Chelsea would have been dreaming of something more than what they are currently preparing for this week. Dumped out of the Champions League at the Group Stage by Juventus and Shakhtar Donetsk the reigning European Champions find themselves impotent in the defence of their trophy; now they must muster up all their fake optimism for Europe’s plate competition the Europa League.
Manchester United showed last season that when entering a competition that was your clubs second choice that it can be hard to get the motivation to perform at the level required; something the teams who have been in the competition from the start do not struggle with; although the statistics may say it’s not quite as clear-cut as that. Since the second chance format came into action in 1999-00 Galatasaray (2000), Feyenoord (2002), CSKA Moscow (2005), Shakhtar Donetsk (2009) and Atletico Madrid (2010) have all won the competition after exiting the Champions League Group Stage so Chelsea can take encouragement from the fact we seem to be due another one.
But if Chelsea’s players are struggling to find the motivation for the competition one player who won’t be for their Czech opposition will be a familiar face; Jiri Jarosik.
Signed from CSKA Moscow in 2005 he only spent six months on the playing staff at Chelsea and in that time was not exactly considered a successful buy but proved a useful utility player at best; he did manage to pick up a League and League Cup winners medal after all.
After that he had a spell on loan at Birmingham and put in some excellent Champions League performances for Celtic before he left there in misty circumstances after a bizarre incident involving a provocatively placed banana photograph. He returned to Russia with Krylia Sovetov in 2008 before an 18-month stint with Real Zaragoza.
Now at the ripe old age of 35-years-old he is back playing for his beloved Sparta Prague and acts as vice-captain to former Reading midfielder Marek Matejovsky. His pace was never formidable but now it is truly non-existent so he has changed his game to that of a defender and his performance against Feyenoord earlier in the competition was a sight to behold.
He will be absolutely fired up to prove his former team wrong over the two-legged tie and while he will find former team-mates in short supply expect a decent handshake between him and compatriot Petr Cech; himself a former Rudi.
In fairness the main threat does not come from any of these familiar names, or that of controversial ex-West Brom and Blackpool striker Roman Bednar. Rather the recently recovered from a fractured skull Vaclav Kadlec and midfield dynamo Josef Husbauer should be the players Chelsea give real attention to.
But always beware a footballer against his former team; would he celebrate? You could bet your life on it.
image: © manc72