Why Chelsea are a bigger Premier League icon than Manchester United - The Guardian (blog)

Busby Babes

Manchester United's global success is not synonymous with the Premier League – the Busby Babes were an icon in the 50s. Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images

We are in the 20th season of the Premier League, and Sir Alex Ferguson has been in charge of Manchester United for an astounding 25 years. Does that make his the most famous face in English football, or just the most likely to turn puce? If one were looking for a single iconic figure to sum up the Premier League years, ought it to be a manager in any case? Surely the people the world is watching are the players. So let's have a brief consideration of Premier League icons past and present, what it takes to be the ultimate icon, and why Chelsea might be more emblematic of the past 20 years of top tier English football than United.

There. I thought that would grab your attention. Clearly United have won far more of the Premier League shiny stuff than Chelsea, and there is no question that they are the most famous club in the country, and deservedly so. The EPL is a worldwide brand, however, that's why people writing comments at the bottom of this article keep referring to it as the EPL, and though I am not about to suggest that Chelsea have a bigger global fan-base than United or are more famous in other corners of the world, I do think they might be more iconic. Of the EPL, I mean. Because United have always been around, haven't they? They were iconic in the 50s and 60s, with the Busby Babes, Bobby Charlton and El Beatle. They are arguably even more famous now, although possibly not by much, but they predate the Premier League much too conspicuously to be synonymous with something only 20 years old.

So do Liverpool, one could argue, though since Liverpool's Premier League story is one of falling short of their previous standards, they cannot be considered EPL icons anyway. Like United, Liverpool are icons of English football, and their 2005 Champions League success was certainly emblematic of the virtues of English football, but once again their most famous storylines have been constructed outside the Premier League narrative, some of them even outside the Premier League era.

Whereas Chelsea, with due respect to the 1955 title-winning side and the famously entertaining era of Peter Osgood, Charlie Cooke and Chopper Harris, are almost entirely an EPL construct. They started grabbing headlines and attention in the early years of the Premier League, through Glenn Hoddle, Ruud Gullit, and Gianluca Vialli, but when Roman Abramovich moved in with his money, turfed out Claudio Ranieri and bankrolled José Mourinho, the EPL found its USP. That means the Premier League finally discovered what it was really good at, and began to do it better than anyone else in football history. To wit, spending colossal amounts of foreign money on foreign players who nevertheless provided value by coming up with results and excitement.

There is no way that what Mourinho achieved at Chelsea comes close to matching what Ferguson achieved at United – how could it, given the disparity in years in the job? – but what Mourinho achieved at Chelsea was a story that went round the world and was lapped up in every corner. The past, incredible, 25 years at United have been essentially an English story, or at least an Anglo-Scottish story, on a more impressive scale but still borrowing plot-lines from Busby and Bill Shankly. There was no real precedent for the Russian revolution at Chelsea. Rich men have backed football clubs before, but few so rich, and few with such immediate, spectacular success in a league that suddenly the whole world wanted to watch.

That is why my vote would go to Didier Drogba in a poll to find the most iconic Premier League player, even if his time in England may be drawing to a close. It has to be a foreigner, for a start, anything else would be less than honest. Drogba is a marvellous mix of ability, athleticism, bravery and brute force, with none too subtle undertones of pantomime comedy occasionally shading into high drama, and he's at the right club. We'll miss him when he's gone.

I do not say Drogba is a better player than Cristiano Ronaldo, or Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Gianfranco Zola, Eric Cantona, Roy Keane, Peter Schmeichel, David Silva or any of the other foreign players to have graced the Premier League, just that he is more instantly recognisable by a greater proportion of the world's population, which is more or less what an icon is supposed to be. The dictionary does mention something about the need to be uncritically admired as well as immediately recognisable, which would cut the above list to perhaps Bergkamp, Henry, Silva and Zola, but we are talking about footballers here, not religious icons, and you would have to go a long way to find anyone who did not enjoy watching Drogba's famous bit of stage business with Jens Lehmann a few years ago.

Obviously there are English icons too, take your pick from David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Alan Shearer, Paul Scholes, Wayne Rooney and a few others, plus assorted Welshmen in Ryan Giggs and Gareth Bale, but half of those are shy, retiring types and the most conspicuously recognisable has worked almost as hard on his recognisability as he has on his football. It may seem perverse to overlook Beckham in an evaluation of anything iconic, though it should be remembered that, though a Londoner, Beckham deliberately attached himself to United in the first place. Before the advent of the Premier League and because of their iconic status. Whether that makes him more or less iconic than George Best in their respective eras is the subject for a debate on another day, but Drogba does not come with any such complications. You just can't miss the Chelsea striker.

I remember watching him play for Marseille against Newcastle and thinking he was made for the Premier League. Mourinho must have agreed. He's not subtle, but he's great viewing. Like the EPL himself, he never hides. He is big, obvious and available. On the pitch, that is, I didn't mean to liken him to a sitcom barmaid. Although he has been known to resemble a big girl's blouse.

30 Nov, 2011

Source: http://news.google.com/news/url?sa=t&fd=R&usg=AFQjCNEBpzpXF1CqWLw8AQIXORVdSzkCug&url=http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/blog/2011/nov/30/chelsea-premier-league-icon-manchester-united
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