Smell the disdain that lingers in the air. As the dust begins to settle following the most tumultuous week of off-field manoeuvres in the game’s history, Chelsea face Real Madrid tonight with questions and threats left hanging grimly above.
Thomas Tuchel has described this tie as a “dream” for his players and is more than justified to point out that the Super League power grab was not dreamt up by any of those who will step on to the pitch at 8pm. They were innocent bystanders; the vast majority of them strongly against such a daft proposal.
But last week’s fiasco is undeniably casting a shadow over the tie. For neutrals in particular it will be rather difficult to watch without feeling a little hollow and empty. How can it not be tainted when there are entirely reasonable arguments to be made that both sides should be expelled from the competition?
“If a problem exists on a sports political level then it has to be solved on this level, not during a competition which is not affected,” Tuchel said yesterday. “Right now we deserve through the competition to be there.”
With a one-track mind focused solely on the action that is tough to dispute. Chelsea made it through the group stage with ease and neither Atletico Madrid nor Porto caused too much trouble in the knockout stages.
But to ignore the dark clouds hanging overhead is negligent.
Tuchel’s argument falls down pretty easily when compared to the numerous squads and fanbases that have faced points deductions as a result of administrative or accounting errors in the past. Macclesfield, Bury and Bolton. They too were innocent but ultimately punished with disastrous consequences.
Tuchel was also bizarrely asked if neutrals might want Chelsea to lose as a result of the Super League. Yet there can be little disputing that they are, just about, the good guys here.
Chelsea have not been hesitant to point out that they were the last on and first (maybe second, Manchester City will argue) off the proposed gravy train. That should not absolve them but they at least attempted to explain their (unsatisfactory) reasoning in an open letter published on Friday night.
Real’s response, by contrast, has been grotesque. Florentino Perez has doubled down with mind-bending statements in interviews and then insisted that they remain part of a league that does not actually exist.