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SPY'S EYE VIEW - Episode 2


Long time Chelsea presenter (32 years), and honorary CIA member, Neil 'Spy' Barnett is on Sirius XM radio 'The Football Show' most mornings and has been part of every CIA summer tour since 1994. He's sharing some thoughts post Chelsea advancing in the Champions League on Tuesday. Seen here interviewing former Chelsea player Fikayo Timori after AC Milan eliminated Spurs on Wednesday night.


Thoughts from Neil Barnett


What supporters don’t want to hear

It was pre-season 1991 when I became editor of Chelsea’s club newspaper. We changed the name from Blues News to Onside.


I quickly put together a team of writers and photographers who were all Chelsea supporters. None of them had ever worked inside football.


The squad was doing its pre-season in west Wales, a small town called Aberystwyth. No five-star hotels, the players stayed in student accommodation. They’d walk out if offered that now!


My team had one day of access to get the first issue of the newspaper content collected. Morning training was running, running through the sand dunes leading down to the sea. In the afternoon it was work with the ball, finishing with a game. The game was ferocious and two massive fights broke out.


My team was horrified. I’d seen it before, but they hadn’t.


And the assistant manager was anxious that the ‘outsiders’ might be a security risk and not understand the nature of this beast which was being revealed. He came over and talked about it. And he said what no supporter ever wants to hear.


He said: “At this level, ability doesn’t matter. That’s a given. You wouldn’t be here otherwise. All that matters is commitment, passion, attitude. That’s what makes the difference.”


One of the guys piped up: “But I’d have that. We’d all have that.”


And the assistant manager said: “Of course, But the trouble is, not all of them have it,” and he nodded to the players.


All that matters is commitment, passion, attitude. That’s what makes the difference.


Beating Borussia Dortmund

There was more commitment, passion, attitude at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday, from the players, the supporters and the management, than we’ve seen in total this season.


One of the reasons why a lot of the games have been boring has been the lack of tempo. The lack of drive to move the ball quickly. Play out from the back, pass, pass, pass, pass back to Kepa. There was none of that against Dortmund.


You can talk all you like about three at the back versus four at the back, about who does what or who plays where, but it’s all irrelevant if there’s no passion, no belief.


That’s why nothing has ever matched the spine of Cech, Terry, Lampard, Drogba. That’s why the fire of Diego Costa has never been replaced. That’s what Graham Potter has been unable to transmit in his press conferences in the way Thomas Tuchel did, and why the media is so on his back for not improving performances.


But everyone was on fire on Tuesday. Marc Cucurella got the Uefa Man of the Match, and it was certainly his best game in a Chelsea shirt. But for me there were other performances which matched his, from Wes Fofana, Ben Chilwell, and the guy whose put the flames into midfield, Enzo Fernández. Kai Havertz had his best and most influential game of the season. Maybe Reece James played with care given his hamstrings, but he didn’t lose one challenge.


And then there was Raheem Sterling. I thought he was the worst player on the pitch. His touch was somewhere else, maybe Liverpool, Manchester, who knows! But did he hide? Did he let his passion drop? No way! And even when he missed his shot altogether, in a whirlwind of passion he turned, he drove quicker than anyone and smashed the ball into the net to provide the critical moment of the game.


All that matters is commitment, passion, attitude. That’s what makes the difference.


Post-match

There is a Mixed Zone in which journalists can go and stand and try to interview players who have to walk through it in order to leave the stadium post-match.


I went down there on Tuesday with my SiriusXM microphone and with two targets. The first to emerge was Christian Pulisic, but he ignored my calls and had eyes for only one person. Who was HUGE!


He wasn’t a footballer – as in global football – so I don’t know who he was, but I was informed he was a New York Jets player. Despite being a Hershey, Pennsylvania guy, Christian, as I’m sure you all know, is a Jets fan. They posed for photographs with some shirts, and then he was gone.


Gio Reyna came out much later. I called to him, and he turned and said politely: “No, sorry,” and trooped on. And who can blame him! Why would he want to talk in public now!


I retreated and went to the end of Potter’s press conference. He seemed almost happy. Almost on fire. Almost passionate. I’m delighted for him. But, Graham mate, that’s the standard you’ve got to maintain. And so it is for your players.


And so it is for supporters.


What you supporters don’t want to hear

I hate the hate in football. To feed it, one of the myths is that there’s not really a special atmosphere at hateful Anfield.


That’s crap on two counts. The whole ‘You’ll never Walk Alone’ is still as intense ahead of kick-off as anywhere. But there is a crack in the other count.


When Liverpool aren’t playing well their crowd goes quiet soon after kick-off. Their England players used to complain to Chelsea boys in the days of Benitez how after the theme song it went silent for the 90 minutes. Mind you, their football was so boring and unsuccessful at the time!


However, when there’s a cause, like the 2005 Champions League semi-final against us which remains the most intimidating atmosphere I’ve ever experienced, or when they play Manchester United, you can’t down play the strength of what they achieve. Man Utd’s capitulation at the weekend was unbelievable.


So what Chelsea supporters achieved on Tuesday was something special, better than normal, and a standard to which we ought to climb every match. It helped. But we can’t claim that it’s that good all the time. It needs to be.


For SiriusXM, I went to Tottenham-Milan the following evening. Fikayo Tomori, whom I still don’t understand why we sold, was outstanding, and I was waiting to talk to him afterwards when an Arsenal supporting journalist who had been at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday turned to me and said: “This lot don’t know what a good atmosphere is, do they!”


I’m not sure Arsenal did before this season. And, to be fair, I didn’t think the support at Tottenham was nearly as bad as the team.


The reality is, most supporters think their support is better than anyone else’s, and the truth is that in most places it’s about the same as everywhere else. And yet the evidence is, it can make a difference. So it should be on fire every game.


Tuesday night showed it’s not on fire every game because it was so much better than it has been for the rest of the season. A standard has been set. We all have to maintain it.


All that matters is commitment, passion, attitude. That’s what makes the difference.


For Americans who don’t make it over here to the UK during the remainder of the season, that means pre-season! Don’t let us down!


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