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SportsSeptember 15, 2015

Sports: The Sweet Schadenfreude of Chelsea’s Slow Start

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Schadenfreude is not a football team in the German lower leagues, but it is nevertheless a state familiar to sporting partisans, not least fans of the beautiful game.

For followers of English football teams that don’t begin in Chel and end with sea, precisely this basest of human emotion, pleasure at the misfortune of another, is in abundance just at the moment. After a 3-1 loss away at Everton, the West London club now sit fourth from bottom in the English Premier League. Their record: played 5, won 1, drawn 1, lost 3. Goals for: 7. Against: 12. The season has barely begun and already the title holders have lost as many games as they did all of last season.

And to have conceded 12 goals –no wonder Jose Mourinho was swearing after the game at Goodison Park. As a fan of Arsenal Football Club, I am bubbling, shamefully, with Schadenfreude.

I get a shameful thrill at the sight of Mourinho scrambling about for yet another something or other to blame. A shameful thrill at him being humiliated for attacking his own team doctor, after she ran on to the pitch to help a splayed Eden Hazzard. A shameful thrill at him pulling off his beloved captain John Terry at half-time. (I might have phrased that better; I mean substituting.)

I get a shameful thrill at the sight of the self-appointed “special one”, the most supercilious manager in English football, losing a bit of his lacquer.

He says he’s not feeling any pressure. “Pressure is being a refugee,” he told media on the weekend, which depending on your point of view is either a healthy reminder of the essential triviality of football, or an appalling exploitation of a human crisis for personal benefit. The reason for this surfeit of Schadenfreude is, of course, not just because Mourinho is ghastly. It’s at least as much because he’s incredibly good.

However much his defensive mindset may chafe, the record is extraordinary. Over 13 seasons at Porto, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and two stints at Chelsea, he has collected 22 major trophies, including eight league titles and two Champions League trophies. Loathesomely good.

Not surprisingly, he sniffs that in a crisis such as this, “I am the best man for the job”. It will be quite a test for a team with a defence in an unfamiliar shambles, confidence low, and already trailing the league’s other petrodollar colossus, Manchester City, by 11 points. There’s Schadenfreude, then there’s superstition.

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For an Arsenal fan looking forward to your side’s game at Stamford Bridge next weekend, the last thing you’d want to do is crow in print about the plight of Chelsea – especially given Arsene Wenger’s record against Mourinho’s Chelsea (or, perhaps more to the point, Didier Drogba’s Chelsea).

But all the same, the match – which kicks off at the rare stay-up-to-watch-live hour of 11.45pm Saturday NZ time – is already shaping as crucial for both sides.

Arsenal are sitting in fourth despite a scrappy start to the season. A win at Chelsea would deliver a super-charged kickstart to their season and a possible title challenge. Wenger’s side defeated Mourinho’s in the Community Shield season curtain-raiser at Wembley, but Mourinho still, arguably, has it over him – the Frenchman would fling the Mourinho monkey delightedly off his back with a win at their place.

For Chelsea it would trigger full-blown crisis mode.

And while it’s almost certainly foolish and hubristic even to mention it, consider this: Peter Cech, the goalkeeper bought by Arsenal from Chelsea over the off-season in a sale reportedly sanctioned by club owner Roman Abramovich in defiance of Mourinho, could make a little history of his own on Saturday. If he keeps the ball out of his net, he’ll set a new record for clean sheets. At Stamford Bridge. Few things could enrage Mourinho more.

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