’s ambitions. When you walk through the bowels of the Santiago Bernabeu the first thing that strikes you isn’t the array of world-class players to have adorned Real Madrid's famous white strip - that comes later - but the sheer magnitude of their trophy haul across the years.
Making the difference
Entertainment is valued in football, and there’s little sweeter than a derby day victory, but what really stands the test of time is the amount of titles and cups a club can boast.
Moving forward Chelsea have never had a better opportunity to secure a treble that would stand as Mourinho’s crowning achievement. They may have unceremoniously been dumped out of the FA Cup at the hands of lowly Bradford City, but they only have to best Tottenham Hotspur at the beginning of next month to secure the Capital One Cup, and other, more prestigious, prizes may follow.
Seven points marks the current gap at the Premier League summit, with Manchester City having failed to keep up with Chelsea’s unerring consistency. Moreover the Blues can now be considered favourites to qualify for the quarter-finals of the Champions League given that their second-leg against Paris Saint-Germain is at Stamford Bridge and they have the advantage of an away goal.
With this in mind they certainly have it within their capabilities to establish themselves as a great team, but if disaster strikes three times and they finish season with no silverware they won’t be able to profess to being anything more than simply good competitors. Simply put, there’s no point if there’s not a finished product.
I’ll leave you with a quandary. If Barcelona’s mesmerising outfit under Pep Guardiola, who essentially introduced tiki-taka, had not claimed so many trophies, would they be considered great? Your answer should determine what side of the fence you fall on. Leave them in the comments box below...
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