Is Chelsea’s Abramovic finally satisfied?
Chelsea's Didier Drogba, right, celebrates with Petr Cech after scoring the decisive shootout penalty during the Champions League final soccer match between Bayern Munich and Chelsea in Munich, Germany. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
What’s the key to success at Chelsea? It’s a club with all the resources a manager could want for, but which comes with the hefty burden of Russian owner Roman Abramovic’s expectations.
And they’re not easily satisfied. Just ask departed managers Claudio Ranieri, ‘special one’ Jose Mourinho, Avram Grant, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Gus Hiddink, Carlo Ancelotti, and the recently sacked Andre Villas-Boas.
Admittedly, some of these left the job empty handed and perhaps warranted the sack. In their short tenures under Abramovich-owned Chelsea, Ranieri, Scolari and Villas-Boas won no trophies, each leaving the club with a less than 60% win ratio. This is undoubtedly an unsatisfactory record when £120 million is spent on summer transfers (in the case of Ranieri in 2003 alone).
Their lack of success with a squad of top-line players, plus overseeing well-documented flop signings such as Adrian Mutu, Juan Sebastian Veron, Deco and Ricardo Quaresma gives credence to claims that they weren’t up to it.
But the others had some success at the Blues. Jose Mourinho won Chelsea’s first two Premier League titles, plus a handful of domestic cups. Avram Grant, stepping in to fill the breach, took the club to their first ever Champions League final, losing on penalties. Hiddink won the 2009 FA Cup while Ancelotti delivered the third Premier League title to Chelsea’s trophy cabinet, and secured a double with that season’s FA Cup to boot.
But the ongoing bugbear of Chelsea, and Abramovich, has been the inability to win the UEFA Champions League. It’s the reason his oil-mining money has been pumped in, and apparently the reason for his continual hiring and firing of managers who until now haven’t delivered it.
But Roberto Di Matteo has.
After falling into the role at the beginning of March (following Villas-Boas’s firing), Di Matteo has resurrected this train-wreck of a Chelsea season to snatch the ultimate prize in European football, taking Tottenham’s spot in the Champions League next season and wining the FA Cup against Liverpool along the way.
So how does inexperienced Di Matteo, sacked from West Brom a year ago, come in and steer Chelsea to success where much-hailed Portuguese treble-winning manager Villas-Boas failed?
The achievements over two-and-a-half months are more than many achieve in a career. Some will say that Di Matteo just came at the right time. He has won the most unlikely of European cup finals against Bayern Munich (known by critics as FC Hollywood for their combustibility and mercurial standard of playing) who had already managed to upset Real Madrid, perhaps the competition favourite. But that Chelsea themselves somehow overcame Barcelona is hugely impressive, and going one step further to win is something no one would’ve predicted mid-season.
One clear change in method has been the appeasement of senior players. Di Matteo has reintroduced talisman Frank Lampard to the starting line-up, who was largely left to contemplate his future on the bench under Villas-Boas. Despite being front-runner for most of the season, Didier Drogba has been unequivocally favoured as the number one striker since the change. And captain John Terry’s delight at a former club champion taking the reigns at Chelsea couldn’t be clearer.
The team has flourished. But why?
Following Mourinho’s departure in 2007, unnamed Chelsea players voiced concerns that Avram Grant wasn’t a big enough name for their club. Luiz Felipe Scolari found himself cast aside after the revolt from within which saw some old stagers, including Michael Ballack and Petr Cech, criticise his training methods.
Years later, the saga continues. AVB got some of the big boys in the dressing room offside, making his an uphill battle.
Player power is rife at Chelsea.
It is evident that while Roman Abramovich may own the club, John Terry, Frank Lampard, and Didier Drogba run it. Maybe all that a manager had to do to harness the team’s potential was accommodate the squad’s most influential stars.
Whatever it is that Di Matteo has done, regardless of how they have played or how he has benefitted from circumstances, he simply has to be worth a new contract.
Chelsea are European champions. That’s all Abramovich asked for.