Rob Green capped off his illustrious 19-year career with his first trophy, a Europa League title. His twilight season at Chelsea also left him as baffled as anything he had seen in those two decades.
Rob Green never took the pitch for Chelsea FC. Well, at least not during a game. He was certainly in the thick of things as he lofted the Europa League trophy into the air and himself into club lore, sealing his place in the second-most WTF moment of triumph in club history behind John Terry running onto the pitch in full kit having sat out the Champions League final through suspension. Green’s “what are you doing here” moment in Baku was the perfect complement to Terry’s “what are you wearing” in Munich. And just as Terry launched a thousand memes, Chelsea FC kicked off their summer of top notch owned content with their Rob Green tribute video.
But compared to some of what Green witnessed during his sole season at Stamford Bridge, that all seems perfectly normal.
After playing 267 Premier League games and nearly 400 others in all competitions, Green knows talent when he sees it, especially talented forwards, the type who keep goalkeepers up at night. Remember, Green was Norwich City’s goalkeeper for Gianfranco Zola’s famous back-heel goal off a corner kick.
Green and his Chelsea teammates at no trouble recognizing the immense talent of Callum Hudson-Odoi.
"He was going out in training and tearing some of the best defenders in the world apart. He was consistently the best in training… He will do something and you will ask him: ‘When have you done that? Why did you do that?’ He would say ‘because I’ve never done it before and I thought I’d try it.’ – Goal"
The question Green and company could not wrap their heads around was: “How is he not playing?”
"We were in the dressing room last season and the players were saying ‘how is he not playing?"
“We.” “The players.” It wasn’t just crazy ol’ third-string ne’er-to-be-seen Rob Green wondering about this. A lot of the Blues were.
Of course, the Hudson-Odoi situation was not the only unprecedented situation that prompted quiet conversations among the players and not-for-attribution conversations between staffers and the media. In their collective centuries of experience, none had ever seen a player – let alone the club captain – so thoroughly ghosted as Gary Cahill was by Maurizio Sarri.
We’ve been down the Cahill road many times. Rob Green’s comments are worth noting because they add to an already well-established picture of the club under its previous manager. When players who have been around the game a decade or two, or have played in multiple leagues, or have won major trophies with club and country can all agree that they have never seen something – or several things – like what they are going through, you have a definitive picture of dysfunction.
If all these players, including “some of the best defenders in the world” (a reference to Gary Cahill? Or Sarritologist scapegoat Cesar Azpilicueta? Huh.), recognize a young player’s talent and cannot understand why that youngster is not playing, the fault is not with them or the youth.
The issue is not even that Hudson-Odoi (or Cahill) wasn’t playing – it’s that nobody in the locker room knew why. The manager was either too insecure or too drunkenly authoritarian to explain.
An emerging talking point among Chelsea fans these days is to question why some pundits and fans keep bringing up Maurizio Sarri and different aspects of last season. Things are going well, they say, Frank Lampard has the club in a positive place on and off the pitch, so why live in the past?
The reason is because the past never stays there. Even with all the wonderful things Frank Lampard is doing and will continue to do, Chelsea will need several years to reset themselves to where they were before last season and then regain where they should be as a club – where they could be already – if not for what happened last season. The same goes for the individual players, who at best had a lost year of growth under a coach who did not develop his players; and, at worst, had a year of regression.
Rob Green was not the first and will not be the last player to express his dismay at what he saw at Chelsea FC in 2018/19. That season will make for some interesting chapters in players’ memoirs, and may even warrant a tell-all book.
As much as we’d like to, we can’t pretend 2018/19 didn’t happen. The players and others on the inside don’t have that luxury. They’ll be talking about it as they try to make sense of it, and so will we.
We’re here to cover the club, and last season will linger like stale smoke in a basement bowling alley on Sunday morning.