Roman's Torres Obsession: Will Chelsea Fans Finally Turn on Their Money Men?
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They say be careful what you wish for, but Chelsea fans must be wondering for the first time whether they might be better off without billionaire owner Roman Abramovich.
The Russian oligarch has transformed the Blues into a European power with his vast resources of money since he took over the club nine years ago.
In that time, Chelsea have won the Premier League three times, four FA Cups and, most memorably, last season's Champions League final. There has never been a better time to be a Blues fan.
Yet, an unease has lingered into Stamford Bridge.
The club's on-field success has meant fans have willingly accepted a relationship with the rest of the football world that has become fractured by resentment and contempt over the way the club operates.
Chelsea has attracted ill-will for many reasons in the recent past—the John Terry racism affair has left terrible stains on the club's reputation. But arguably the most consistent reason for bewilderment outside west London is the pop-gun care with which Abramovich hires and fires his managers.
Yesterday, the debate was refreshed with the shock axing of Roberto Di Matteo.
If the Italian is not quite a club legend he is universally adored at the Bridge following the Blues' dramatic first Champions League success against Bayern Munich in May.
Should Chelsea sell Fernando Torres?
Yet, just six months on he is gone.
Even more extraordinarily Rafael Benitez—hardly a fans' choice—has been flown in from the managerial wilderness (and a TV punditry job in Dubai) to take over interim charge for the rest of the season.
Benitez is Chelsea's ninth manager in as many years and, for all intents and purposes, a 10th is not far away.
Chelsea fans are asking, why?
On the face of it, Di Matteo paid the price for Tuesday night's damaging 3-0 Champions League defeat in Turin. The loss left Chelsea on the brink of elimination from a tournament Abramovich covets most.
But that is too simple of an analysis of the situation; after all, Andre Villas-Boas was retained despite Chelsea only salvaging their place in the knockout stage with a win over Valencia in their final group game last season. Villas-Boas did not have the small detail of a Champions League win on his CV just six months previous, either.
The impression, therefore, is that Di Matteo was simply never Abramovich's man.
Even when Di Matteo was appointed full-time in the summer, the underlying feeling was that Abramovich had been persuaded into action because of the Champions League win. Pep Guardiola's defiance to slip away into a year's sabbatical probably also forced his hand.
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A recent run of poor results—Chelsea have taken just two points in their past four league games since winning seven of the opening eight—offered Abramovich a window to rid himself of Di Matteo.
It was typically ruthless. Chelsea fans have seen it before and learned to abide by the whim of the Russian for fear of offending the man who holds the financial future of their club.
But this time it may just be different. Abramovich's infatuation with his £50million striker is starting to turn into a club-curdling obsession.
This time Abramovich's capricious style has seen a club legend humiliated. Worst still, he has been replaced by a man who engaged himself as an enemy of the club when Chelsea were enjoying their most sustained spell of success under Jose Mourinho.
Blues fans do not want Benitez at the club—period. The feeling is they will make that loud and clear at Stamford Bridge on Sunday for the visit of champions Manchester City.
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There are also fears amongst the Chelsea fans that Benitez has been brought in solely to try and get the best out of Fernando Torres.
If so, Abramovich's infatuation with his £50million striker is starting to turn into a club-curdling obsession.
Torres spent his best years under Benitez at Liverpool but whether the Spanish tactician will arrive with the requisite gold-dust to re-invigorate the striker remains to be seen.
Di Matteo initially managed to get value from Torres at the start of the season, as well as that Champions League goal at Barcelona in April, but eventually, after another barren run he gave up on him against Juventus.
There are claims in the English papers that his decision to finally axe Torres against the Italian champions cost him his job as a final act of defiance against Abramovich's control.
If that is the case, Chelsea fans can expect to see a lot more of Torres in the next few months.
If Benitez fails to turn him into anything like the player he was when they were last together, expect the Chelsea fans to start to turn against them quickly.
The Stamford Bridge faithful see too much potential in the likes of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar to abide Torres' aimlessness much longer, especially with the thoughts that they can ill-afford to delay on making a move for Atletico Madrid's prolific frontman Radamel Falcao beyond the winter.
Chelsea fans have been unfathomably patient with Torres, but if he and Benitez fail to fire, their goodwill will almost certainly be in short supply. After that, almost unthinkably, Abramovich could too finally come under fire.
Given the single-minded way he has run the club in the past, it is probably about time the Chelsea fans took a more vocal stage after being cast into the margins for some time now. Just ask the Chelsea Pitch Owners.
Abramovich has earned such a rebuke at the very least.
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