June 2003 will forever go down in Chelsea history as the date that the face of our club changed forever. Roman Abramovich waltzed into SW6 with the single purpose of transforming Chelsea FC into the biggest club on the planet.
In 7 years we have won the League three times, three FA Cups, two League Cups and with any luck (or a decent referee) will win the European Cup before not too long. However, things could have and should have been far rosier.
The current predicament or crisis, depending on your Chelsea perspective, is merely a microcosm of the Abramovich era: behind the scenes issues overshadowing and impacting on the field matters far more than they ever should.
This is not a reactionary article; people who know me or follow me on Twitter will know that I invariably remain positive. Nevertheless, we are beginning to once again see what board intervention does to our club. Suffice to say the internal politics at Chelsea make FIFA look like a transparent footballing institution.
It has come to the point where the club has an eerily similar feel about it to the weeks before Mourinho’s acrimonious departure. That remains for me, the biggest mistake we as a club have made under Roman. The similarities are striking, if not more poignant for Ancelotti.
On the back of the club’s first ever Double, a sensible board decision would have been to build upon the squad and make improvements. Therefore, the en masse cull of the squad was somewhat of a surprise during the summer. Releasing three first-team players on free transfers (Ballack, Deco & J. Cole), selling a world class centre back (Carvalho) and an exceptional squad player in Belletti signalled a move in the right direction.
All well and good if we had replaced them with suitable candidates; Ramires may turn out to be a brilliant purchase, but with players of Özil’s calibre going for considerably less, my questioning surrounds the squad composition.
The purchase of Andriy Shevchenko left a lingering shadow over the autonomy of the manager. That shadow has recently overarched the concept of the manager as the conduit for the playing side of the football club. When Ancelotti uttered he was there merely for technical direction, the shift was complete – we have a manager not in control of his own squad.
Cast your mind back to the days of The Special One and look at the similarities. The undermining of Mourinho began with interference, reached boiling point with the “spy on the bench” (Avram Grant or Emenalo if you’re into your conspiracy theories) and culminated with him leaving by “mutual consent”.
Shevchenko was purchased as a gift to enable José to win the Champion’s League. He goes down in living memory as arguably the biggest let down in Chelsea history and the catalyst for one Chelsea’s biggest mistakes. If the Manager is not in charge of his own squad, then who is making the transfer decisions?
If recent reports are to be believed Ancelotti did not know about the signing of Ramires nor did he want to release Ballack. So why have the board tangibly weakened the squad without consulting the manager? We clearly do not trust the youth to play serious minutes as Bruma, Sturridge, McEachran, Kakuta and Van Aanholt cannot buy a game at the moment.
Even more annoying when you consider there are two very usable English kids on loan in Cork and Mancienne, who will be overlooked and sold (most likely). I previously wrote about the futility of the youth academy system, this has illustrated my point superbly well.
Looking at Manchester United, how important have Messrs O’Shea, Brown, Fletcher and Evans become over the years? Why does every youth product need to be world class before playing? Would Mancienne run his heart and soul into the ground on the pitch? Yes. Has he ever let us down in his appearances for Chelsea? No. What about Cork? Have we missed someone who can put his foot on the ball in midfield? Yes. Can Cork do that? Yes. It beggars belief why they haven’t been kept around the squad.
Ancelotti has essentially been sent into the title fight with one arm tied behind his back. If we talk about usable players (those trusted to play serious minutes), our squad is overtly thin. Cech; Bosingwa, Ferreira, Ivanovic, Alex, Terry, A. Cole, Zhirkov; Mikel, Essien, Lampard, Ramires; Malouda, Kalou, Drogba & Anelka. Sixteen players versus twenty-one from last year, is there any wonder that we turn to the bench and we have nothing to throw on to change games?
Rational fans would see this as a season to push on all fronts, blood the young players and hopefully pick up a trophy. With the depth of squad, why have the board stated that we should retain the League and essentially win/come close in the Champion’s League? They have taken the decision to considerably weaken the squad and we are seeing the consequences.
You cannot tell me that we went into this season banking on Cech, Terry, Essien, Lampard and Drogba to remain fit throughout. Even the most amateurish football club can see the pitfalls of such a plan staring them in the face. Terry succumbs to that long-term injury, Essien inevitably gets sent of stupidly and picks up niggles, Lampard has the first serious injury in his career and Drogba is/was playing with malaria.
Sadly we do not have the squad to cope with the level of injuries/suspensions/illness we are presently seeing. People bemoan Ancelotti for the lack of a “Plan B” – with this squad that would constitute a gamble beyond what Carlo can afford to take. Against Everton we needed to control the ball in the second half – bring on a Deco or a Ballack. The pressure Ramires is under to swim straight away is immense, give the lad some time.
This is where the Politburo comes into the equation. Plainly and succinctly the old cliché of too many cooks spoiling the broth is rearing its ugly head. What astounds me about the complexity of the decision making starts with Roman. How can a man who has made billions as a successful businessman get things so drastically wrong?
With around £43m to spend in the summer (£18m for Ramires and the reported £25m on the table for Neymar) and some very big holes to fill, whose decision was it to buy one player with potential? Roman has employed a team of people with conflicting motives, a group of yes men and glorified accountants.
Buck, Gourlay, Tenenbaum, Alexander, Barnard, Forde and the much maligned Arnesen all comprise the Chelsea board. Where is the leadership, the direction? The board are pulling in different directions. Buck spoke about marquee signings, but Gourlay clearly has cost cutting on his mind.
Arnesen has now resigned from his post, a sign of his waning influence behind the scenes. This prompts the question who is the new power broker behind closed doors? That is something that will probably reveal itself over time.
What needs addressing straight away is the direction the club is heading: the cascade to youth over experience seems an initiative to trim the wage bill. Yet, the Neymar bid showed that there was money to spend. Maybe it is simply a case of the right player at the right price? Or maybe I’m right in thinking that the £43m available could have been put to better use.
Given our high wage bill the balance between remaining competitive and cutting costs was always going to be a fine margin in lieu of the Financial Fair Play rules. January will remain a telling time in Ancelotti’s reign. He will no doubt want reinforcements, but will the club provide them?
It goes without saying our recent points total is more relegation than title retention form, but it surely cannot persist.
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