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Abramovich Holding Back The Blues

The news broke on Sunday that, following a string of bad results and growing unease around the club, Andre Villas-Boas has parted company with Chelsea Football Club.  Despite the rumours and calls for his head in recent weeks, I was surprised to see the decision taken so abruptly, but I really shouldn’t have been.  Chelsea’s Russian chairman, Roman Abramovich, is no stranger to hasty managerial changes and, although his decisions often come as a shock, I should have learnt my lesson by now.  The billionaire sacked former manager Carlo Ancelotti just one year after the Italian had won the double for Chelsea, replacing him with the latest casualty (AVB) in a combined deal worth something in the region of £28 million.  It is a high-pressure job, in which instant and continued success is compulsory.  However, notable examples in English football show quite clearly that Abramovich’s approach is not only draconian, but also wrong.

Since the days of Jose Mourinho’s tenure at the Bridge, Abramovich has been searching ruthlessly for someone to live up to job that the now Real Madrid boss performed.  In just over three years in charge of Chelsea the Portuguese manager, and former mentor of AVB himself, managed a win rate of over 70% in all competitions, something that he has now exceeded at the Bernabeu (76%).  He also managed to go his entire reign in London without suffering defeat in a home league game (60 consecutive matches), a record that he carried over from Porto (38), continued during his time with Inter (38) and ended in Madrid (14).   The record ran between February 2002 and April 2011, totaling 150 home league games exactly.  Very few managers in the past or future have or will achieve such a feat and Abramovich’s search for the next Mourinho is one of impatience and naivety.

Patience is a quality that has dictated the level of success for a number of clubs since the creation of the Premier League.  It is not an asset that the Chelsea chairman seems to possess, which is (excuse the cliché) a hefty bullet in his own foot.  In Villas-Boas’ 40 games at the helm, his side was victorious in just 19, managing a win rate of 47.5%.  In relation to Chelsea’s high standards this was deemed unacceptable but, if the Premiership’s two longest-serving managers are examples of which to take note, this start was not so bad after all.  Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson are the two greatest success stories in the modern era of English football management.  By taking both a qualitative and quantitative look at their first season in charge of Arsenal and Man United respectively, in comparison to what followed, it becomes clear that one man is holding Chelsea back from progression: Abramovich.

Arsene Wenger was appointed at Highbury in 1996, having previously managed ‘Nancy-Lorraine’, ‘Monaco’ and ‘Nagoya Grampus Eight’.  Despite a poor 12th place finish in the 94/95 season, Arsenal had recovered the year prior to Wenger’s appointment by finishing 5th.  In his first season in charge, the Frenchman managed a 44% win rate, unspectacular but a solid performance.  This was then followed up in 97/98 with 61.1%, enough to bring the title to Highbury in only Wenger’s second season.  The faith shown in the manager was repaid again as, following a few years of Man United dominance, Arsenal claimed the Premier League title in 2002 and 2004, the latter being the year of the “invincibles”, going the entire league season without losing a game and accumulating 90 points in the process.  Arsenal have encountered some tricky patches under Wenger’s leadership but perseverance and faith have brought the good times back shortly after.  The present day is an example of one of these tough times but will the Arsenal hierarchy be panicking and replacing him in the near future? Don’t put any money on it.

A better example yet, however, is Sir Alex Ferguson.  Following his brief spell as Scotland manager, Man United hired Ferguson in 1986, long before the formation of the Premier League, as we know it.  Having finished 4th in the three previous first division seasons, United fans were hoping their new manager would lead them to a title challenge in his first season in English football.  What they got was a disappointing 11th place finish with a win rate of just 39%.  Whilst Wenger’s 44% at an unpredictable Arsenal wasn’t ideal, Ferguson’s inaugural season at a strong United side was a disaster.  Despite the inevitable concerns amongst the fans and in the boardroom, the decision was made to give the Scotsman time.  The result?  37 trophies in 25 years and a win rate of 64% or greater for each of the past six seasons.

Whilst these are only two examples of boardroom patience paying off, they are not exactly the exceptional cases.  Wenger and Ferguson are by far the two longest serving managers in the Premier League era, the only two cases of a manager being allowed to build a dynasty.  While I’m not suggesting Roman Abramovich should appoint someone and guarantee him 20 years, I am saying that the cases of Arsenal and especially United are blueprints for consistent and repeated success.  The “special one” can seemingly arrive at a club and win silverware instantly, but the turbulence that comes with that sort of character creates the problem it appeared to solve just a couple of years ago.  Look to the long-term, Roman, you might begin to do for Chelsea what the fans have been hoping you would for the past nine years.

Paddy von Behr @HighBalls1

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