Friday, February 17, 2012

Abramovich's Final Exams

This Summer will mark nine years since Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea football club. That is quite enough time for anyone to be at school studying one subject which in this instance is how to run a football club.

In all that time, Abramovich has never spoken in public with regard to Chelsea but what we can glean is that he has a genuine interest in football. Many will also think he has a sharp business acumen given his vast wealth, the combination should be a heady cocktail of success and in many regards it has been given Chelsea's three league titles and various near misses in the Champions League.

What is less clear however is how savvy an operator Abramovich truly is. There are a myriad of allegations and suggestions regarding his acquisition of Sibneft and the subsequent billions that came his way. Whilst clearly 'street smart', business genius he may not be.

Whilst nearly every Chelsea fan would thank him for the success he has brought to the club, what is less appealing is his stop/start nature of investment and his constant changing of managers. With the exception of Jose Mourinho who has proven to all at Internazionale and as Real Madrid are about to find out - engineers his own departures, the problem for Abramovich has been the appointments that he has made in the first place rather than the subsequent axing.

After nine years, Abramovich now stands at a crossroads, does he listen to the young, struggling manager who he courted so expensively last Summer and who refers continually to his 'project'? Or does he listen to his ageing and fading stars who whilst having served the club magnificently will now do everything to hang on to their place in the dressing room no matter what the drop in their powers may be.

It is clear that the Chelsea dressing room is split once again. Since Mourinho left, every manager without exception (Ancelotti was just good at ignoring it) has been subjected to pushback in the form of player power against any new ideas, players or systems.

The most powerful influences clearly are John Terry, Peter Cech, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba. What is also clear is that every single one of those players is past his sell by date. That being the case, why listen to them?

You only need to look up the M6 to Old Trafford to see how these situations are dealt with there. Jaap Stam, David Beckham, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Roy Keane, Dwight Yorke, even Paul McGrath in the dark old days. All of these players were jettisoned at the first sign of either trouble or that they were possibly getting over the hill.

In most cases, good transfer fees were obtained and the money reinvested in younger players, the No7 shirt being the most obvious success. Beckham brought through as a school boy, sold to Real Madrid for 24M. The money reinvested in the 12M teenager Cristiano Ronaldo who was then onsold again to the Bernabeau, this time for a world record transfer fee of 80M.

Chelsea, have passed up several opportunities to sell both Didier Drogba and John Terry in the past few seasons, both who have become fitful performers at best. Whilst the Championship under Ancelotti would probably have not been won without those two granted, the probable 60M in transfer fees (City were prepared to pay over 40M for Terry at one stage) and the 300K or so a week in wages saved over that period would have allowed significant reinvestment in a chronically ageing squad and gone a long way to helping Chelsea get closer to the financial fair play regulations. The prospect of Terry being a Man City player when the Wayne Bridge scandal broke would also have been highly entertaining.

It is clear that Chelsea's transfer policy has suffered from a lack of continuity at manager level with each hired gun simply trying to win the Championship that season and keep his job rather than planning for the future which in fairness to AVB seems to be what he is trying to do. The problem is he has to keep the team in the Champions League spots at the same time or the financial fair play implications would render the team rebuilding impossible.

It is obvious that some players will not support his 'project', it is simply because they know it will no longer include them, what the players are not understanding is that it is not AVB's fault, it is Father Time's. There is no question that he would not love ten years younger versions of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba, who wouldn't?

Abramovich has been at school quite long enough and it is time for him to show that he has been listening in class and that he is ready to graduate. Listening to the calls from faded stars still texting Jose Mourinho and pleas for Guus Hiddink will send the club even further backwards. It is time for Abramovich to look to younger heads and instill some continuity with managers - No Nonsense.