When club owners think they are managers, everybody suffers

2012-01-04 00:00

THERE was a time not too long ago when a chorus of boos would have been the last thing one expected to hear at the end of a match at Stamford Bridge, but the discontent of the Chelsea fans was deafening following Andre Villas-Boas’s New Year’s Eve defeat to Aston Villa.

That result epitomised Chelsea’s staggering season up to this point.

Their captain finds himself in the middle of a race-fuelled controversy, their blue-eyed boy is struggling to make the starting line-up and their coach is starting to lose the confidence of fans.

But are John Terry, Frank Lampard and AVB really the ones who should be the recipients of the many pointed fingers that currently occupy the stands at the Bridge?

Since Jose Mourinho’s departure in late 2007, Russian billionaire and owner of the club, Roman Abramovich, has hired and fired four high-pe­digree managers.

Avram Grant lasted nine months. Luiz Felipe Scolari lasted eight months. Guus Hiddink lasted four months, winning an FA Cup in that time.

His departure was, in fairness, accelerated by his commitments to the Russian national side.

Then there was Carlo Ancelotti, whose extended run in the hot seat lasted a month short of two years.

A Premier League and FA Cup double in 2010 made him the most successful Blues boss since Mourinho and all appeared to be back on track in south London.

But after a 2011 season that yiel­ded nothing for Chelsea in the way of silverware, Ancelotti was ruthlessly sacked by Abramovich and replaced by the more youthful and charismatic AVB.

In the year of Ancelotti’s “failure”, Chelsea finished second in the Premier League to Manchester United and were eliminated in the quarter-finals of the Champions League by Sir Alex Ferguson’s men.

While Abramovich clearly felt his side should be achieving more, they have only become worse since the arrival of AVB and everybody involved at the club would surely take second in the league if you offered it to them now.

Abramovich’s impact has exten­ded beyond simply appointing new gaffers. He has played his hand one too many times in the transfer market.

The most recent of his masterstrokes was the acquisition of Fernando Torres. His form has appeared to be improving in recent weeks, but there is no way that Torres justifies his £50 million price tag.

Then there was perhaps Abramovich’s most glaring error as Chelsea boss — the £31 million purchase of Ukranian Andriy Shevchenko.

I attended a match in 2007 that Shevchenko played in at the Bridge and let me tell you, Chelsea fans were the first to acknowledge that his was a failure of a signing.

The point is a simple one — managers need to be given free reign when it comes to determining who moves in and out of a football club.

When the owner of a club thinks that he has the knowledge to make football-related decisions above the manager, then that club and its manager face a tough time ahead.

Sir Alex has said it himself: he is the most important person at Manchester United.

He decides who goes and who stays and he will be the one to pinpoint why things have gone wrong at the club at any given time.

No Chelsea manager has ever had that luxury … because above every Chelsea manager since 2003, Mourinho included, there has been a man who will do whatever it takes to get his way.

It’s childish, egotistical and helps nobody, but it is the way of the Russian billionaire-football club owner.

With every new manager comes a new style of play and a new team dynamic.

The current crop of players at Chelsea are not short on ability, but stability. They need to spend longer than one season playing together under the same mentor.

Whether or not they will get that under AVB remains to be seen, but by now even Abramovich must be tiring at the thought of pulling the trigger on the managers he has identified as the catalysts who will fuel his quest to dominate European football.

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