Sunday, March 04, 2012

Real Gone Kid

OK, hands up who had nine months? Come on, someone must have had André Villas-Boas getting fired after nine months in the betting pool, surely?

It was hardly the most difficult prediction to make, given that Chelsea managers are usually fired in January or February, unless they're extremely unlucky and fatally piss Roman Abramovich off in September, as Jose Mourinho did.

It's actually become quite boring to be referring to Chelsea's managers as dead men walking so soon into their tenure; the history of Abramovich's patience wearing thin has become such a well trodden path there's not much point retracing it again now that AVB has inevitably bitten the dust.

The question is what does Chelsea do next? If Champions League and World Cup-winning managers aren't going to last, then Chelsea could just keep going through a never-ending list of people until, probably, they end up with me, and still not find the satisfaction the club is looking for.

Was Villas-Boas the right man for the job? Who knows? Nine months to turn a team built around an ageing spine of powerful egos, with the promise of blooding younger players and importing others, doesn't seem long.

AVB was an almighty gamble when he was hired last June, following the briefest of ascendance in the Portuguese league, with an admittedly intriguing success in landing the national title in Portugal and the Europa League with Porto at the first attempt. But should he have been immediately imported into the Premier League and a club like Chelsea with a trap door so poorly disguised Indiana Jones would swerve around it with ill-concealed contempt?

We are now playing with hindsight. If Chelsea were currently flying away with the league and chugging into the final 16 of the Champions League barely out of third gear, Villas-Boas would be being hailed as a boy genius, football's equivalent of a precocious teenager who has outwitted the cream of academia to win Mastermind.

The reality is that Chelsea are in no such position. A barely contained fifth place in the league, not helped by another anaemic performance, with a resugent West Bromwich Albion recording their first victory over Chelsea since Christopher Reeve made his screen debut as Superman. Next up will be an unnecessary FA Cup replay against Birmingham City, followed by an always-tricky home league fixture with Stoke. And then, on March 14, will be the potential home banana skin against Napoli, as Chelsea attempt to reverse a two-goal deficit against the potent Italian street fighters.

It's all depressingly familiar. Aren't we exactly where we were a year ago? Then we were only to Carlo Ancelotti's second season as Chelsea boss (his first ending with a league and cup double at his first time of asking) and in turn four years since they'd won the league twice on the run under Jose Mourinho. Factor in FA Cup wins and Champions League semi-final and final appearances, and Chelsea's record hasn't been too bad since Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003. I'm sure there are Arsenal fans who would take a recent history like that quite happily.

So why has such a track record been regarded so indifferently by Abramovich? Is it really as simple as the fact he expects success without question, and no matter who he puts in charge? If Chelsea won the quadruple every season with Dale Winton as manager and a selection from the cast of Glee as his team, would he really not mind as long as the silverware was stacking up?

Somehow I doubt it. Which begs the question, does Abramovich and his coterie of acolytes running Chelsea really know what they're doing? Were Mourinho, Ancelotti, Scolari and even Avram Grant really doing that badly when they were fired? Was Andre Villas-Boas, at 33 and with no comparable experience of football management at this level really the only option open to a club of Chelsea's wealth and stature? What was this ridiculous three-year "project" they kept talking about?

The thing that winds me up more than anything else about Chelsea is the sheer waste - of money, of time, of resources, of reputation, of people. Chelsea's executives really do give the impression that they don't have a clue. They quite happily spend £50 million on a useless pup like Fernando Torres, or blow £13 million on buying an inexperienced young manager out of his club contract in an inferior league, and nine months later wonder where it all went wrong.

So, for the seventh time since Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea we're about go through the guessing game of who will be the next mug to fail to live up to expectation. Will it be Barcelona's Pep Guardiola who, despite creating one of the most exciting and invincible teams in the history of club football in any country, is starting to show signs of weariness (though it shouldn't be forgotten that he, too, was a novice when he became Barca manager in 2008)? Or will it be Mourinho, again? Or maybe one of a number of exotic sounding managers currently plying their trade in the Spanish or Italian leagues who, on paper at least, might tick the box marked Exotic, but once embroiled in the rough-and-tumble of the English Premier League soon find themselves unprepared for the sort of combat that more seasoned home-grown managers take for granted.

And what if Chelsea took the domestic approach, of bringing in a David Moyes or even gazumping Harry Redknapp from under the noses of the FA? Would they fair any better? Would Abramovich's expectations of European glory without question and with style still prove too much?

The point is, no one really knows. For the next 48 hours, at least, the back pages will be filled with speculation and, probably, names you or I haven't ever heard of before, but which make you wonder just where Abromovich's people are doing their talent scouting.

Years ago, on arriving at Brussels Airport, I jumped in a taxi and asked to be taken to the airport Hilton, only to be informed by the driver - who, bizarrely, was British - that it was right next to the hotel, and promptly got out the other side of the cab. I only thought such gags happened in comedies, but it happened for me in real life. I've since realised that it also happens on an annual basis at Stamford Bridge.  And with the revolving door still spinning from the last departure, Andre Villas-Boas is coming out of the 'In' door almost as fast as he entered, another pointless experiment in the branch of Muppet Labs that Dr Bunsen Honeydew-Abramovich seems to be administering in his quest for who knows what.

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