After yet another largely dull but important result against a rival last weekend, Chelsea has had to face more criticism of being boring. It is a fair indictment, but there is possibly nothing more boring than calling a team “boring.”
Chelsea rightly does not give a shit about being boring, because it has bored its way (almost) to a title. Zzzz. (That’s both the buzz of snores and the faint hum of engravers etching “Chelsea F.C., Champions 2014-2015” onto the Premier League trophy.)
Furthermore, championship-winning teams being somewhat tedious to watch is hardly a new phenomenon. Rather than boredom, what this Chelsea team really represents in English soccer is something that is slowly coming to be appreciated as an important component of winning teams: the art of shithousery.
For some, shithousery on the field is associated primarily with diving and conning referees. But true shithousery is so much more than that.
We’re talking snide fouls, trying to tempt opposing players into getting themselves booked or sent off, harassing the referee, subtle time wasting to suck the momentum out of matches, and all the dirty tricks in the book. It’s a collection of all those things that most fans hate to see, but can’t help but begrudgingly respect when it brings results.
Does rolling around on the floor like you’ve been shot one minute and stamping on an opponent the next make you a prick? No question. But if you also happen to be world class at your primary job, like, say, Diego Costa is, that little bit of shithousery can help give your team an extra advantage. Effective shithousery is like having superior fitness levels or an intimidating home crowd — it won’t win you any titles on its own, but it can provide the edge in close battles.
Diving is still outrageous and offensive to some English soccer fans, but there is thankfully much less moralizing about it now than there was even just a decade ago. That diving is a form of cheating is indisputable. But so is holding onto attackers when defending a set piece, moving the ball forward for a free kick when the referee’s back is turned, committing “professional” fouls, and any other number of things that happen in every single game of soccer in the Premier League and beyond. And just as diving no longer leads to calls for the trickster in question to be burned at the stake, so is the rest of the shithouse artillery moving into mainstream acceptance.
Imagine getting the opportunity to play on a five-a-side team featuring Diego Costa, Luis Suárez, Sergio Busquets, and Pepe. Teams would hate to play against you, but you would win far more games than you would lose. Not just because those players are each among the best on the planet in their respective positions, but because they’re also among the foremost shithouses in sports. There would quality across the field, but there would also be diving, kicking, complaining, and faking injury. And you, as a teammate, would love it. Because that willingness to engage in the dark arts is part of a larger ferocious competitiveness that ultimately earns the respect of fans and teammates alike.
There is some danger in embracing shithousery, to be fair, as some of its most high profile practitioners have been known to cross the line. Racially abusing an opponent to get under his skin (Diego Costa, Luis Suárez), or biting another person while playing (Suárez again) falls outside of the purview of regular shithousery and into the realm of unquestionable repugnance.
The key to good shithousery is in being both very good, and being kind of a scumbag. Never go full scumbag.
José Mourinho’s current Chelsea team represents a culmination of years of shithousery creep. Many of the recent great teams in the league had it to some degree, from Sir Alex Ferguson’s last great Manchester United team, to Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal back before he jumped the shark. Similarly, those teams that fall just short of greatness arguably lack the use of shithousery. The desire to fight, claw, kick, scrap, dive, and deceive for every inch that is so apparent in this Chelsea side is the same quality that is notable for its absence in a Manchester City team that is yet to properly defend a title.
Shithousery has existed in the shadows for too long, as a sometimes necessary evil condemned in shouts and admired in whispers. It’s time to embrace it for what it is: an artform.