Abramovich’s short-sighted business model – hiring and firing any manager that fails to bring immediate success – has undoubtedly caused the all-too-conspicuous absence of regeneration at Chelsea. An ageing squad and a temperamental owner hardly cut an attractive figure to potential candidates for the probable vacancy this summer; Di Matteo’s cup success seems unlikely to justify appointment in the eyes of their ruthless overlord. The culmination of this knee-jerk management is possible failure to qualify for the Champions League, which could lead to severe financial consequences that signal the end of their association with Europe’s finest. The match on Saturday may be immeasurably important for the long-term future of Chelsea Football Club.
Under significant pressure to produce immediate success, Chelsea’s managers are forced to continue trends with players who, despite their quality, are slowly sinking below the required level to compete with the giants of the game. Any attempts made to refresh the club, or implement drastic measures to rebuild the foundations via slow regeneration, represents a courageous flirtation with danger. Stir the media-shy oligarch from his slumber by prioritising long term investment over immediate glory, and you are likely to incur the wrath of their merciless emperor – just ask Andres Villa-Boas.
Ferguson-esque seamless transition is an impossibility when managers are disposed of with a casual wave of the arm, and equally, a sudden influx of youth and redevelopment is inconceivable when each coach is given all of six months to produce results. Critics seem to have reached a unanimous agreement that AVB approached the Chelsea regeneration project with an almost excitable haste, whilst lavishing Di Matteo with praise for restoring order. Di Matteo may have steadied the ship for the time being, but it is still sinking; with 15 of its 20 senior members having played under Mourinho in 2007, progress is hardly a term one associates with Chelsea. Conforming to the job requirements by embracing short-term strategy has brought the interim manager initial success; but how much longer can Chelsea continue without a coherent plan for a sustainable model?
The combined effect of nearly a decade of impatience and impetuosity is a 6th place finish for a side that are, quite realistically, the 6th best in the country. Champions League qualification is now only possible via victory over Bayern Munich in the Germans’ backyard. Access to the wads of cash Chelsea desperately need to keep their fingertip grasp on the edge of the English elite, now depends upon back door entry; and failure to qualify for the Champions League this season could irreparable damage to the club. I think we all know who is to blame.
The infamously reclusive Roman Abramovich now faces increasing pressure to emerge from the quiet recesses of his opulent empire, as fans demand explanation for their oil-rich owners whimsical attitude towards managerial appointments.
At times the frivolity of Chelsea’s owner appears as some kind of perverse disdain for pragmatism and intelligent decision making; such is the callous insensitivity with which world-class coaches, welcomed through the diamond-encrusted gates at Chelsea FC with a warm handshake, are spun around and kicked out of the grounds almost within the same movement.
The cacophony of dissenting voices at the seemingly imminent departure of Di Matteo presents the tip of an iceberg that threatens to capsize Chelsea’s aimless pursuit of global domination. Unfortunately for the Russian oligarch, wildly flinging cash at his project does not guarantee steering clear of collision with a fate that could, potentially, topple Chelsea from the pinnacle of football and undermine the billions of pounds injected into the club since 2003. If Chelsea continue on this course, dreams of becoming Europe’s finest look ominous; the experiment may disintegrate as quickly as it blossomed.
Too dramatic? Possibly. But failure to sneak into the Champions League via victory in Munich on Saturday would produce a financial black hole for a side reliant on a revenue stream that has provided a consistent cash flow since 2004.
Only Chelsea know if their current financial health is acceptable for the careful scrutiny of UEFA, with the Financial Fair Play initiative beginning their monitoring next season. Clubs may record a £39.4 million loss over the first three years, excluding wage expenses for players signed prior to June 2010.
But even if Chelsea pass the first UEFA inspection, they will be expected to bring their losses down to £8.8 million by 2018; when examination becomes more rigorous, Chelsea need to make sure they are suitably stable. Their free spending days are over.
Knee-jerk management, then, could have cost the club dearly; the once titanic force of Mourinho’s strong and powerful Chelsea side, having been jabbed by the meddling hands of their temperamental owner on one too many occasions, now appears disoriented and injured.
Their success in the Champions League this season has been heroic, in as much as they resemble a wounded animal limping its way through each battle, relying on resilience and pride, using its experience and the remainder of its strength to sneak past younger, more agile opposition.
They must finish the job in Munich. The competition has injected £45 million in TV deals and prize money into their bank account already this season, not to mention ticket sales, sponsorships and merchandising, which can double this amount. Last year the figure stood at £36 million, roughly the average income for any Champions League team that reached the second round.
Now for the bad news. Chelsea recorded a loss of £72 million for the financial year, down slightly from a £78 million loss the year before. It does not take a genius to work out that they need that ECL money. They also forked out £189.5 million on wages in 2010/11, up significantly from £174 million the year before. Take away the revenue stream that has provided at least £40 million per year to this club for the past 8 seasons, and you have, to put it lightly, a problem.
Chelsea may slip through the lax FFP regulations, but successfully rebuilding a squad with the loss of this money seems an insurmountable task, particularly considering the additional risk of repeat failures once their financial stronghold in the top four is initially broken.
Abramovich’s failings as a chairman are innumerable, and their combined effect could see his empire crumble to the ground. His poor decision-making includes: signing Torres without consultation with Ancelotti, before sacking the manager for the resulting imbalance; sacking Mourinho because the footballing master-mind’s vision differed from his own; dismissing Villas-Boas before he was given the chance to instigate a revolutionary philosophy upon the side; sacking Scolari after 7 months in charge… the list goes on.
In fact, one could argue that Chelsea would never have reached the dizzying heights of Premier League glory, if the owner had not somewhat fortuitously stumbled upon the great Mourinho. Jose was perhaps the only man who could have achieved instant glory (as required of any coach brave enough to accept the Abramovich challenge), whilst simultaneously building a team that each subsequent manager has been able to ride off the back of.
Where has this left Abramovich’s beloved toy? The current Chelsea squad is little more than an eclectic amalgamation of managerial visions: Gary Cahill and Juan Mata represent the composure and technical assurance favoured by AVB; Torres and Luiz the ‘throw-money-at-it-and-hope-for-the-best’ attitude favoured by Abramovich; Essien and Drogba the strength and power of the team built by Mourinho.
There is no tangible direction at Chelsea, and any manager brave enough to drastically revamp the squad must produce fruitful results immediately. This is why Chelsea may now fail to qualify for the lucrative Champions League. The game on Saturday is one of the most important moments in the club’s history. Lose, and Abramovich might see his desperate clutch at global domination slip through his fingers, and drift permanently out of reach.
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