By Mark Duckworth of The National Game
Carlo Ancelotti may have made history on Saturday when his Chelsea side won their first ever league and cup double, but even as John Terry was lifting the coveted cup above his head, the famous pitch was taking criticism. And this time it was plain for all to see as ITV’s pitch camera showed a surface that was cut up and at best a bit bobbly, it’s just a good thing it didn’t spoil the game too much.
Never has there been so much pressure on two teams to deliver a final of decent quality, with the FA facing crisis on and off the field it was, left to the stars of Portsmouth and Chelsea to put on a show worthy of matching past finals. And as Frank Lampard tested the Wembley goal-frame and David James did his usual superman impression to deny Drogba, they looked like doing just that. But for the three times Chelsea cracked the bar and the countless saves and last ditch tackles Pompey made, the standard of the game was disappointing and as the second half mirrored into a boring blur of past finals, the attention turned to the Wembley surface that once again failed to deliver.
The second half was a disappointment for the neutrals, but when Kevin-Prince Boateng squandered a penalty in the 56th minutes the neutrals along with all the Chelsea fans, knew where the cup was going. And as Didier Drogba smashed home his free-kick that finally caught-out the excellent James, the celebrations could finally start on the King’s Road. Those celebrations really should have started in the first half, but Kalou missed an open goal from three yards and Terry, along with Lampard, hit the bar; the spotlight was left for Drogba, who as he celebrated with his teammates, almost had a god-like light shining down on him.
As the celebrations started on the Wembley pitch John Terry was quoted as saying “It’s the worst pitch he has played on all season”, and that is a worrying sign that a player who has just won the league and cup double for the first time in his career is more worried about the state of the pitch than celebrating his triumph. Or was it just an excuse from Terry as to why a team that has scored more goals than anybody else needed a free-kick to beat the league’s worst team? I think it’s a mixture of both. Yes the Wembley pitch was in a state, but you only have to look at the arrogance of some of the Chelsea players to see why they struggled to beat a spirited Portsmouth side.
Chelsea may have won the FA Cup, but the final along with its setting shows the FA have a lot of work to do to restore the pride of the oldest domestic cup competition in the world. And it starts with Wembley. The stadium might be one of the best in the world, but the pitch certainly isn’t and as Wembley gets ready to host a number of other sporting events the FA may want a photocopy of John Terry words to warn them that it will only get worse.
And of the FA Cup itself, the final was better than the last few, but that isn’t much of an achievement and as more and more money dominates the game, the FA Cup is in real danger of losing its place in the English game. But the FA could change it – by awarding the winner with the place in Europe normally taken by the team finishing fourth in the league. This may then stop some of the teams playing weakened sides and actually respect the Cup.
Mark Duckworth is a contributing writer for The National Game and appears on The Soccer Guys as a guest columnist.