Rubles Everywhere, But Where’s The Soul?
Posted by eddiev18 on June 21, 2008
Almost a month ago now, a man who had fought against media pressure and bought his club to the brink of a glorious season, was sacked – for coming second, twice.
Avram Grant, aka Baron Silas Greenback, had been drafted in from the boardroom to steer Chelsea’s season back onto some sort of course – bring some respectability to a campaign that had been all but written off by the oligarch chairman who employed him. That is all that was expected, especially after Jose Mourinho, before being fired, had royally messed it up in the first few months. The trouble is, Greenback did an excellent job.
The problem presented to Roman Abramovich was that this guy wasn’t employed to do well, he was there just to steady the ship. In the PR stakes, he was nowhere near ‘The Special One’, and his brand of football wasn’t any more exciting. After a 4-4 draw at home to Aston Villa during the Christmas period, the nationwide perception was that, at the end of a fruitless season, Abramovich would be able to shuffle Greenback off to an office upstairs, and employ a coach with greater credentials and a bigger name.
Greenback dug in though, rallied his troops, and fought back in the league. His team saw off Arsenal’s challenge, pushed Manchester United right down to the last game, and were a spot-kick away from becoming European champions in Moscow on May 22nd. A tremendous achievement for a team considered dead and buried only months before, but still not enough to please his boss.
Greenback’s sacking was harsh and, above all, completely classless. A man considered a friend to Abramovich when he took over, he was discarded like the Russian’s ex-wife – ruthlessly, and with a big pay-off. It sent a clear message reverberating around Europe, that the high standards set by Chelsea’s owner, and the cut-throat nature of the way he conducts his business, makes the club a place to avoid if you value your reputation.
According to reports, AC Milan’s brilliant technician Carlo Ancellotti was just one of a string of managers who, when approached, politely declined. His reputation and relationship with the club was more important than a hike in salary, and the pressure that the Chelsea job now brings.
From a personal viewpoint, I’m not sure Abramovich appreciated what he had with Greenback. He had a guy who had never managed in a major European league before, a manager who’s goal was to prove himself and work hard. He wasn’t there because of the pay cheque, he’d taken the job because this was his big chance. He desperately wanted to be Chelsea manager, irrespective of what the public and the media said about him, and the players eventually responded to that. Given another season and a few of his own players, who knows what he could have achieved.
I have gone through the above to illustrate an overall observation of what Abramovich (Mourinho’s trophies aside) has bought to Chelsea. I think it is clear that he has squeezed out every last inch of soul at the club, including any form of likeability, and replaced it with a selfish, ‘look out for number one’, money-driven culture.
I understand that this culture is widespread in the modern game, but I think it is fuelled by, and at it’s worst at, Abramovich’s Chelsea. Just look at their latest appointment, manager Luiz Felipe Scolari. After the 2006 World Cup, Big Phil was all set to become England manager, only to retract his interest at the last minute. His reason was simple, “I don’t like this pressure. It may be part of another culture, but it’s not part of mine”. He certainly will not escape pressure at Chelsea, and there is no doubt in my mind that the Chelsea manager is in the media’s spotlight just as much, if not more, than the England boss.
It appears that Scolari has put the issue of pressure to one side, and the main reason he’s joined is so that he can earn enough money to retire in 4-5 years. Whilst I admire him for having the honesty to publically state this fact, it only goes to highlight my point.
It’s not only the manager though. Players are choosing Chelsea for the financial, not sporting, reasons too. I’m not concerned with the Winston Bogarde’s of the world, but when it comes to promising younger players – the likes of Shaun Wright-Phillips, Wayne Bridge, and Steve Sidwell – I have a massive problem with their decisions. All of the aforementioned players are classic examples of those who have jepordised their progression as footballers by signing for Chelsea, or staying there too long.
Wright-Phillips is the strangest one. Such an exciting prospect at Manchester City, and still young, it’s really hard to understand why he is happy with sitting on the bench for a large portion of the season. His development has slowed down dramatically, to the point that David Bentley (who plays week in, week out for Blackburn) is now seen as the natural replacement for David Beckham in the England team. Bentley left Arsenal to focus on his career and become a better player, while ‘SWP’ has been happy stagnating.
Considering all the above, it is easy to see where Abramovich is going wrong. Football management is all about laying out your foundations for success. It’s about making indivduals understand the need for teamwork – getting them to look out not only for themselves, but everyone else on their team. A manager needs time to understand the needs of individuals, build solid relationships, and eventually achieve success, which can be maintained by these foundations – just look at what Sir Alex Ferguson did after he got his house in order at Manchester United.
By not allowing a manager any time and instilling a soulless, cut-throat, self centred, money driven culture that attracts and creates mercenaries, Abramovich is the only person to blame if his club don’t achieve the goals he has set.
I just hope that, with takeover bids rife in the Premier League, other clubs don’t follow suit.