The secondary importance of the football in Chelsea’s final day clash with Sunderland was summed up in the 29th minute when Didier Drogba left the pitch in tears.
At the time, Chelsea were 1-0 down but neither the players nor the crowd seemed to care. This was a day to celebrate an emphatic title triumph and to honour two club legends who waved goodbye to Stamford Bridge.
Drogba had already announced in the morning that this would be his final game and led the team out of the tunnel as captain through Sunderland’s guard of honour.
He was closely followed by Petr Cech, who has almost certainly played his last game for Chelsea, too.
It marks the end of an era for the Chelsea team that first won the title under Jose Mourinho a decade ago.
And the start of a brave new dawn has been punctuated in the best possible way with a title win which oozed professionalism and a mentality beyond this side’s years.
Most of that 2005 side were present at Stamford Bridge and the home of the champions was rocking as the likes of Claude Makelele, Eidur Gudjohnsen and William Gallas were introduced to the crowd before kick-off.
John Terry, who lifted the Premier League trophy at the full-time whistle, is now the last man standing of Mourinho’s originals after Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole left last summer.
Terry has signed a contract extension and will likely lead Chelsea from the back again next season, but elsewhere Mourinho has expertly phased out the old guard to create his new champions built around the likes of Eden Hazard, Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas and Willian.
Such was Hazard’s talismanic contribution that he was acknowledged by his peers with the PFA Player of the Year award. Costa, the firebrand striker, scored 20 goals in all competitions; but for injury it might have been more.
Fabregas returned to England from Barcelona having not missed a beat. With the protection of a midfield screen as solid as Nemanja Matic, he registered 18 assists this season – just two short of Thierry Henry’s record over a single Premier League campaign.
And in goal, Thibaut Courtois, the man who has usurped one of the finest shot stoppers the Premier League has ever seen. Cech’s future is only up for discussion due to the Belgian’s impressive first season in England, several years after being signed by Chelsea.
Those players, among a handful of others, will form the nucleus of a side punctuated by summer recruitments and youngsters, finally afforded the chance to mix with the elder statesmen at the back-end of this season. The building of Mourinho’s dynasty remains in its infancy but the signs are more than encouraging.
Chelsea supporters used to be mocked as ‘plastic’ fans but they had plenty to cheer about and created some atmosphere, with 40,000 home fans waving blue flags with ‘champions’ emblazoned across the top. They then proceeded to launch into a chant of ‘we’ve won the league’ for at least five continuous minutes.
On the pitch, there was little action of note until Steven Fletcher opened the scoring with Sunderland’s first attack of note, escaping from Terry at a corner to head home at the far post in the 26th minute.
Then came the procession for Drogba, hoisted up and carried off by John Obi Mikel, Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta, accompanied by their team-mates.
Chelsea drew level 11 minutes later when Juan Cuadrado was brought down in the penalty area by John O’Shea and substitute Costa stepped up to slam in a low penalty.
Sunderland rallied in the second half but Chelsea eventually ran out winners. Loic Remy, a summer signing whose contribution to the cause has been limited by injuries, scored his eighth and ninth goals of the season to wrap up the win.
The hosts ran out winners but it mattered little as they lifted their already secured Premier League trophy after the final whistle.
Mourinho paid tribute to Drogba and Cech after the game, but will waste little time in turning his attention to next season. If last summer’s transfer activity is anything to go by his plans will already have taken shape.
The reality is that Petr played lots of matches in every competition so we made him feel important,” Mourinho said of Cech after the game. “I can cope with it, for me it’s no problem to have both but obviously I don’t know what Petr is thinking.”
Now in his second spell at Stamford Bridge, Mourinho’s task is to create a lasting legacy.
“You can win something in a certain moment of your career and that’s it or you can win on a regular basis,” Mourinho said.
“That’s the difference between somebody who is champions and the champions. That’s the direction I want to motivate them to go in.”
If Mourinho’s new crop is as successful as Drogba, Cech, Terry, Frank Lampard and Co. he will have more than achieved his goal.
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