Only a few weeks ago, many were more than ready to declare Chelsea ‘Champions-elect’ – yes, I’m holding my hands up, guilty as charged. So, why is everything collapsing?
The absence of key players like John Terry, Frank Lampard and Michael Essien is unquestionably significant but, if you had to point the finger at the chief cause, step forward Roman Abramovich.
And we’ve been here before, haven’t we? The last time the owner tried to fix something that wasn’t broken was in 2007 when he shunned Jose Mourinho, as important as the Russian’s money in bringing Chelsea unprecedented success, by bringing in Avram Grant.
Now, don’t misunderstand what I’m saying: this owner, ANY owner, is free to do whatever they want.
But is Abramovich so blind that he cannot see that his tinkering is threatening to bring down the empire he did so much to create?
While the club insists that he ‘jumped’ rather than was ‘pushed’, Frank Arneson’s announcement that he’d be leaving his post next summer as Sporting Director at Stamford Bridge could hardly arrive at a less opportune moment. Chelsea’s interest in bringing in Txiki Begiristain to replace him, with his links to the Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola, speaks volumes: so much for a luxury liner cruising to another title.
The club is still reeling at the fall-out from the dismissal of Ray Wilkins as Carlo Ancelotti’s No 2.
Such is the sensitivity in West London, Chelsea moved very quickly to prevent Wilkins making an appearance on Sky Sports last week, ‘advising’ their former employee that he might be jeopardising on-going negotiations about the size of his pay-off.
Though Ancelotti insists his own future isn’t in question, it’s much more than a rumour that he was ready to walk out last weekend.
The Italian is certainly more relaxed than most of his counterparts in England regarding boardroom/owner interference — that’s the way things happen regularly in his own country — but he is struggling to disguise his dismay at the way things are moving. It seems that winning the ‘Double’ and doing so much to improve Chelsea’s image as a club is not enough.
Abramovich has only one target, the Champions League.
He looks enviously at someone like Guardiola, neatly forgetting that his current coach has also won the coveted European crown.
Perhaps, it’s the style of play at the Nou Camp, again neatly forgetting that’s as much to do with what that club stands for as it is to do with Guardiola.
Abramovich has employed six managers in six years at Stamford Bridge. At least three of them, Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink and Ancelotti have been and still are of the highest calibre. I’m not at all sure that the Russian takes advice.
If he does, someone should whisper in his ear.