Why Roman Abramovich Must Be Held Accountable for Chelsea Malaise
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Imagine where Chelsea would be if Roman Abramovich hadn't so ruthlessly and recklessly sacked Roberto Di Matteo as manager in November.
In truth, they would probably be where they are now. They'd still be out of the Champions League, off the Premier League title pace but in the FA Cup, albeit they may—or may not—have won the World Club Cup and progressed to the final of the Capital One Cup.
Being crowned world champions would have brought some kudos to Stamford Bridge but even that wouldn't have masked the fact that Chelsea are still some way off replacing the Manchester clubs as the dominant force in English football.
As it's transpired, replacing the much loved Di Matteo with the much loathed Rafael Benitez has done nothing to Chelsea's footballing fortunes yet has invariably prolonged the rebuilding process of reviving Chelsea into genuine title challengers.
If we look at things statistically, the Blues' record has actually regressed since Benitez was thrust into the dugout. Over the first dozen games of the season Di Matteo accrued 24 points whereas Benitez's rap sheet in 13 league matches stands at 22 points.
If Di Matteo had been left in control, he would have needed to post a 100% record over those 13 fixtures to be just a point clear of Manchester United at present, and although that would have been unlikely, at least there was direction to where the Italian was taking the team.
The blueprint was there to move forward and build a foundation over this campaign with which to reassess things in the summer. Di Matteo had his fallacies and Chelsea were far from the finished article, but there was a positivity around the place and a sense that gradually the European Champions by name were assembling something which could have resembled that tag in nature.
But in one hideously ill-thought-out swipe of his blade, Abramovich has extinguished that good feeling and created a genuine sense of disillusionment and resentment between the fans and the club hierarchy which has undoubtedly had an adverse effect on team affairs.
Against Fulham, Queens Park Rangers, Southampton and Swansea at home, the Stamford Bridge crowd—much like the team—started out quietly with grumbles growing into groans and howls of derision as Benitez and the side failed to rise from their slumber.
Chelsea are fraught with tension. Killing games off and not losing leads are staples of any successful club but ones which the Blues are getting the wrong way round at the moment.
Eventually Chelsea may end up with what they had in the first place—a top-four finish and success in either cup they're left in, but where will they go from here?
Knowing there is absolute apathy towards Benitez, Abramovich cannot even countenance the notion of appointing the Spaniard on a full-time basis past the end of the season, but even if fans' choice Jose Mourinho is lured back to London, there is much else Chelsea's owner needs to take responsibility for.
This summer marks the 10th anniversary of Abramovich's arrival at Stamford Bridge, but over a decade and with hundreds of millions of pounds spent on this "project," the club are miles away from where they could and should have been.
Should Chelsea have won more during the Abramovich era?
Since June 2003, Chelsea have won more pieces of silverware than even Manchester United, but that does not tell a fraction of the story.
Serial sackings have meant Chelsea have splurged out an unprecedented amount of money on compensation as one incumbent seeks to rebuild the scorched earth from where his predecessor stood.
But it's not only the managerial sackings Abramovich could do with explaining. It was his decision to instill people like Frank Arnesen, Avram Grant and Michael Emenalo into positions of power at the club, all to differing effect and all without a reasoned or rational justification to the fans.
The huge losses Chelsea initially incurred on the likes of Juan Sebastian Veron, Adrian Mutu and Hernan Crespo were necessary at one time to elevate them to where they needed to be, but since Mourinho delivered back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006, the club's transfer policy has been decidedly confused.
Big-money moves for Andrei Shevchenko and Fernando Torres have backfired spectacularly leading to a more cerebral approach in recent years which has left Chelsea lacking in the desired quality to immediately challenge for top honours.
Under new technical director Michael Emenalo, Abramovich has sought to secure the names of a younger, less recognised brand of footballer the club hope to shape into a winning side over time.
Acquisitions such as Oscar and Eden Hazard will undoubtedly improve Chelsea in the long run, yet Abramovich still expects instant success without the ingredients for it.
Back in 2003, would Abramovich have envisaged that the cash he had invested would lead to the club being at such a dysfunctional crossroads, without any security or stability and a win-at-all-costs culture which stifles any real progress? Probably not.
Now, 10 years on he has an opportunity—somewhat belatedly—to start again and address some of the major problems he has himself inflicted upon the club.
The youth policy is still non existent and financial sustainability independent of the benefactor's input is debatable.
The idea of a "Blue Barcelona" is just as unrealistic now as it was then and the constant managerial changes and confused recruitment policy means nobody—aside from Mourinho—has been able to successfully impart their own style upon the team.
By the summer Abramovich will have a key managerial decision to make but, for once, he needs to see past the man at the helm of the team as the one to blame and instead reflect upon what he has done wrong to land the club in this position.
Chelsea still have designs on moving into a larger stadium but the Blues' fanbase cannot afford any more hits to their confidence from Abramovich's meddling.
Despite three Premier League titles and a European Cup win it is hard to argue that Chelsea have progressed as a club since the Russian rolled into the club and unless they want another 10 years of mini revolutions, Abramovich needs to display long-term acumen and foresight which has been conspicuous by its absence during his reign.
Good management begins from the top.
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