Abramovich Is Chelsea's Problem And Solution

"Failure, to me, would be Chelsea failing to reach the Champions League, or failing to reach the final stages. I find it hard to accept it's failure to be second or third in the Premier League and lose a quarter-final. If we're going to be judged like that, all that's going to happen is that Chelsea will change their manager every year or second year and the results are going to carry on being the same." - Roy Hodgson, Manager of West Bromwich Albion
The helicopter swoop on Cobham and the Reservoir Dogs march across the pitch to address the beaten team in their changing room are becoming a bit dated now, but who is going to tell him? Speaking truth to power is never easy when power pays your salary and the whole shebang has cost £750m. Chelsea will never get round the difficulty that the man who pumped in all that money is the problem as well as the solution; not just the blessing but the curse.

You walk round David Luiz, in the way Bill Shankly invited football writers to when he signed Ron Yeats, and Roman Abramovich is the godsend. You watch Fernando Torres and think the owner is the fault line at Stamford Bridge. To the super-rich, investment without control is anathema. But the more Abramovich controls the more he undermines his spending.

This all started with Jose Mourinho, of course, and players being bought without his say-so, with confidants and company men blocking the path between manager and owner: football's clearest route to glory. As Carlo Ancelotti said, "The most important thing for a club, and for a manager, is to have a good relationship with the club, the owner. When this relationship is not good, you have to change. Until now the relationship with the owner is fantastic. He has supported me this season when we didn't achieve important results. If, at the end of the season, the owner decides my job was not good enough, this is not a problem."

Ancelotti is a hired gun. He knows the rules. The prestige and profile of even the finest manager cannot compete with the power of the mogul, who sees the staff skipping across a field on £150,000 a week and feels justified in expecting instant gratification. Ancelotti is the sixth manager of Abramovich's eight years at the controls. The more we all point to this pattern of instability the more entrenched the oligarch becomes. There is a disconnect in his thinking between politburo-style authority and the damaging effect his meddling has on the team.

Conventional wisdom says Ancelotti was hired for his Champions League expertise. But would it be impugning a top coach and decent man to say he was employed also for his pliability? As a former courtier to Silvio Berlusconi in Milan, Chelski Manager No.6 was a good bet not to defy the owner in the way Mourinho had.

As this season progressed, and his teams tumbled out of competitions, diplomatic cunning on Ancelotti's part came to look more and more like counterproductive deference, or weakness, because if there is one political truth about this Chelsea squad it is that they will walk all over a manager if they think he lacks authority: a conclusion that must have seemed obligatory when Ancelotti failed to stand up to Abramovich over the sacking of his No.2, Ray Wilkins.

No player brings an air rifle into the training ground and shoots an intern if he fears the wrath of the manager. The most telling detail about Chelsea's 2010/11 campaign is that the players chose not to respond to the exhortations from Ancelotti to return to their old winning ways. They may still like him, but fear is noticeably absent. After fear, with footballers, you are into the murky realm of respect.

So when a new man is testing his reputation against the Cobham Collective, that Surrey-dwelling gang of one-man corporations, the problem of Ancelotti will be gone but the problem of Abramovich will remain. And since he refuses to build along Manchester United or Arsenal lines, the time is rapidly approaching when lecturing the owner about stability becomes pointless. If he wants to jeopardise his £750m, who can tell him not to?

Well, the supporters and the club, actually, because he is the custodian as well as the owner, whether he likes it or not.

Roy Hodgson, who was fired by Liverpool after 191 days, diagnoses a distortion of the term "success": a money-induced and society-driven mangling of perspective. "

The success is so quickly forgotten and people are so quick to say it's not worked out. When you've reached the quarter‑finals of the Champions League and played two such close games against a top-class opponent people should be more sanguine. You knew either Manchester United or Chelsea were going to go out in that round. In the second leg they certainly took the game to United for long periods and did well to equalise but came up against a very good team.," Hodgson said.

"Failure, to me, would be Chelsea failing to reach the Champions League, or failing to reach the final stages. I find it hard to accept it's failure to be second or third in the Premier League and lose a quarter-final. If we're going to be judged like that, all that's going to happen is that Chelsea will change their manager every year or second year and the results are going to carry on being the same," added Hodgson.

Abramovich can be a detached, popcorn-eating owner and allow the experts to make the big calls or he can steer Chelsea like a yacht.

Exclusively by Paul Hayward, The Observer

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