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Butler: Club legend Ron Harris on Chelsea's refit

Noel Butler
10/5/2012 2:36:17 PM
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What better way to gauge Chelsea's transformation from the physical self to the expressive self than to get the opinion of Ron Harris, who spent the better part of two decades at Stamford Bridge alongside some of the greatest players to adorn London, SW6.

Captaining the team to its very first FA Cup win, that epic victory over Real Madrid to capture for the current European Champions its maiden European trophy these days, Harris can be seen each Stamford Bridge match day fulfilling his club ambassador role. The Ron Harris suite is named in his honor.

One of the most uncompromising players English club football has seen, there was no defender George Best more enjoyed getting the better of than Harris, who could spot a talented player coming a mile off.

Following considerable investment to the talent pool, silky talent is something Chelsea now possesses in abundance.

"What's happened since the end of the season is the club has brought in a number of very promising younger players – like Oscar, Hazard and Moses. Mata has been here a time, Sturridge too so maybe the nucleus of the side will be these youngsters that can carry on for a few more years to come." Harris explained to TSN Radio.

"When you think when they won the Champions League, they had players you might feel were coming to the end of their reign so they've gone out and spent quite a considerable amount of money on some good promising younger players."

Whilst Hazard may have garnered most of the early season column inches, it was Mata who came in for significant praise from Harris and why not. After his winner at the Emirates last Saturday, Mata followed that up by potting a brace in Copenhagen Tuesday night.

"He's a young lad who has got tremendous ability. He always seems to play the right balls through and has got a good understanding between himself and Torres. For a young lad he's done very well for himself and shows a hell of a lot of promise."

Mata is a player who Arsene Wenger very much coveted but his attitude would never have sat well with the Arsenal manager's self-fulfilling most get adequate rest prophecy.

Since the summer of 2010, Mata has picked up a World Cup Winners medal, followed that up with an MVP performance as Spain captured the UEFA Under-21 Championships and, as Wenger sat in the broadcast booth during EURO 2012, Mata scored the last goal in Spain's 4-0 victory in the final over Italy.

The Spaniard's understanding with Torres will be pivotal as El Nino strives to do his level best to fill the immense void now that Drogba has upped sticks to China.

Six matches in and three goals in league play but no one comes under as much media and public scrutiny than the man whose opener at the Emirates last Saturday was a mixture of improvisation and good fortune.

To stand any chance of justifying the $75 million price tag, Harris is acutely aware Chelsea's style this season needs adapting to enable them to get the best out of Torres. Investments feed off returns.

"He thrives off balls played into him early, like he did at Liverpool. I've watched him and you can not fault his work rate, I think he works tremendously hard. Obviously, he had a couple of good chances the other night with just the keeper to beat where unfortunately he has played the ball onto the keeper."

"When things are going well for you, they hit the goalkeeper and go in. But I think that he will be a tremendous asset to Chelsea. Even though maybe, by his standards, he didn't do very well last season but this year, he has played in every game, he's a regular so I think he will come good."

When a subject that has been top of the news agenda in England this week as the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and Brendan Rodgers have provided their diving theories and opinions, Harris was very quick to dispel the myth that overseas players were the sole purveyors.

"People say the foreign players brought it over here but, when you look at the football today, everybody's doing it, whether they're Welsh, Scottish, English or foreign players. It's a crime that has come into our football over a period of time and I think the quicker it is stamped out, the better."
 
Harris refers to this repulsive blight on the beautiful game that we see has also crept into the NHL and NBA in recent seasons as a crime. To take from prosecutor parlance, 'Fraud with the intent to deceive' is the apt descriptive. 

Harris is no admirer of players who surround officials demanding opponents are punished according to the laws of their own personal kangaroo courts and very much sympathizes with the refs as the football pitch has been replaced with the pressure cooker.

"I think the referees have a very difficult job today. They're under the spotlight, the cameras all the time. What disappoints me is, when you get someone falling over or making a tackle and one of the opposition running up to the referee banishing the card to get them sent off."

Chelsea come into Saturday's match on the back of a mid-week triumph in the Champions League with a score line Harris thought certainly flattered to deceive.

"I know it looked quite comfortable winning 4-0 but three of the goals came in the last 15 minutes. Apart from when Nordsjaelland hit the post, they always seemed confident that they were going to win, Chelsea. I couldn't see as the game progressed that there was going to be an upset. It's a good result, especially baring in mind Chelsea haven't won away in Europe for two years."

Since suffering the shock and Falcao horrors during the UEFA Super Cup in Monte Carlo back on August 31, the current leaders in the Barclays Premier League are unbeaten in six matches.

Having scored 15 goals and only conceded two over that time, Chelsea are the only club in the league not to have yet conceded a goal during the second half. Harris is fully optimistic his club can carry this form over to the two-week international break. 
 
"I thought up until last Saturday, they hadn't played any of the big boys but Arsenal were doing quite well and they've had a result over there. They won in the week and they'll probably make one or two changes but, at the moment, Norwich can't seem to keep a clean sheet, hopefully we can carry on the momentum and three more points."

Norwich firmly rooted at the foot of the table following last Saturday's demoralizing 2-5 reversal at the hands of a Liverpool that was off to its worst league start in over a century certainly appear to be there for the taking.

"They do look like they are leaking goals and hopefully, as a Chelsea supporter, they will leak a few more Saturday." Harris wasn't shy with a prediction either. "I'll say 3-0 to Chelsea."

Chelsea v Norwich live from Stamford Bridge airs across the TSN and TEAM Radio Networks Saturday, with coverage kicking off at 9:30am et/6:30am pt.

Noel Butler

Noel Butler


Noel Butler is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/TheSoccerNoel and listen to his radio program oranges@halftime on TSN Radio 690 Montreal.

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