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Michael Emenalo's rise to power at Chelsea: Abramovich's right-hand man had key role in Jose Mourinho's sacking

By Jack Pitt-Brooke

Published 19/12/2015

Happier times: Michael Emenalo and Jose Mourinho in discussion before the latter’s sacking this week
Happier times: Michael Emenalo and Jose Mourinho in discussion before the latter’s sacking this week

While Jose Mourinho's dismissal on Thursday night was a surprise only in its timing, few expected what followed a few hours later.

Chelsea's technical director, Michael Emenalo, gave an interview to Chelsea TV in which he made clear, with remarkable frankness, details of the "decision taken to protect the interests of the club".

By describing the "palpable discord between manager and players", Emenalo took ownership of the decision to remove the man he only referred to as "the individual".

After he gave a prominent interview to The Daily Telegraph one month ago, reaffirming the club's commitment to the beleaguered Mourinho, it is Emenalo who has become the public voice of the Chelsea board.

The fact that Emenalo gave that interview on Thursday, and felt so free to be so critical of Mourinho, speaks volumes about his authority and his confidence at the club.

As technical director at Chelsea, overseeing recruitment at all levels, and with the ear of Roman Abramovich, he is one of the most powerful men in world football.

Emenalo's rise on to the Chelsea board, and into Abramovich's trust, is one of the more surprising stories of the modern era at the club. All of the other board members have long-standing business ties with the owner.

Chelsea chairman, Bruce Buck, a corporate lawyer, worked on the deal to sell 72 per cent of Sibneft, Abramovich's oil company, to Gazprom for $13bn in 2005. Marina Granovskaia worked for Abramovich at Sibneft for years and is his most trusted adviser. Eugene Tenenbaum was head of corporate finance at Sibneft, and also goes way back with Abramovich.

They are a remarkably tight group, who have worked with each other for years all over the world, and yet Emenalo, a Nigerian ex-pro and coach, has risen to an influential role among them.

He is the only one on the board with direct football experience, which gives him an authority of football issues. Only Granovskaia is now thought to have more sway with the owner.

Emenalo has come very far. The highlight of his playing career was representing Nigeria at the 1994 World Cup, part of a strong team including Jay-Jay Okocha. His club career was less prestigious, playing in the lower leagues across Europe and in MLS.

But at his final club, Maccabi Tel Aviv, he was coached by the man who transformed his career.

Avram Grant was always impressed by Emenalo's intelligence and offered him a coaching role when he retired from playing at 35. Emenalo, though, moved to the United States.

He worked as a volunteer coach at Virginia Tech before moving to Tucson, Arizona. In 2006, Emenalo joined the Tucson Soccer Academy, working as the director of player development - in charge of "pre-formation training" - and becoming chief executive.

Grant always remembered Emenalo. When, in September 2007, he replaced Mourinho as Chelsea manager the team were preparing to face Valencia in the Champions League and Grant flew Emenalo to Spain to scout them.

Emenalo's plan helped Chelsea to a 2-1 win at the Mestalla on October 3. Grant introduced Emenalo to Abramovich afterwards and the deal was done to bring the Nigerian to Stamford Bridge as chief scout.

Had Emenalo not joined Chelsea he would still have ended up in England. Juande Ramos, his coach at Lleida in the Spanish Segunda Division in the late 1990s, had lined him up for a role at Spurs.

Emenalo quickly impressed Abramovich too, with his loyalty, thoughtfulness and football experience, and started his rise through the club. When Ray Wilkins was removed as Carlo Ancelotti's assistant in November 2010, it was Emenalo who officially replaced him, even if Ancelotti made clear that he would not be taking training, and would be doing largely the same job he had done before.

The following year, when Andre Villas-Boas replaced Ancelotti, Emenalo moved into the technical director role. In that job he has overseen transfers and largely built the Chelsea squad.

Of course, his record is mixed. Mourinho was less than impressed with this summer's activity, leading him to feel that it was difficult for him to succeed in the current structure of the club. Chelsea signed Baba Rahman and Papy Djilobodji, but failed to get John Stones.

This Chelsea squad is largely of Emenalo's construction, which is why it should be no surprise that he unequivocally sided with the players over Mourinho on Thursday night.

His main loyalty, though, is to Abramovich. He told The Telegraph last month that he was confident Chelsea have "an owner who has a very good track record when it comes to making decisions" and that "we have never put ourselves in a position where we second-guess him".

Abramovich and Emenalo - and the board - have made one of the biggest decisions of their Chelsea careers. Emenalo was trusted to defend it.

Belfast Telegraph

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