As every schoolboy knows, the decline of the Roman Empire was a protracted affair. In the empire of Russian oligarch and football enthusiast Roman Abramovich, things tend to move at a speedier pace. New managers blow through Stamford Bridge with a regularity that makes that old revolving door metaphor seem inadequate. Yesterday’s much-feted hero falls from his plinth to become today’s equivalent of lion fodder. Sic transit gloria mundi.
Take Carlo Ancelotti, the lugubrious Italian manager who led Chelsea to a League and FA Cup double only 12 months ago. I’m not sure whether it’s accurate to say that the Italian was shown the door by his employers when, strictly speaking, he was sacked in a corridor at Goodison Park yesterday evening. Chelsea had just concluded their disappointing season with a 1-0 defeat by Everton, but Ancelotti had been a dead man walking for months.
Yes, another Barclays Premier League season is over, though you’d be forgiven for not noticing amidst the furore about superinjunctions, Twitter and a well-known footballer with something to hide. If you can’t get enough of our national game (I mean football not sex scandals), it’s only a few short weeks until the next season kicks off on 13 August. That probably leaves Mr Abramovich enough time to find another highly paid recruit — Guus Hiddink and Porto’s Andre Villas-Boas are in the frame — but you have to wonder where it will all end.
To be fair to the fickle Russian, Chelsea’s casual attitude towards managerial appointments predates the Abramovich era. I was first taken to Stamford Bridge back in the mid-70s during the reign of Dave Sexton (and boy, does that seem like a long time ago). Sexton, who went on to manage Manchester United, led the Blues to FA Cup and European Cup Winners Cup triumphs in 1970 and 1971. But after his departure in the autumn of 1974, Chelsea clocked up another five managers before the end of that decade! None of those appointments made their mark on the trophy cabinet — unless you count finishing runners-up in the old Second Division. It wasn’t until 1996 and the arrival of the dreadlocked one, Ruud Gullit, that things started looking up in west London.
I share Roman’s frustration, I really do. You spend squillions of pounds luring expensive foreign imports to your new club and put the world’s least self-effacing man, José Mourinho, in charge. Back-to-back Premier League titles come your way, along with some other little Cups that no one really cares about, yet something still isn’t right.
It’s said that the owner wasn’t overly excited by the defence-first brand of football propagated by “the Special One”. He didn’t want a team that bored their opponents into submission. He wanted panache, a goals bonanza and journalists eulogizing Chelsea’s style, not their ability to run up huge debts in the transfer market. But Roman also had his gimlet eyes trained on the biggest prize of them all — the Champions League. Ironically, the manager who has come closest to delivering that bauble was the much-derided Avram Grant, in 2008.
I think this twin obsession with making the Beautiful Game a reality (as opposed to an annoying euphemism) and landing the Champions League is proving ruinous for Chelsea. The harsh truth is that the club did extraordinarily well to land the Double in 2010 with a squad that was some way past its sell-by date. A realist would say this season was always going to be about rebuilding — finding the balance between Didier Drogba’s aging legs and the untested abilities of Gael Kakuta, Jeffrey Bruma, Josh McEachran and others. The idea that Chelsea would be mixing it with the likes of Barcelona in the final stages of the Champions League was laughable.