Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

James Lawton: Why would Pep Guardiola ever consider going near Roman Abramovich's Chelsea?

Roman Abramovich treats managers as disposable objects

There is no mystery in Rafa Benitez's rush to the colours of Roman Abramovich. He has scarcely concealed his eagerness to return to the game.

But then nor should there be any surprise that Pep Guardiola, the oligarch's latest favourite football man, has for the moment at least chosen the stimulations of the Big Apple over the club whose treatment of Roberto Di Matteo must suggest for some a certain rottenness at its core.



Why, if you are a lord of the football universe, if you have credentials which give off an almost unearthly glow, would you consider for a second, serving an organisation which has proved so incapable of either understanding, and still less respecting, the nature of the challenge facing even the very best of your trade?



If the former master of Barcelona was to finally agree to the blandishments of Abramovich, perhaps in the spring of some interim agony for Benitez, he would be Chelsea's ninth manager since 2003. It is not so much a record of employment as professional incontinence



Guardiola might not consider himself a boon companion of Jose Mourinho, his bitter rival at Real Madrid, but he knows well enough the extent of his skill and achievements at Chelsea before being shown the shown the door at Stamford Bridge with such a brutal lack of ceremony.



Mourinho was a Champions League winner before he became another notch on Roman Abramovich's gun-belt. So was Carlo Ancelotti. Luis Felipe Scolari had a World Cup and a storeroom of Brazilian silverware.



Now the latest disposable object, Di Matteo, has the chagrin of going down after winning the prize which has always been the oligarch's supreme measurement of football success, plus an FA Cup, in less than a full season. He has been told by Abramovich and his advisers that he failed the acid test of performance – while, in a "transitional" season, remaining just four points off the lead in the Premier League.



There is always the question of money. The oligarch can throw any amount of it at any football catastrophe he perpetuates, including, when signing fees and severance arrangements were totted up, something close to £30m in the abject case of Andre Villas-Boas, director of the "project" which Di Matteo salvaged so miraculously.



The sacking of Di Matteo is quite staggering in its indifference to what he achieved, the credibility he rescued, the joy he produced and the professional reality to which he returned a club that was falling apart under the weight of its own ineptitude. This is not only the action of ingrates, it one of football illiteracy, of arrogance off the chart. It tells us, more graphically than ever before, about the meaning of Abramovich's playpen. And what it says is there is no meaning beyond the gratification of the owner's mood. No feeling for the process of making a football team, no grasp of the time or the insight it takes.



At Chelsea, you live in the moment. It is a travesty of the way you build a football club. It is stripped of any instinct for the job. It is deprived of the oxygen of patience and care and knowledge.



Abramovich has the money which tells him that there will always be somebody willing to run the gauntlet and then take the pay-off and wait for the wounds to heal. Benitez, who had his La Liga wins with Valencia and that extraordinary, unfathomable night in Istanbul, is understandably willing to take the Stamford Bridge life-line, for however long it is extended. He is plainly desperate to return to the game after the barren years at Anfield and brisk nose-dive at Internazionale.



But Guardiola? Why on earth would he endanger his standing in the game and work for a club operating on another planet from the one which he carried into such glorious terrain?



When Guardiola won for Barcelona he not only triumphed for the club that had nourished him as a young man and laid down principles of recruitment and development which would always be his guiding lights, he did it for the values of the wider world of football. In the process, it appears that he also managed to win the admiration of Abramovich.



But then how deeply does it run? Would it survive the lean spell that saw Di Matteo's Chelsea conjure a Champions League semi-final triumph at the Nou Camp last spring – and Mourinho take the La Liga title? Would it weather the inevitable fallow times that come to even the most superior manager when he works towards a future illuminated both by success and the kind of football he holds most dear?



It is something that Guardiola, besieged by both Abramovich and the owners of Manchester City and Milan, we are told, must surely be considering as his sabbatical in New York begins to run down.



He took it because he said that even at the Nou Camp, where he was indeed the lord of all he surveyed, the pressure had become unbearable. It was the burden of maintaining success in a place where he had made it a matter of routine.



He can be sure another kind of weight will come to his shoulders if, sooner or later, he agrees to become the latest acquisition of the man who has reason to believe he can buy anyone or anything.



It is a demand quite different to the one he faced at the Nou Camp, one that grants neither time nor professional respect, and if he ever had reason to value his place in the world and in football – and his New York state of mind – it has surely been provided by the vulgar, unconscionable sacking of Roberto Di Matteo.

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