James Lawton: Abramovich to blame for Chelsea slide
Published 10/02/2009 | 00:00
Remember that shining palace they were building in the sky down the King's Road when the roubles were still coming out of Roman Abramovich's ears and his hireling Peter Kenyon declared that the Premier League had turned into a race involving a "bunch of one?”
If you do, you better hang on to the memory because that is all it is now - a memory made so remote that in football terms you could place it alongside the artefacts of some ancient played-out civilisation.
On the day they sacked Luiz Felipe Scolari, a winner of the World Cup and a man who once had the nerve to face down death threats and effigy-burning by the great Brazilian public who claimed that he was destroying jugo bonito - the beautiful game - they also hammered in the last nail in that discredited concept that Chelsea were something more than the beneficiaries of a Russian windfall.
But then we shouldn't say THEY. The word is part of the mythology that Chelea are building a word-beating organisation that one day might outstrip brand leaders like Manchester United and Real Madrid. There is no world-beating organisation at Stamford Bridge. There is just Abramovich's money - at least that dramatically reduced amount which, for the moment at least, he is any longer prepared to pass on - and Abramovich's whims.
Scolari fell victim to one of them yesterday and the bullet came directly from the top.
Abramovich began to lose face in Moscow when his team failed to deliver the triumph for which a host of his friends had been primed with the best champagne and limousines.
But Manchester United, of all rivals, won the Champions League - and last weekend Hull City, not even members of England's top flight at the time of denouement in Moscow, exposed the extent of Chelsea's decline.
We know it was solely Abramovich who pulled the trigger because at the time he was doing it his chief executive Kenyon was spending holiday time blissfully removed from the the maelstrom of frustration that has been building so relentlessly in the owner's office suite.
Last night the titular head of this world class organisation, which for so long has been ignoring the fundamentals of successfully running a major football club, was flying home, presumably to begin to work on a short list of successors for the managerial vacancy which surely has Frank Rijkaard, a Europe Cup-winning practitioner of the beautiful game Abramovich is said to crave, and the ultimately hard-headed Guus Hiddink, as the favourites.
One reality has to be accepted in the first shock of Scolari's ostensibly brutal dismissal. It is that the Big Man should not be given the ultimate blame for the increasingly obvious slippage of Chelsea's old competitive standards on the field. Yes, he has plainly lost the dressing room but anyone who knows football will tell you that there are only two ways a manager suffers such a critical downturn in his prospects.
One is that he displays himself as a fool, someone for whom the highest success is plainly beyond his talent and his strength.
The other, the more common and invariably deadly, is that he loses support in the boardroom, or in this case wherever the owner happens to be regretting the dwindling prestige of his plaything.
The truth is that Jose Mourinho, still the idol of so many Chelsea fans, had suffered the same fate as Scolari long before he collected his pay-off.
If Mourinho's nerve had held, or he had decided to place his superb reputation for winning titles above a guaranteed pay-off, he would have walked out the moment Abramovich first started voicing displeasure at Mournino's functional style of play, and, then certainly, when Avram Grant was brought in as a director of football.
You cannot run any successful club, and still a world-beating one, if the command is deflected and the priorities are constantly changing.
What you have to do, all the precedents set by those British clubs who have won on the wider front of Europe insist, is let a strong manager manage - men like Jock Stein, Matt Busby and Brian Clough.
It is so basic it is football ABC. But then when Kenyon returns from his shattered recreation will he able to even broach a return to such a fundamental policy. Not when recent developments at Stamford Bridge have indeed formed a pattern - one that has apparently left Big Phil feeling so profoundly diminished.