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Blue Sunday: Abramovich Wields the Axe

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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.

Abramovich Chukotka (Chelsea FC)

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.

While Ancelotti was dealing with the stench from the Russian equivalent of one of those Mafia “dead fish”, other final day dramas were being played out up and down the land. Among the teams involved in a fight for Premier League survival yesterday, was Blackpool — back in the top division after almost 40 years. All season, Ian Holloway’s men have been winning admirers with their goalscoring prowess, leaky defence and never-say-die attitude. They went down fighting at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon, losing 4-2 to Manchester United.

When Blackpool were promoted last year, The Sun helpfully served up some facts about the club’s miniscule wage bill and how the average weekly pay in the town is a paltry £302.50. But what really caught my eye, was the paper’s claim that “life expectancy for men in the town is 73.6 years, the lowest in England and Wales”. A worrying statistic, but I think Chelsea fans will be more concerned about the average managerial lifespan down at Stamford Bridge since the millennium. Time for a reality check, Roman?

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About Susannah Straughan

  • Well, give it a few months and we’ll see what the new season has in store (a few guaranteed sackings, among other things).

    In the meantime, there’s the Women’s World Cup to look forward to. If it’s anything like as good as the last edition, it should be quite something. There’s Brazil and the phenomenal Marta, and England in with a real chance, having beaten both the USA and Sweden in recent months.

  • Susannah Straughan

    @Chester That’s the 64 thousand dollar question! I’d say it’s ego: somewhere out there is a (deluded) coach who thinks he can deliver exactly what Abramovich wants.

  • Chester

    Why would any manager want to go there you cant pick your own team and ger saked at the end of the season.It,s not as if these managers are broke when they go there

  • Susannah Straughan

    I’ll be interested to see how long Man City’s owners give Mancini before casting around for a bigger name.

    I don’t ever see Abramovich changing his stance — no matter how damaging the effects on the team. Any incoming manager should ask himself whether it’s really worth the huge salary to be humiliated and dumped the way Ancelotti was.

    Even more distasteful is the way some mainstream sports journalists have made a sport out of talking these managers out of a job.

    Anyway, let’s hope for good game tomorrow night between Man U and Barca!

  • Steve

    It all goes to show that it’s not just a case of throwing huge sums of money at a problem. Having the best players in the world in one team is no guarantee of success, though obviously having good-quality players is important.

    Rather, as Manchester United have consistently shown it’s about players playing for each other, and for the manager. The team has to ‘gel’ for it to work. And the one thing Abramovich hasn’t yet learned, is that chopping and changing managers often leads to disappointment.

    I thought Ancelotti acted in a dignified way throughout, pity Chelsea treated him with less respect.

  • Firing your coach for finishing second in the world’s toughest league one year after winning the thing is very shabby. (I support Newcastle and we’d kill for a coach who could achieve anything close to that!)

    Ancelotti’s successor would do well to have another job already lined up. Abramovich is now running the club as if it’s Spain, where you get the sack if the team isn’t 5-0 up within 20 minutes of the kickoff of your first game in charge.

  • Roman Abramovich has far too much power and arguably not the brains to use it wisely.

    Evidence for that is that he refuses to commit to a manager, despite all the evidence that great managers need time to work their magic and that he is trying to buy success rather than build it on a solid foundation.

    Furthermore, the Roman Abramovich Wikipedia entry reveals such gems as “He attended simple state schools and was, at best, an average student” and that he “started his multi-billion-dollar business during his army service where he sold stolen gasoline to some of the commissioned officers of his unit”.

    He then graduated to trading in black market goods before managing to legitimize himself during the “gold rush” that was perestroika and is now very close to the real power in Russia, which is wielded by Putin.

    The Wikipedia article makes very interesting reading and makes his purchase of Chelski seem like an attempt to improve his public image rather than any serious interest in football.

  • Susannah Straughan

    @Harold Bishop — or indeed several doors! It does seems a little undignified, though. The decision was obviously made weeks or even months ago. Why not go one stage further and drag him out into the middle of the pitch or broadcast it on YouTube?

  • Harold Bishop

    Where better to show a man the door than in a corridor?

  • Susannah Straughan

    I hope Blackpool don’t have to wait another 40 years to get back to the Premier League. It was a tall order having to play Man U in the final game, but perhaps bowing out in the “Theatre of Dreams” will give them something to remember. Ian Holloway was very gracious in congratulating yesterday’s survivors, too.

    Perhaps Roman should buy himself a Formula 1 team next — he might find that more rewarding. I think I’ll be switching my allegiance to the newly-promoted QPR next season.

  • It was Blackpool’s rotten luck to get Man U away on the last day of the season. If they’d played like that against any other team – including Chelski – they would have flattened them. The players are without a doubt devastated right now, but they should be proud of themselves.

    As it was, only those two horrendous defensive balls-ups prevented them from getting a draw – not, as it turned out, that a point would have kept them up anyway.

    As for Chelsea, I’m just wondering how long before Abramovich gets bored and takes his money away – at which point I can see ’em going into free-fall.