Chelsea’s detrimental obsession
Since Abramovich took over the club in 2003, the stakes have become higher and the pressure enormous.
Another year has gone by, and Chelsea still waits to win the European Cup.
The Blues were well beaten by a Manchester United team who Marseille manager Didier Deschamps claimed lacked fantasy and who Spurs boss Harry Redknapp stated were winning the league by default.
It was a disappointing exit for Chelsea who have been banging on the door year after year but have not been let in despite spending millions and changing managers.
It was built up to be a classic all-English quarter-final between two giants that were in no mood to miss a chance to reach a London final. Chelsea in particular seemed very determined.
Abramovich’s strange approach
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson stated before the second leg of the quarter-final that Chelsea’s owner Roman Abramovich had become ‘obsessed’ with winning the European Cup and considering how disgruntled he is annually at his club not winning the coveted trophy by sacking manager after manager, it would be hard to disagree.
2011 would perhaps have been the perfect year. The final is, after all, at the new Wembley and what better a place to become the first London team to lift the European Cup?
Instead, it turned out to be a clear indication of Chelsea’s continued failings in Europe. Since Abramovich took over the club in 2003, the stakes have become higher and the pressure for the players and the manager and his staff has become enormous.
Claudio Ranieri was the first to face the wrath of the Russian billionare in 2003-04. Despite impressively blending together a horde of new signings like Duff, Robben, Veron, Wayne Bridge, Joe Cole and Claude Makelele, Abramovich could not tolerate any failure and sacked the Italian after the semi-final defeat to AS Monaco after some tactical errors. Even the fact that Chelsea beat the unbeatable (in the league) Arsenal in the quarter-finals did not convince the oil tycoon that Ranieri could transform the club if he was given some time.
But of course, time doesn’t seem to be a factor in Mr Abramovich’s assessment of deciding when to sack a manager in terms of the time it takes to mould success. The only aspect of time that exists for the businessman is how much it will take for the manager to win the UEFA Champions League (European Cup) - the manager at Stamford Bridge is usually only given a season or two.
Manager after manager
Soon, Jose Mourinho - the self-titled ‘Special One’- was at the helm and despite domestic domination, European success still eluded his team. The Portuguese was incensed at the awarding of Luis Garcia’s goal for Liverpool which marginally crossed the goal-line in the semi-final in his first season before Barcelona and then Liverpool once again ensured there would be no place for the blue half of London in any of the finals between 2004 and 2007.
His sudden departure in September 2007 paved the way for the almost unknown Avram Grant to take over and Chelsea fans don’t need anyone to remind them how close they came to finally lifting the trophy in his sole season. From losing the league cup final to marginally missing out on the league title, Chelsea’s season proved to be a ‘so near yet so far’ one as a John Terry slip in the penalty shoot-out against Manchester United in Abramovich’s beloved Moscow ended up being what stood between them and victory.
After an unsuccessful brief spell for Luiz Felipe Scolari, Stamford Bridge saw yet another unfortunate European Campaign which culminated in that infamous semi-final second leg with Barcelona where the home side was denied penalty after penalty and got knocked out on the away goals rule by the Spaniards.
Things looked rosier again with the arrival of another Italian; Carlo Ancelotti in the dug-out. Although Mourinho beat his former club with Inter Milan in the last 16 of 2009-10, Chelsea delivered a huge statement of intent by winning the league and FA Cup in Ancelotti’s first season in charge.
Luck is not on Chelsea’s side
2010-11(this season) should have finally been the year. Chelsea’s experienced squad seemed to have reached its zenith. Lampard, Drogba and the rejuvenated captain John Terry had by now gained bucket-loads of experience and the availability of an almost unlimited cheque-book made the picture brighter; or rather look brighter.
It was a rather sorry sight to see Lampard and Drogba stay on longer on the pitch in the second leg against United (after the rest had departed)- wondering whether they will ever win that trophy- having passed the ages of 33 and 32 respectively.
One of their few young players, Ramires made the night worse with two needless yellow cards and the striker dilemma has become a nightmare for the manager who clearly made the wrong call by leaving Drogba on the bench and placing his faith in the clearly out-of-sorts Spaniard Fernando Torres.
At Chelsea, you get the money but not the time to deliver the goods and the earlier than normal departure of Ramires might soon be matched by an early end to Ancelotti’s contract should the owner decide yet again that another manager will be required to win this competition.
Here’s the problem
There is a difference between forcing success by trying every possible method and between achieving success through the natural flow and process of development.
A winning team cannot be forcibly made. Teams are made from scratch with patience when those in the boardroom and those in the dug-out mutually decide what policies are best for the club. A great manager then builds a great team that achieves success after success until the cycle lasts. Here, the cycle is not even allowed to start.
Torres has clearly been a liability; an out-of-form striker who is nowhere near what he is known to be and whose arrival has disrupted the regular exchange of places in the starting line-up between Drogba and Anelka. His hefty transfer fee puts all the more pressure on the manager to put him in the starting line-up and unless he changes back to his old self- the one we knew at Athletico Madrid and his early Liverpool years- Chelsea might want to keep the receipt of his purchase to get a refund of some sorts.
It seems Abramovich has not learnt lessons from mistakes he made in the past. In the summer of 2006, he acquired the services of Ukranian striker Shevchenko because of his friendship with the AC Milan star rather than the judgment of Mourinho who would have known which players he should buy and sell.
Shevchenko was a flop signing in his two seasons at the club and disturbed the compact pattern that existed in the Chelsea strike-force at that time. Four and a half years later, it seems history is repeating itself with the case of Torres.
Yes, Chelsea have had many occasions of bad luck in Europe and they remain a prestigious and major club. But for the question that everyone asks of whether they will ever conquer Europe and if yes, then when; there is one plain answer: if Abramovich backs off from what happens on the pitch and if he learns to exercise some patience.