Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughThe Real Tinkerman’s Rudderless Ship Continues to Drift in the Wrong Direction - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough The Real Tinkerman’s Rudderless Ship Continues to Drift in the Wrong Direction - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

The Real Tinkerman’s Rudderless Ship Continues to Drift in the Wrong Direction

It’s the summer of 2003 and Chelsea officially announce a take over by a Russian billionaire who is in the world’s top 55 richest men. Before a ball has been kicked in the 2003/04 season, Chelsea go on an unprecedented summer transfer window spending spree in excess of £100m, bringing in some of the finest young British talent alongside the likes of Claude Makeléé. At that point you did not need to be a Chelsea fan or indeed a qualified brain surgeon to work out that the landscape of not just English football, but probably European football was about to change for years to come. Suddenly there was a new powerhouse on the footballing map owned by a Russian oligarch who could flex his financial muscle and more or less recruit who he liked, when he liked. This became increasingly evident as exampled when he plucked Manchester United’s Chief Executive Peter Kenyon from under their noses. Abramovich also brought in legendary Dutch scout Piet de Visser, a man who was credited with discovering such mercurial talents such as Ronaldo and Romario and brought them to PSV Eindhoven.  More or less from day one Abramovich’s mantra was clear. He wanted to win everything at any cost in order to establish Chelsea as world football’s new dominate force and most recognisable global brand. He also knew in order to achieve that Chelsea had to establish themselves in Europe and take the continent’s most value prize, the Champions League trophy.

At the time he had inherited a very popular and media friendly Italian manager in Claudio Ranieri, who despite his propensity for tinkering with team and tactics, thus earning the name ‘The Tinkerman’, appeared to be taking the team in the right direction. However, throughout the 2003/04 season speculation was rife that Ranieri was a dead man walking and despite a respectable second place league finish and taking Chelsea to the semi-final of the Champions League (beating Arsenal’s invincibles en route), the Tinkerman was mercilessly shown the door at the end of the season. This set in stone the new club benefactor’s new corporate philosophy… That second place simply will not do. Eight years and six managers later, Chelsea still have not won the Champions League and are still not the world biggest football club or the dominant global sporting brand they aspire to be. In those eight years they have won the English Premier League just three times, compared to Manchester United’s four. United have also won the Champions League in that time, ironically beating Chelsea in the 2008 final and have appeared in three finals. One could even argue that Liverpool have performed better than Chelsea in the Champions League over the past eight years by virtue of their two final appearances, one of which they won in 2005.

Fast-forward to 2011 and one third into a season under the tutelage of their latest young and relatively inexperienced manager, Andreas Villas-Boas (or AVB as he has become known), the club are once again struggling to impose themselves both at home and in Europe. Already off the pace in the Premier League, out of the Carling Cup and looking unconvincing in the Champions League group stages, many are left wondering whether Abramovich will have the nerve to keep faith with a young manager who he paid Porto £13m compensation for just five months ago.

Given the club’s track record under Abramovich, the question is a valid one. Many football observers have criticised Chelsea for their lack of managerial continuity and the trigger-happy manner to which they seem to conduct their business once things don’t go their way. When Chelsea replaced ‘The Tinkerman’ with the ‘Special One’ back in 2004, it seemed a perfectly understandable leap of faith in a man who at the time was considered the hottest property in football. José Mourinho had impressed Chelsea and the rest of Europe, with his rapid ascent as a manager and the way he had guided his young Porto side to UEFA Cup and Champions League glory in successive seasons. His appointment as Chelsea manager also seemed like a match made in heaven. Both were unapologetically arrogant, hungry and ruthless in their quest to rule the roost. In his first season, Mourinho’s Chelsea walked the talk and became English Champions for the first time in 55 years, at a canter. However, they came up short against Rafael Benitez’s resurgent Liverpool team in the semi-final of the Champions League. Benitez won the tactical battle over two legs and denied Chelsea the right to contest for the prize Abramovich coveted the most.

When Mourinho failed to make any further progress in the Champions League for the next two seasons, Abramovich decided it was time to revert to type and embarked on his own rendition of The Tinkerman by bringing in two ‘stellar’ players that Mourinho had not himself requested. Andre Shevchencko and Michael Ballack were two high profile players with huge reputations and equally huge egos. They entered a dressing room already filled with huge egos, none bigger than the manager himself. Many suspect this upset the balance and spirit that Mourinho had very carefully manufactured during his time in charge, which subsequently served to manifest itself on the pitch as borne out by the ensuing results. This was certainly not in keeping with the Mourinho modus operandi and cracks started to appear in the marriage. Following a less than spectacular start to the 2007/08 season and after much speculation that Abramovich had become exasperated with Mourinho’s arrogance, ego and a downturn in results on the pitch, Mourinho’s time at Chelsea was ended. This also served as a timely reminder to anyone that had forgotten that he and only he was the man in charge of Chelsea FC. Reports suggested Abramovich was also critical of Mourinho’s style of play and that he wanted to see his team play more entertaining football.

Abramovich’s callous command/control style of leadership seems to have permeated all levels of the club and have won Chelsea few friends outside of the club. They have often come in for criticism from UEFA, most notably following the vociferous and somewhat undignified manner in which some of their players behaved after losing the 2009 Champions League semi-final tie against Barcelona.  Over the years they have stumbled from one PR disaster to another, but perhaps the biggest faux pas since the sacking of Mourinho was their treatment of Abramovich’s fifth appointment as manager. Carlo Ancelotti came to Chelsea with a first class CV, and all of the credentials to deliver and realise the club’s ambitions, having twice won the Champions League with AC Milan as well as a scudetto title in Italy. In his first season as Chelsea manager he won the league and FA Cup double becoming only the second foreign manager to have done so after Arsené Wenger. He also put an end to a period of dominance enjoyed by Manchester United over the previous three seasons. However, failure to progress in Europe left some to wonder how Abramovich would react, particularly as they went out in the knock-out stages to an Inter Milan side managed by none other than José Mourinho. Inter Milan went onto win the competition that year. The following year after a trophiless campaign Ancelloti was ruthlessly sacked by Chelsea straight after giving a post match interview in the final game of the season. This seemed to symbolise the lack of class and decorum showed by the club under the stewardship of Abramovich. The club were universally criticised by all sections of the game for this. The criticism came from far and wide and included the Professional Footballers Association, the League Managers Association and even their own fans. His sacking came not long after Ancelotti was so publically undermined after being stripped of his Assistant Manager and club legend Ray Wilkins. Ancelotti could not have been happy with such a move, especially as he had publically acknowledged the key role Wilkins had played the previous season in harnessing a good team spirit in the dressing room. The combined treatment of first Wilkins and then Ancelotti has seen some sections of their supporters start to turn against the clubs hierarchy. More significantly, the Chelsea Pitch Owners supporters group, set up by previous owner and Chairman Ken Bates, refused to sanction the club’s attempt to buy back Stamford Bridge in order to facilitate a possible move to a new ground and redevelopment of the site, citing a lack of transparency from the club’s owners. This seemed to be further evidence of the widening disconnect between those at the top and the fans, who are clearly not overly impressed by the way they choose go about their business.

To be fair to Abramovich, he has invested heavily in all aspects of the footballing side of the club in order to achieve the success he so desperately craves. Some reports suggests he has bankrolled the club to the tune of almost £800m since he took over in 2003, continually footing the bill for the club’s successive annual operating loses. From this perspective perhaps one can start to understand why he feels as though he has the divine right to meddle with whatever aspect of the club he likes. His deep pockets have also been responsible for the development of the club’s state-of-the-art training base and youth academy at Cobham. However, interestingly, the youth academy is yet to yield any significant returns to date. In fact, John Terry, who made his first team debut as a 17 year old back in 1998, is still the only first team regular to have come from the youth academy and this was course well before the Abramovich era. This is in contrast to rival clubs such as Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United, who have seen the likes of Jack Wilshere, Martin Kelly and Danny Welbeck make significant breakthroughs at their respective clubs within the past two seasons. His constant tinkering and involvement in acquiring squad recruits, as demonstrated with the purchase of Fernando Torres and David Luiz in January 2011, have so far succeeded in doing nothing more than undermine the team cause and as such, his own substantial investment.

Over the eight years since he bought the club, Abramovich has also remained (publically) a faceless, inconspicuous presence, preferring to send his subordinates such as club Chairman Bruce Buck and Chief Executive Ron Gourlay to enforce his more autocratic policies and act as the public face of the club to justify them to the media and the fans.

Having decided to replace a vastly experienced proven winner with a young, inexperienced, albeit talented manager, the club seem to now be heading in the wrong direction. Clearly the new manager will need time but Abramovich’s notorious impatience does not bode well for their latest managerial incumbent. AVB has inherited an aging, yet still talented squad, but he has tried to add quality with the likes of Juan Mata and Raul Meireles. AVB will also need to find a way of phasing out many of the club’s older players such as Anelka, Drogba and ultimately Lampard and Terry. Other fringe players will probably have to go too. He also has to solve the conundrum of how to get the best out of the enigmatic yet expensive misfit that is Torres. For he would be wise to remember that the last time Abramovich went behind his manager’s back and brought in a big money striker that his manager failed to get the most out of, it was the manager that went first.

When AVB came into the fold in July much was made of the obvious comparisons with Mourinho. Both are Portuguese, both came directly from Porto FC, having done very well at the club and both are renowned for their very studious and meticulous approaches to management. AVB was indeed part of Mourinho’s backroom staff at Chelsea years before. Just like Mourinho, AVB has also tasted success on a European level having guided Porto to Europa Cup glory as part of a historic treble winning first season as manager of Portugal’s most decorated club side. However, the Champions League is a completely different proposition. Mourinho has ticked that box twice, as has Ancelotti. Therefore, one could argue that Abramovich has made two fundamental errors since taking over as owner of Chelsea. Both have involved hasty decisions to fire proven managers that were easily capable of delivering the Holy Grail for the club had he shown more patience and more faith in their abilities. The man who is said to be the owner of the most expensive collection of luxury yachts in the world is left to preside over his one rudderless ship that appears to be sailing aimlessly in the opposite direction to the one he envisaged when he bought it eight years ago. Sadly for the supporters and for all involved at the club, there is only one man to blame for this and it’s the one who has become the ultimate Tinkerman himself.

Wayne Wiggins @Wayne_Wiggins



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