Death in the Maracana: Spain and the end of an era

Miguel Delaney
For the Spanish squad walking mournfully out of the Maracana, there was no denial or anger. There was only acceptance.
Xabi Alonso was one of the few who felt capable of speaking after the 2-0 defeat to Chile, and he said what the world was thinking.
“Eras end with defeat,” the midfielder quietly admitted, “and this was a painful defeat.”
It led to some bruising realities. Spain are out of a tournament for the first time in eight years, having endured the worst ever performance from a defending champion at a World Cup. That is a stark drop from the perfection they came close to.
In winning three consecutive major trophies, they defied football history, and set new standards and records.
They could not set new parameters for how teams are built. They couldn’t defy the passage of time, or the inevitable and almost intangible erosion of any great side’s intensity.
That, more than any other issue, is what this is all about. This Spanish team as the world knew them are now gone, never to return.
They were already a rather different incarnation. That could be seen in their inability to recover from going behind against both the Netherlands and Mexico.
Although Spain genuinely had so many chances to pull both games back – and even settle them before going behind – there was no real regret at the opportunities missed. It was not quite that David Silva or Sergio Busquets came so agonisingly close to scoring in either game. It was that they didn’t come close enough; as if they had lost that edge to go the crucial extra inches. That is almost a consequence of something subconscious, but Alonso acknowledged its effect.
“We’ve not been able to keep the same levels of ambition and hunger, perhaps the real conviction to go for the championship.”
The way in which they ran out of energy was reminiscent of France’s impotent toil in the 2002 World Cup or Brazil in 2006. Both of those teams had won multiple trophies, but that only led a widespread loss of truly exacting will.
It cuts to the core of the issue. Although many individual Spanish players are still in their prime, and still world-class, the chemistry of a collective is something different. Alex Ferguson arguably knows more about quickly ripping up and rebuilding winning teams than any other manager in the history of the game, and he once revealed his philosophy on it.
“I always believe a four-year cycle is probably the most you can achieve,” the former Manchester United boss said in 2010. “There are very, very few teams who can create more than a four-year cycle.”
Spain were possibly one of them. They went further than any other international side in history by winning that third trophy, and adding Euro 2012 to the silverware 2010 and 2008. Similarly, there was the effect of their deep-rooted coaching revolution two decades ago. As one of the few countries in the world to undertake such a significant step, it gave their international team the cohesion of a club side, beyond anyone else. All of that was only deepened by an actual club side in Barcelona, and the amount of players they provided. It isn’t too long ago that debate raged over whether anyone could do anything against Spainexcept defend very deeply. A fair argument before this World Cup was that, if they simply kept applying their same possession game, they would stay on top.
That was the problem. As Barca began to wane, so did the Spanish team. It is here that Ferguson’s philosophy becomes so telling. Retaining a hard edge requires making hard decisions.
Initially, some of the them may seem ludicrous. Take the decision that first made this Spanish team. Back before Euro 2008, Luis Aragones felt he had to drop Raul. It earned all manner of criticism, and was similar to Ferguson’s sales of Paul Ince and Roy Keane. They all ended up paying off.
Del Bosque was unwilling to be so bold, not least with the declining Iker Casillas. Although he did drop Xavi, it was too late. The damage had been done in the first game against the Dutch. The side’s most symbolic player was simply unable to set the same tone or pace. It meant the Netherlands were able to tear at them like never before, and saw some holes in the side properly ripped open. From there, everything fell through.
That tends to be other trend with such great sides. Their falls are rarely gradual. They are sudden and searing. Although an inherent nous tends to stave off decline for some time, as happened with Spain in Euro 2012 and throughout the 2014 qualifiers, the first proper blow can have a disproportionately profound effect. Once one thing goes wrong, everything unravels.
That was precisely the case in the Dutch game. That 5-1 defeat marked the first time since 6 September 2006 that Spain lost a competitive game after first going ahead. It was as if everything they knew had suddenly evaporated. From there, it all fell apart. The centre didn’t hold. They didn’t know what to do any more.
A suspect defence sank. An unbalanced midfield could no longer play the passes to keep them out of trouble. The strikers couldn’t finish, and that finished them off.
There was just a general discontentment. “The happiness of before is gone,” Alonso said. The fact he was one of the few to front up is even seen as significant. Alonso is known to be deeply unpopular within the team for the sides he took under Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid, but that only adds to the feeling general rifts have grown. Some around the camp have contrasted the current situation with Euro 2008. Then, the squad would gather in Joan Capdevila’s room, just having a good time together.
That happiness is gone. That team is gone.

Spain 0-2 Chile, 2014 World Cup

This report originally appeared in the Independent

Spain 0-2 Chile
Miguel Delaney, Maracana
Too tired, too slow and too few points. Spain’s World Cup is over, and an era ends. Vicente Del Bosque’s team have become only the fifth defending champions in history to go out in the group stage, but the first the lose their opening two games and thereby the quickest to ever go home. They are also the first team eliminated from 2014. That sums up the scale of the fall almost as much as the poverty of their play. Chile, as they promised before the game, have made history.
The South Americans also consigned Spanish dominance to the past with a display that brilliantly outpaced their famous philosophy and made it look brutally outdated.
The contrasts seem to be confirmed within minutes. Spain embarked on a relatively sedate spell of passing, only for Chile to snap at the ball and tear at their defence. It caused instant panic, not too dissimilar from the chaos the Dutch created any time they got near the Spanish box last Friday. Arturo Vidal nutmegged Javi Martinez in the box and, just as Eduardo Vargas seemed set to finish, Xabi Alonso took it off his toe… but almost put it into his own net.
Again, chaos. It was a warning, but also a sign.
The fact Martinez was involved indicated that Spain’s problems were perhaps more profound than the choice of personnel. Del Bosque’s side did temporarily recover some of their old confidence, thanks to some composed passing. That at last illustrated that the decision to drop a declined Xavi was not mistaken. For a time, it was Chile forced into errors.
One dreadful pass from Marcelo Diaz needlessly gifted David Silva and Diego Costa the ball and so much space, only for the forward to take it too far then hit a wayward shot. Andres Iniesta collected and the ball came back to Alonso, but goalkeeper Claudio Bravo was equal to it.
Soon, Chile recovered their balance, and upended Spain’s. They certainly left a line of Spanish defenders on the ground as, within four minutes, the South American side surged into the lead.
It was a goal at once glorious and awful. Every Chilean touch was brilliant, every Spanish attempt at a tackle hapless. Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez sleekly worked the ball through to Charles Aranguiz, who cut back for Vargas to cleverly finish.
The raucous Chile fans erupted again, Spain were quietened by what was by now their horror situation: they had to chase the game, under severe pressure from the stakes, but also leaving themselves susceptible to the pace of Sanchez.
One wild Alonso shot revealed their anxiety; a poor Costa finished underlined their lack of edge. By then, there was an impotent toil to their play so reminiscent of France in 2002.
Chile displayed more life and vigour in everything they did. While Spain struggled to generate momentum, the South Americans were winning flying challenges and effortlessly pulling off nutmegs.
The second goal summed it all up, right down to an Iker Casillas error. While Spanish displayed panicked hesitation, Chile emphatically seized the initiative. The goalkeeper punched a free-kick anywhere he could, Aranguiz powered it precisely into the corner.
Costa could not replicate such accuracy at the other end. The Chelsea striker has provoked much debate, from his eligibility to his suitability, but the bottom line here is that he was not fully fit. That was emphasised straight away in the second half, as he squandered the kind of chance he scored all too easily at Atletico Madrid.
Costa did display some of his supreme bustle moments later on, with an impressively improvised bicycle kick to set up Sergio Busquets just yards from the goal.
It was the wrong player, however, and this was the wrong finish. Somehow, Busquets missed.
It was another sign.
The oddity was that Spain had at that point more than enough chances to win the game well. The reality was that they still didn’t deserve to.
Costa eventually went off for Fernando Torres to a chorus of boos, which seemed to sum it all up. Del Bosque had so much talent on the bench and so much depth… but selected a faded star as a saviour.
Salvation didn’t seem set to arrive. Instead, Chile kept delivering dangerous balls in the Spanish half, with Sanchez powering through them in the stark manner of Arjen Robben. It brought even more chaos.
Spain could do nothing like that to Chile. More passes were moved around the box, more shots were sent just wide, but there was never an actual sense it was close.
There was only more laboriousness. Substitute Santi Cazorla attempted to control the ball in a dangerous position but only succeeded in falling over it.
Spain have fallen from their perch. One of the greatest sides of all time have suffered one of the most dismal endings.

Spain: Casillas; Azpilicueta, Martinez, Ramos, Alba; Busquets, Alonso (Koke 45); Silva, Iniesta, Pedro; Costa (Torres 63)
Chile: Bravo; Medel, Silva, Jara; Isla, Aranguiz (Guitierez 63), Diaz, Mena, Vidal (Carmona 85); Vargas (Valdivia 84), Sanchez

‘What a waste’ – Keane/Ferguson and Clough/Taylor

This article originally appeared on ESPN
The scene was as sad as it was subtle.
Towards the end of Brian Clough’s final season as Nottingham Forest manager in 1992-93, he was rewarded with the freedom of the city. Duncan Hamilton gives an account of the day in his exceptional book ‘Provided You Don’t Kiss Me’, which covers his years reporting on Clough at Forest, and there is a poignant pay-off. After hours touring the city and talking about his career, Clough turned his attention to someone he hadn’t actually talked to in 10 years.
“There’s just one regret today,” he said to Hamilton, out of nowhere. “I wish me mate had been here with me.”
The journalist didn’t need to ask who. Clough was referring to his former assistant – some might fairly say co-manager – Peter Taylor. They had won the European Cup together in 1979 and 1980, but couldn’t have ended up further apart. The last time they spoke was 1983, after a series of disputes. The saddest part of all was that, in the years before Taylor’s 1990 death, “mate” was the last thing Clough would have called him.
“We used to be friends once,” he had told Hamilton before. “We never will be again. And that’s final.”
At this juncture, it’s far easier to imagine Roy Keane or Alex Ferguson saying something like that about their own failed relationship, rather than lament it in the way Clough ultimately did his.
You only have to look at the words of the last week or last year, as the former Manchester United men offered corrosive public criticisms of each other to go with their autobiographies.
This is not to say Keane or Ferguson were friends, or that their partnership was the same as that of Clough-Taylor, but there are common strands. Those strands also point to something deeper as regards the game, and the nature of successfully leadership. It does not seem a coincidence that two of the most profitable partnerships in English football history dissolved into such ugly rancour. It’s also not like they are completely isolated cases, the mere consequence of cast-iron personalities.
Look at one of the league’s other great dynasties. In the mid-70s, Liverpool had to tell Bill Shankly to stay away from the team, so his own former assistant Bob Paisley could do the job his way. It resulted in the tragic situation of Shankly feeling like a stranger at the club he built.
The Scot once described football’s team ethic as “a form of socialism”, but all of this also sums up the game’s great contradiction. It is based on collectives coming together for a common good, yet the best in history have all been shaped by single dictators – the managers.
Keane pointedly painted Ferguson as something of a tyrant this week, saying he was “all about power and control”. The Irishman has challenged that like no-one else. He has also tackled the elephant – or perhaps the horse – in the room like no-one else, too. Keane utterly nailed the issue of his former manager’s notorious legal dispute over the Rock of Gibraltar racehorse with businessmen JP McManus and John Magnier.
“He was just a mascot for them,” Keane cuttingly states. His book is typically full of such searing comments. That bluntness is often mistaken for bitterness, but no-one who is actually bitter would go to such pains to explain their motivation behind every key moment. The issue instead seems to be Keane is simply incapable of offering his view on anything unless it is exactly what he thinks. That makes ‘The Second Half’ Keane’s honest account. One person’s honesty, however, does not necessarily add up to the whole truth.
Take Keane’s description of the fateful day when Ferguson decided to get rid of him, in November 2005. It is the first time that morning has been outlined in such detail. Keane had notoriously criticised many of his teammates for the 4-1 defeat to Middlesbrough, having been asked to offer punditry on the club’s TV station. It never went on air. Keane claims he initially managed to clear the air with the squad, before Ferguson then angrily decided they should all watch the tape.
The more Keane explains, the more that two things seem to become clear. The first is that, as honest as the Irishman is, there’s something he isn’t confronting.
Keane admits “the timing was right” as regards his exit, but leaves a question: “I still don’t know exactly why it happened.” He wonders whether it was the dispute in pre-season, or any issue with assistant manager Carlos Quieroz.
“Was I missing something?” Keane asks.
He may have missed the biggest thing of all, and the second thing that becomes apparent from his account.
This does not read like a pure personality clash. It reads like Ferguson doing something Keane had seen so often: taking the opportunity to get rid of someone whose negatives now outweighed the positives.
The manager was asserting his dictatorial control. The suspicion is Ferguson knew Keane was no longer the same player, and that no longer justified his attitude. Simple as that.
There was no residual warmth or personal regard. There was cold and professional business.
It was precisely that decisiveness Keane used to lionise, especially in his first autobiography. Throughout that, he talks about Ferguson with something like a sense of an awe; like as if he’s a father-figure. Ferguson’s own first book from 1999 talked of Keane as the closest person to him in terms of mentality, the incarnation of his attitude on a pitch – like a son. It was special. It is therefore incredible it has come to this, even if always felt someway inevitable.
Clough and Taylor were also said to have something like a familial relationship, but one that was fraternal or akin to a marriage.
Their fall-out similarly involved a corrosive public dispute over an autobiography. Taylor brought one out shortly after the 1980 European Cup, but it wasn’t really about himself. It was about his partner, and actually called ‘With Clough by Taylor’.
Although it formed a brilliant account of how they worked together, Clough was deeply wounded by what Hamilton calls “Taylor’s demeaning psychoanalysis”. Even the root of that was something universal to all this. Taylor and Clough may have been a partnership, but they were not treated equally. Taylor was not paid anything close to Clough’s salary, and did the book to earn more.
It was part of a growing resentment over how much who got rewarded for what, and who was responsible for what. It was about credit and control.
Over the last year, Keane has repeatedly referenced Ferguson criticising players who gave him so much success, as if he feels their role is being downplayed. One comment this week touched on it all.
“A manager who has made millions out of us… and he thinks he can criticise us without anybody saying anything to him because he thinks he’s got all this power.”
There is also a powerful human element to all this. Beyond everything, these men together enjoyed special moments that should only be looked on with happiness. Instead, there’s always that edge, that associated resentment.
Clough finally reflected on that to Hamilton shortly after Taylor died.
“All those years when we could have been sitting together, when he could have come, as an honoured guest… but all we did at the end was slag one another off. Oh, fuck.”
“What a waste.”

Not a thug, far from an oracle, but always enthralling

This originally appeared in 8by8 in December 2013

At first, at least, Roy Keane plays up to so many perceptions.
As he strides into the function room of the Grand Hotel in Malahide for a first press conference in his new role, the just-appointed Irish assistant manager rolls his eyes at all the cameras flashing.
“I wouldn’t be a big lover of the circus,” Keane later says. Over the next 45 minutes, he certainly illustrates that, castigating one journalist for a “stupid question” and initially wearing what can only be described as a severe scowl.
Many other opening enquiries are met with furrowed brow and a look from almost out the side of his eyes. Keane undeniably retains that capacity to reduce the most assertive people to stutters and stumbles over words. That, of course, is down to his own furnace-hot assurance. He isn’t actually the tallest, but has that unmistakeable presence associated with so many such personalities, and is as lean and fit-looking as in his peak playing days. The grey beard which seemed to reflect some of his grizzlier comments as a TV pundit was gone.
By the end in Malahide, too, Keane is laughing loudly and has even referenced his reputation as a “trouble-maker” and “monster” as he sits back in his chair. The mood has changed. He’s also rather frankly fronting up about some of his flaws as a manager. The conversation, which is what his press call evolves into as it comes to the Sunday journalists, is genuinely engaging and interesting – and not because of the typical expectation that Keane will excoriate anyone or anything he doesn’t agree with.
If the former Manchester United midfielder undeniably remains intense, this is very far from the caricature that is so often portrayed.
That is the thing with Keane. For all the perceptions, his personality is far too layered to fit any stereotype. He isn’t a thug, he isn’t an oracle, but he is enthralling. Just when you think you know him, he will surprise you.
The latest swerve is the very decision to accept the job as assistant manager to Martin O’Neill, not least because it meant working for a federation he has deeply criticised in the past, let alone the fact that such a force of personality will be someone’s number two.
Of course, part of the reason he’s here, and part of the reason it looks set to be one of the more intriguing international football storylines over the next two years, is because it recently seemed that Keane didn’t quite know where he was in his career himself.
Most pointedly, it had been almost three years since he was employed as a manager, having been sacked by Ipswich Town in January 2011.
With the only job offers apparently coming from far afield, the famously devoted family man filled his time while working as a pundit and going to Wigan Athletic near his home. He also attracted much attention in Ireland and the UK for bringing ITV presenter Adrian Chiles to watch a Dublin match in the Irish national sport of hurling during the summer. It had been thought the broadcaster would always be much too jokey for a man as supposedly severe as Keane, but all who know the Irishman remark on his sense of humour. As one journalist who got on well with him chatted idly while waiting for an elevator after an interview, Keanewent to press the button. A smile spread across his face. “Straight to hell, is it?”
It did feel as if Keane himself had been in some kind of purgatory over the past two years. Hurling is not the only other sport he follows, and he has repeatedly spoken of his fascination with what makes other professionals tick, particularly those from rugby and boxing. Keane is also a voracious reader.
The difference, however, is that it used to be Keane providing the copy. It all seemed so unclear what he was going to do next.
Two things were always certain. Keane is one of Ireland’s greatest ever players, and the country’s most-discussed and fascinating sporting figure, with the reasons for both overlapping.
If the Corkman was not born with anything like the natural ability of Liam Brady or John Giles, his sheer mentality absolutely maximised the qualities he had to forge a career superior to any of them.
No other Irish sportsman has won so many trophies, and been so central to all of them. That influence is the key.
Beyond the truly transcendent talents fully applying their ability on the highest stages, such as Diego Maradona in the 1986 World Cup or Leo Messi in the last few seasons of the Champions, it’s genuinely difficult to think of many other players who have so completely imposed their will on individual games in the manner that Keane frequently did. He has a catalogue of such performances.
While the 3-2 win over Juventus in the 1998-99 Champions League semi-final remains the most famous, it is likely trumped by his displays against the Netherlands and Portugal in the 2002 World Cup qualifiers, not least because it involved lifting a mid-tier country to a much higher level.
Although Ireland were placed in a group featuring two teams that had just reached the last four of a widely celebrated Euro 2000,Keane drove his side into the top two.
He explained the attitude that drove him at the time, and what he would now demand of the new Irish squad.
“On our day, I’d like to think we would be able to compete with all these countries, absolutely,” Keane said in that recent press conference in Dublin. “The teams when I played with Ireland, I never, ever remember once being in a dressing room with an Irish team and going out thinking we were going to lose.
“We played some big teams. Italy, Germany, the Dutch, the Portuguese. I don’t ever remember looking at players and having any sort of fear and going ‘I’d take a 2-0 defeat here today’. No, no. Let’s go for it.”
He did that. The 1-1 home draw with the Portugal in June 2001 summed up so much of his playing career at that point. With a star-studded attacking pulling the Irish defence all over the pitch, and the reigning world player of the year Luis Figo eventually piercing them with a goal, Keane illustrated he truly belonged in such company by consistently covering errors and then scoring Ireland’s only goal by essentially forcing the ball into the net. At the end of the year, undeniably influenced by Keane’s efforts in the 1-0 victory over the Netherlands, Louis van Gaal gave the Irish midfielder his only vote in that year’s Fifa award.
While club teammate David Beckham earned so much recognition at the time, it was often as if Keane was overlooked precisely because he eschewed the glamour and the “circus”.
The 2002 World Cup was supposed to be his statement tournament, when a 30-year-old in his absolute prime was set to properly announce it. It did end up defining him, but in a very different manner than anticipated.
On the eve of the tournament, Keane’s simmering acrimony with manager Mick McCarthy boiled over into a bitter dispute about what he perceived as Ireland’s poor preparations. The exact mentality that had driven the side to the World Cup in the first place now drove him home.
It remains one of the stand-out moments in Irish sporting history, and brought the country to a stand-still at the time, with the different positions even pointed as reflections of a change in Irish society. It was also to be echoed throughout his career, particularly when he eventually fell out with former mentor Alex Ferguson too.
‘Saipan’ – as the incident has been named after the Pacific island on which it took place – was inevitably mentioned in all the circus surrounding Keane’s appointment, with the coach even joking how O’Neill had questioned his conduct at the time in discussions about the role.
“Martin is entitled to be wrong,” he smiled.
Keane certainly insisted he was in the right in his autobiography, which was published just a few months after the incident. Given the amount of expectation and standards set out in the book, it was often seen as an ‘Art of War’ for managing.
One view put forward in the media at the time was that, while Keane had to make himself a great player, he was born a great manager. That initially seemed the case. His first job at Sunderland even reflected many of his most admirable traits: resilience, defiance and simply refusing to accept failure. The team became renowned for late goals, and it’s easy to forget now that his first two years represented unchecked progress, with Sunderland romping to promotion and then achieving survival in the Premier League.
It wasn’t long, however, until the other side of that will again had an effect. The all-consuming intensity became too much, exhausting both the team and his own powers of securing results. The subsequent 21 months at Ipswich Town were characterised by an apparent inability to deal with players and many of them bristling at some of his man-management.
Ferguson notoriously questioned his former captain’s managerial capabilities in his own recent autobiography.
“As his career in coaching developed, it became apparent that he needed to spend money to achieve results. He was always looking to buy players. I didn’t feel Roy had the patience to build a team.”
Keane refused to discuss Ferguson in Dublin – other than to briefly reference eventually tackling “lies” – but did acknowledge his shortcomings as a manager.
“Where do you want to start?” he said of lessons he’d learnt. “We could be here all day. Mistakes?
“What I would say with anybody is I have made mistakes and I would doubt my recruitment.”
He also admits that lack of patience.
“There are areas I need to look at, particularly now I’m the assistant, when to step back and hopefully I’ll get that right as well.
“There’s a way of getting that message across, how you put the demands on them, you have to treat people with respect and, as I said, hopefully the players from the last days will appreciate, as I said, knowing I need to step back and let Martin run the show. I’m just here to help.
“Hopefully, the players are in for a pleasant surprise, particularly the lads who’ve not worked with me.”
Again, the very fact Keane is so open about this comes as a surprise. It is also for that reason, that willingness to evolve, that the eyebrow-raising partnership with a man as intense as O’Neill could actually work – and allow him to rebuild his coaching career.
There were encouraging signs from the admittedly brief first few days surrounding the friendlies with Latvia and Poland. Keanewas very hands-on on the training ground and all action beside O’Neill on the bench. Their exact characters may mean the manner they complement each other isn’t obvious, but that is not to say it is not possible. At the minute, it looks probable.
For all the reported previous problems with some of the players, too, it is clear many of them are as in awe of him as much of Ireland. After the 3-0 victory over Latvia, Shane Long talked about how Keane had brought them to the cinema – one of his favoured group-bonding activities – to see Gravity in 3D. The image was portrayed of him sitting there with those glasses on.
An admittedly normal act, but by a hugely fascinating figure.
It doesn’t fit the perception.

Arsenal, Chelsea and the night that changed their rivalry

This article originally appeared on ESPN in December 2013

Miguel Delaney

The night had been that raucous, and the match that riveting, that it was almost impossible for the players to even begin clarifying their emotions afterwards.

Yet amid the “delirium”, as Claudio Ranieri put it, the then-Chelsea manager knew something rather decisive had happened – and not just Wayne Bridge’s winning goal.

“This victory will change something,” the Italian said of his side’s 2-1 win at Highbury in the 2003-04 Champions League quarter-finals.

Between Arsenal and Chelsea, it changed everything.

The nature of both football and football coverage means isolated moments of relatively innocuous coincidence can become imbued with a meaning they don’t necessarily warrant. At the same time, it is that very open quality that ensures some moments do possess a sense of portentous inevitability. Even if they are not truly significant, they carry a genuinely symbolic sense of symmetry.

The night of 6 April 2004 distilled all of that, as well as so much else.

Even on its own terms – a Champions League quarter-final second leg and the first ever meeting between two English clubs in the modern competition – that evening had deeper dimensions than usual.

Arsenal were not just aiming for the Champions League trophy, but the triumph that would confirm their status as the best team in Europe at that time, and one of the finest in history. They certainly played uniquely divine football. As midfielder Edu says in Jon Spurling’s book ‘Highbury: A History of Arsenal in N5’, “that was the time for Arsenal to win the Champions League, with the crop of players they had at the time. You can sense when the time is right, and it seemed that way… the balance lay in our hands.”

The otherwise elegant balance of their season was completely disrupted. Arsenal’s supreme football made them invincible in the Premier League, but not in the campaign as a whole. There was a rich irony to the fact that, in a league season when Arsene Wenger’s team had not lost to a single English side, they were knocked out of the competition that mattered most by one of the clubs closest to them.

Worse, it was a club they had already beaten three times that season, having also knocked Chelsea out of the FA Cup. That very fact only followed a far longer trend, and was the reason this game really had ripples. It was as if, for Chelsea, so much in the rivalry had built up to that 87th-minute winner.

By finishing off that swift one-two to win the game, Bridge actually separated two eras. The stats either side of that moment are striking.

In the decade before that night, Arsenal almost completely dominated their duels with Chelsea, winning 18 and losing just four of 31 games since the end of the 1993-94 season.

In the decade since that night, it has been drastically different. Chelsea have won 15 and lost just four of 25 fixtures leading up to Monday night’s match at the Emirates.

It has been a reverse as resounding as Bridge’s late winner was dramatic.

In the aftermath of that 2004 game, Roman Abramovich issued one of what remains very few public statements about his club. “Chelsea played great and I think the team showed the Russian character to hold on, to fight, to win.”

Whatever about Russian character, they certainly showed the effect of Russian cash.

There can be no overlooking the primary reason for that profound shift in dynamic. While Chelsea accelerated with the influx of Abramovich’s immense resources, Arsenal were held back by the building of a new stadium.

It was something Wenger made sure to mention in his Friday press conference before Monday’s game, when asked about Jose Mourinho’s unbeaten record against him.

“We had restricted financial resources for years. Everybody knows that. It’s simple.”

There is a danger that is a slightly simplistic reading of it all. The finances were undeniably the main factor in Chelsea winning so many more trophies than Arsenal since 2004, but that still does not explain the extreme nature of the swing in their games. Statistically, the money should not translate into such a stark contrast between two sides who are actually so close in quality in a wider Premier League context.

To illustrate that, Chelsea actually have a worse record over the same period against Tottenham Hotspur, with just 10 wins and four defeats from the same number of games.

There do seem a few other issues exacerbating the effects of the financial changes. In the Highbury mixed zone after that 2004 match, Thierry Henry said Arsenal went into the game “without being at our best physically”.

That is likely true, given that they had also been eliminated from the FA Cup semi-finals by Manchester United just three days beforehand, but the question is whether it all had a psychological effect regarding Chelsea too.

As recently as January 2013, Wenger said Bridge’s goal “remains one of the big bad memories of our club”.

Perhaps part of it is that none of the Arsenal team at that point could themselves remember Chelsea ever winning at Highbury, and had burned so many painful memories of the Stamford Bridge club’s consciousness too.

It was not just that Chelsea had not beaten Arsenal in the league since 1995, it was the way they so often lost: late goals, thrashings, commanding wins, atrocious errors, unlikely scorers, comebacks. The nadir was in October 1999, when Nwanko Kanu scored goals at Stamford Bridge in the 75th, 83rd and 90th minutes to hit a hat-trick and convert a 2-0 Arsenal defeat into a devastating 3-2 win.

Even Wenger’s very first game against the new Chelsea, in October 2003, continued so many old trends as Carlo Cudicini spilled the ball for Henry to plunder a winner.

Initially, the 2003-04 Champions League quarter-final seemed set to perpetuate all that. Arsenal had claimed the advantage with the away goal from the 1-1 first leg, and Jose Reyes made that more secure with an ‘insurance’ strike in the 45th-minute of the return.

Gradually, though, the ground under the teams started to move. On 51 minutes, Claude Makelele – of all Chelsea players – hit an untypical long-range strike that Jens Lehmann could only parry. Frank Lampard, one of the players that preceded Abramovich’s takeover, followed up with the equaliser.

Wenger later lamented his team were “very good in the first half” but “lacked sharpness” in the second half. That description could be applied to the last two decades between the teams, not just that match. Shortly before the winning goal, Chelsea served notice with a move that rivalled Arsenal’s football. It fell short. Bridge would go all the way. In the 87th minute, one of the players that was the first to arrive under Abramovich gave the team a statement win. He exchanged passes with Hernan Crespo before firing low under Lehmann. “Delirium”.

As Spurling’s book acknowledges, “you couldn’t disguise the significance of that night”.

Chelsea had denied Arsenal what they felt was [open itals] their [close] Champions League, and inadvertently opened the path for the man that would deny Wenger so much more. Mourinho would go on to win the 2004 Champions League with Porto and then solidify Chelsea’s superiority. There can be no disputing the Portuguese’s edge over Wenger. He is not just unbeaten against the Arsenal coach, but has even won more games than he’s drawn, five to four.

More pointedly, Mourinho’s brilliance exacerbated the effect of both Abramovich’s billions and thatBridge winner, with the baton then taken up by Didier Drogba after the Portuguese’s initial departure.

The striker scored almost every type of goal against Arsenal, while Chelsea have won in almost every conceivable way.

It’s been quite the reversal.