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The Oscar nomination
At first sight, the slight, little-known Brazilian is the very antithesis of the Chelsea ethos. Can their new signing, then, humanize the Blues?
Donning the No. 11 jersey, last worn by club legend Didier Drogba, a little-known Brazilian forward shot into the spotlight with a dreamy two-goal display during Chelsea's two-all draw against Juventus in the Champions League earlier this month. It was one of those rare individual performances in Europe that left spectators salivating, the club's critics purring and even rivals doffing their hats in awe.
His second goal on that night, which had him twisting and turning before unleashing a curling scorcher left the football world stunned by his talent. The boy, you almost felt, was so aptly named for the big stage. It was a night 21-year-old Oscar had been dreaming of since his childhood.
Brought to Chelsea for 25 million pounds from Internacional with the hope to add a touch of class and mastery to Chelsea's resilient play over the last few years, Oscar dos Santos Emboaba J?nior put on a dazzling show in his first full start for the club and was even compared to his counterpart Kaka during his prime. But more importantly, Oscar, it appeared, with one beautiful goal forced people around the world to suddenly take notice of the defending champions of Europe and talk about them for all the right reasons.
For years now, The Blues have struggled to move on from the Jose Mourinho era where flair and attractive football had often fallen victim to physicality and brutal effectiveness. Despite all his success and legendary status at Chelsea, the cheeky Portuguese coach, who never made a mark as a player at the professional level, was unashamed despite failing to deliver truly eye-catching football that fans in general and Chelsea's owner Roman Abramovich craved for. This despite possessing the means to purchase top stars in a way to suggest they were monopolizing the world's talent pool.
Still, under Mourinho, the free-flowing style of some of Chelsea's top footballers like Didier Drogba and Michael Ballack was traded for good results. Perhaps results did matter at the time as Chelsea hardly had anything to show for before the self anointed Special One took over. In a sense, Mourinho's way of proving himself to the footballing world was to solidify his defence, be cold and calculative while grinding teams down, pounding them into submission and even riding on luck at times.
It was Mourinho's way of fitting into the scheme of things, showing his many doubters that he too could be effective as a coach despite not making the cut as a player - almost a pre-requisite for today's modern coach and perhaps a niggling shortcoming for Mourinho. However, the same philosophy has followed Mourinho to a successful stint in Inter and now Real Madrid where the free birds, with the exception of Cristiano Ronaldo, are usually subdued as and when necessary.
Despite the millions of pounds Russian owner Abramovich has invested the club - for coaches and star players - after Mourinho's departure in 2007, Chelsea have always seemed to underperform in a way to suggest that Mourinho's method was the only one that worked. Playing as underdogs when they clearly aren't almost became Chelsea's sad salute to the Mourinho era. It became his legacy thanks to the style perfected during his four-year English sojourn.
Subsequent managers have struggled to shake off the Mourinho way and struggled to infuse new blood in a system thirsting for it despite having the means that not many clubs have. Luiz Felipe Scolari and Andre Villas Boas failed miserably despite specific orders to rid the club of the old guard, but perhaps their shotgun-to-the-head methods were to blame. Current coach Roberto Di Matteo rode his luck to deliver the Champions League title last season, but very little suggests that Chelsea are ready to emerge from the shadow of arguably their most successful coach.
Enter Oscar, a baby-faced lad who obviously hadn't read the script, doing things out of pure instinct, taking on the big names with no regret and playing innocent, beautiful football the way only Brazilians can. Not really the kind of big established player that Chelsea have tended to lean toward in the last few years, Oscar has shown in his first few games that he believes in his own philosophy, that he will do things his way. And the world will watch.
True, Oscar belongs to an era where the systems that Brazilian football itself seems to be going through an identity crisis with flair, sophistication and creative magic giving way to a Euro-Brazilian hybrid thanks to the tendency of recent coaches to capitalize on the style of stars plying their trade in European Leagues. Just like Chelsea has struggled to shake off an era, Brazil's attempt to shift from their traditional style has not necessarily worked.
With failure in one competition after another over the years, the calls for Joga Bonito - beautiful football - are already getting louder. However, a player like Oscar virtually emerging from nowhere provides a breath of fresh air and renewed hope as someone Brazil can plan to build their team around as they prepare to reclaim the World Cup, a tournament they will be hosting in 2014.
Will this unknown young boy prove to be the man who will lead Brazil back to their glory days, just as he has shown promise to take Chelsea forward?
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