Chelsea: a Roman farce in west London

Abramovich’s sacking of yet another Chelsea manager once again emphasised the folly of dumping Jose Mourinho.

Duleep Allirajah

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Big Phil’s sacking. Didn’t see that one coming did you? I know, I know, there are plenty of smart-arses who, with the benefit of hindsight, claim they saw the cracks appearing months ago. But how many punters put money on Scolari to get the axe back in the autumn when Chelsea were winning games in style?

Back then, the press were gushing over the new, loveable Chelsea. With Jose Bosingwa marauding down the right flank and Deco scoring spectacular 30-yard stunners for fun, it seemed that Scolari had found the magic Winning Stylishly formula that Abramovich so craved. The players seemed to love their new gaffer. Chelsea had, in the words of John Terry, got themselves ‘a proper manager’. The fans were also happy. Eighty-three per cent of fans on the Chelsea Pies website said that Scolari was the right man for the job.

But the love-in didn’t last long. The same supporters who had welcomed Scolari’s appointment in the summer were chanting ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ as Chelsea drew 0-0 with Hull City. Of course, now that Scolari has gone, the world and his wife have produced a theory to explain his failure. Here are my top five favourite explanations:

1. Scolari was overrated. ‘Even my granny could have won the World Cup with the players Brazil had.’ I actually heard a caller to 606 say this. I could at this point patiently explain how Brazil’s World Cup qualifying campaign was floundering when Scolari took over. I could explain how he initially upset the jogo bonito purists by playing with two holding midfielders. But I won’t bother. Anyone who espouses this kind of nonsense is obviously a tragic half-wit on whom rational arguments are wasted.

2. It was the recession wot done it. Russian oligarchs have taken a big hit as a result of the global financial crisis and Scolari was unfortunate to join Chelsea just when Abramovich was feeling the pinch. Certainly, Scolari wasn’t able to strengthen his squad during the January transfer window but a club with a reported £150million wage bill pleading poverty? You’re having a laugh.

3. Scolari had no Plan B. Jose Mourinho made bold tactical changes which often paid off. Scolari’s changes didn’t work. But does that mean he’s a tactical dunce? Not necessarily. Plan B usually means sending the proverbial ‘big fella’ up front and launching long balls at him. In that sense, Scolari didn’t have a traditional English Plan B. Did he have impact players on the bench who could inject pace, width or creativity? Not really. ‘At Chelsea we don’t have the player who can make the difference by himself by producing something magical on the pitch’, Scolari complained in an interview with a French football magazine. Maybe he didn’t get his tactics right, but any Plan B needs the players to deliver it. So many Chelsea players were underperforming that no amount of tactical wizardry could have altered the course of games.

4. Meester Felipe no speak English. There have been suggestions that Scolari struggled to communicate with his players in English. ‘He wanted it a lot, but sometimes I felt he wanted to explain much more than he could with his language’, said Michael Ballack in a recent interview. Scolari himself said that he had virtually no relationship with his players outside the training ground. I don’t buy the language barrier explanation. Are times so hard at the Bridge that Chelsea can’t afford interpreters?

5. Scolari’s training methods were flawed. When Scolari took over at Stamford Bridge in the summer, everyone was happy with his hands-on approach to training. Now that he’s gone, players have been grumbling that his training regime was too light and outdated. Jose Mourinho’s training sessions were said to be much tougher. Not having had the pleasure of training with either Mourinho or Big Phil, it’s difficult for me to comment. However, there does seem to be more than a whiff of buck passing on the part of the players. Maybe the training could have been tougher, but that doesn’t excuse the ‘can’t be bothered’ attitude of many players.

My own theory? I think that Roman Abramovich’s decision to get rid of Jose Mourinho lies at the root of the problem. Abramovich wasn’t satisfied with the trophies that Mourinho was stacking up. He wanted Chelsea to be adored for their stylish football. He assumed that just because he could throw money at Chelsea that winning trophies was the easy part. What Abramovich failed to appreciate was just how special the Special One was. You see, winning isn’t easy. It’s the hardest bit. Jose Mourinho had instilled a never-say-die team spirit and winning mentality at Chelsea that most rival club owners would die for.

Oliver Kay in The Times hit the nail on the head when he contrasted the ‘smart, intelligent business plan’ façade with the cowboy-outfit manner in which the club was actually run. ‘Almost from the moment he bought the club, it has been run on a whim and a prayer, with splurges of extravagant and, at times, highly capricious spending in the transfer market punctuated by outbreaks of prudence’, wrote Kay (1). The problem, in short, wasn’t Scolari; it was Abramovich. His vanity and impatience has eroded the team spirit that Mourinho forged.

It takes time to establish the foundations of a successful football club. Yet time is precisely what Abramovich has never afforded his managers. He wanted instant success. He wanted, in Peter Kenyon’s words, to ‘turn the world blue’. And when the team fell short he wielded the axe: Ranieri, Mourinho, Grant and now Scolari. Sure, Chelsea were in a poor run of form this season, but sacking a manager when your team are fourth in the Premiership, still in the Champions League and FA Cup, and have suffered only five defeats in 36 games is a joke. I guess that’s one thing for which Chelsea-haters like me can be thankful to Mr Abramovich: Ken Bates has gone and Chelsea are super-rich, but they are still a laughing stock.

Duleep Allirajah is spiked‘s sports columnist.

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spiked-issue: Sport

(1) Roman Abramovich knows Chelsea have not aged well, The Times, 16 February 2009

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