With Season in Ruins, Chelsea Rise from Ashes

On March 4, the day after falling 1-0 to West Bromwich Albion and to fifth place in the Premier League table, Chelsea found themselves at the unquestioned low point of the Roman Abramovich Era. Abramovich had just relieved Manager Andres Villas-Boas of his coaching duties, an admission of failure from an owner who had spent over 50 million Euro over the summer luring AVB to Stamford Bridge.

Abramovich, the Russian billionaire who purchased the London club in 2003, has made it clear that he cares about one thing: winning. Not strategy, nor development, not even investment in the club’s future. Villas-Boas’ sacking meant an experimental influx of youth – midfielders Juan Mata and Raul Meireles were brought in over the summer – had spiraled out of control, with the team’s fate both in the Premier League and Champions League in doubt.

New interim manager and former Chelsea player Roberto Di Matteo found himself at a crossroads: continue AVB’s policy of largely ignoring club legends like Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard, or embrace the aging players who had experienced so much success wearing Chelsea blue. Di Matteo opted for one last sip from the fountain of youth, and to say that it has been a revelation could be an understatement. Winning his first three matches as manager, including a 4-1 Champions League victory over Napoli – allowing the Blues to advance 5-4 on aggregate – Di Matteo’s reliance on the old guard of Drogba, Lampard, John Terry, and Ashley Cole has seen Chelsea right the ship mid-capsize.

And of all the key victories secured by Chelsea over the two months, perhaps no victory is more important (in the club’s history, let alone the season) was the team’s 3-2 aggregate victory over Barcelona, again led by Chelsea’s seniors. In the first leg, Lampard’s clean dispossession of Lionel Messi directly led to Drogba’s goal, the only of the game. At Camp Nou, another Lampard tackle led to Ramires’ crucial strike, and while Terry saw red for a thoughtless knee to Alexis Sanchez’s back, it was Cole who spotted a streaking Fernando Torres for the game-icing tally.

Frank Lampard and Chelsea celebrate their victory over Barcelona.

The Blues’ season has not been perfect since Di Matteo has taken over. Wednesday’s 2-0 loss at home to Newcastle is indicative of this. Saddled in sixth place in the Premier League, the Blues’ only chance of reaching Champions League Football next season will come by defeating Bayern Munich on May 19. But Chelsea are playing in two May finals – they face Liverpool for the FA Cup today – which is two more than such esteemed clubs like Milan, Manchesters United and City, and Madrid can say. The only silverware Abramovich has failed to win over the last decade has been the European Champions Clubs’ Cup. If the Blues lift the trophy on May 19, surely the season’s ends will justify the tumultuous means.

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Breaking Out of Slumps in Sports, Life

Author’s Note: This article appears in the May 2 issue of The Villanovan.

Sophomore slumps are quite the phenomenon. In the sporting world, a young rising star can take the sport by storm for a short time, only to have the holes in their game exploited by opponents watching hours of game film. Take St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford’s second year. After almost taking a 1-15 team to the cusp of the playoffs as a rookie, Bradford’s season was undone by injuries and poor performances. The same can be said for music, and it makes logical sense. Bands often break onto the scene after spending years working on the same set of music, only to be forced to churn out another quality album shortly thereafter. The follow-up, burned with unrealistic expectations, fails to live up to the hype.

So what does this have to do with me and my senior farewell column? Well, I, like so many MLB Rookies of the Year and Best New Artist Grammy Award Winners—I’m looking at you, Eric Hinske and Evanescence—suffered through this same slump.

Four years ago—and I honestly cannot believe it has been that long—I had an unbelievable freshman year. I made lifelong friends, was on campus when my school made the Final Four and fell in love with Villanova. Hyperbole aside, from the first day of Orientation to my first night in St. Mo’s, it was clear that this was the right place for me. I quickly made friends with the guys on my floor and the girls upstairs. Life was truly good at Villanova.

Cue up sophomore year. I quickly learned that it’s hard to maintain the same relationships for four years without experiencing some ups and downs. I couldn’t put a finger on it, but something was missing. I realized that I was without something that made high school tolerable: being involved. After a few weeks of uncertainty, I put my name on every e-mail list and club roster I could think of. Should I go Greek? Maybe I’ll join the rugby team? (I did, turns out I am as bad at rugby as I am at every other sport.) CAT? Blue Key? Nothing really seemed to fit. For the hell of it, I thought, “I love sports and like writing, maybe I should write for the paper.” A few months later, I got an e-mail from my editor looking for someone to apply for the Assistant Sports Editor position. On a whim, I went for it. After an interview which was later described to me by my interviewer as “You were so cute, you talked so fast we could barely keep up with you,” I got the spot and took over as The Villanovan’s Assistant Sports Editor in 2010.

To those that know me well, I attribute many things to my breakout junior year, the year I finally started taking advantage of this place I now call home. First, my friends. Whether they were made at the beginning of my freshman year, on a break trip my junior year or right at the start of senior year, you all have a special place in my heart.

Second, the three groups that most define my college career. My time in the service break program shaped my desire to serve others both in college and in the future. My time spent as both a participant and leader on the Search retreat helped me figure out who and why I am, and showed me the importance of both gloves and of trust. And finally, and perhaps most importantly for this column: my time as a member of the staff of The Villanovan.

When I first started as an editor, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had no experience working on a newspaper, no experience working with the programs we used and no clue who any of the other editors were. I also had no idea I would be spending my Tuesday nights in the same Dougherty office every week for the next two-and-a-half years—Dollar Drinks be damned.

But slowly and surely, with the help of a few copy edits, Joe Waters and the points card, I twice found my place among an editorial staff—both 2010 and 2011—that I found myself missing on the rare Tuesday where we weren’t cooped up in Dougherty until 2 a.m.

So, thank you first to the editorial boards that I answered to since 2010. You made the office a welcoming place to work, where creativity and clarity were encouraged, corners were rarely cut and a quality product was made every single week, without exception.

Next, to every member of The Villanovan staff for 2010, 2011 and heck, even 2012. Without you guys, I don’t think I could have lasted for half a year, yet alone two-and-a-half. Whether it was harassing the Arts editors to put my album cover in the paper, arguing with News over whether we should get the front cover or watching YouTube videos when we should have been putting in corrections, you all made the long nights seem just a little bit shorter.

And finally, a thank you to the two guys I shared the sports desk with: Nate and Mark. The two of you couldn’t have been any more different, but you both pushed me to do my best work during our time working together. The memories created at that desk—and in Cleveland—extend far beyond the printed word.

So thank you, The Villanovan, for helping me to bust out of my sophomore slump and into the big time. I’m spending next year in Chicago, volunteering at a high school where one of my responsibilities could be to oversee the school’s newspaper. I only hope I can teach them half as much as you have taught me.