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The enigmatic case of Chelsea managers
14 trophies since his takeover. During this period under his reign, Chelsea have been supreme and are the most successful club in England. Most importantly for Mr Roman Abramovich, they became the first side from London to land the greatest prize of them all, the Champions League. These are all accolades Chelsea fans will wear with huge pride and any huge criticism of the club will draw a riposte of vociferous stature from them. With this perceived dynasty hanging large over Stamford Bridge, there is one glaring association with the club. Usually when a club sees this magnitude of success, it is often the case that a manager has had a long period under the club in order to see his ideas turn to reality. Think back to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and the club across the city in the shape of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. Be that as it may, Chelsea have seen a turnaround of 12 managers since 2003. With Antonio Conte under huge amounts of pressure after a lacklustre collapse against Roma midweek, he could be gone before anyone realises. Is there anything wrong with this approach of handling managers?
It would be an understatement to say Abramovich is restless for success. Every manager that has been kicked out by him has been given the orders in the season they had won nothing. This was regardless of whether they had won the double the season before or in Roberto Di Matteo’s case, even the European Cup could not save him. The obvious thing to take away from this evidence is that if you don’t deliver, you will be shown the boot. This strategy is also evident in the case of another European superpower. Real Madrid have also chopped and changed managers at will when the president feels like it. Zinedine Zidane looks likely to be next in line, despite delivering two Champions Leagues in a row, a feat never achieved since 1992. The question that begs to be asked is whether Chelsea should change this abrasive approach towards their managers? The obvious answer would be no since they have shown they can be successful time and again. But, in the Russian’s eyes, has he really taken the club to where he wants? In his initial stages as owner, it has been no secret that he approached Ferguson to take the manager’s job. Of course, the Scot said no instantly but it gives us an idea of the kind of stature Abramovich wanted to take Chelsea to. To give them history that will become immortal. While success has been never too far away for him, that legacy seems to have eluded him. Perhaps giving a long term future to a manager may give him the chance to change the club into an iconic superpower.
Adding to the approach to tempt Ferguson from Manchester United, it seems that he wants the supply chain to the first team to come from their academy rather than buying world class talent like they have for years. The youth players at Chelsea can do no more really, with phenomenal success at the youth level and many of them have recently been part of a stunning victory at the under 17 World Cup with England. Abramovich wants to see something similar to the class of 92 at Manchester United, La Masia at Barcelona and the academy at Bayern Munich. Despite this desire, his ruthless approach is getting in the way. All these great clubs have gone through periods where they had to rediscover themselves. Barcelona went through a time when Los Blancos couldn’t stop winning and it felt like this great club lost their identity. Bayern Munich had three years without winning anything before achieving the treble. Manchester United seem to have been going through that transition phase for the last four years but whatever people say about the style of play, Jose Mourinho is looking increasingly likely to bring them back to the top at some point. Abramovich may need to sacrifice short term gain in order for long term glory. In that way, he may finally reach a state of satisfaction with his ownership of Chelsea.
As the club’s greatest ever manager returns on Sunday, where he thinks he will be forgotten in four years time, the anticipation of another sacking at Stamford Bridge is rife. Conte can say all that he wants about not feeling the pressure of losing his job, but this movie has been seen time and again. Could Abramovich do something different by keeping faith in the Italian? Maybe this season will be poor for the club, but by keeping faith, the charismatic Conte could really have a huge impact and take over Mourinho as the club’s greatest boss.