It is a tough situation to be in for a club where the owner is largely responsible for their success as well as their downfall, but that’s the situation I see Chelsea in at the moment.
Roman Abramovic has a cut throat approach to football ownership where he demands instant success and is very unaccepting to a drop in the standards that he has for his club. Of course it is his money being pumped into Chelsea, and because of that he pretty much has the right to do what he pleases, which is fair enough whether people like it or not.
However at the same time, I think his approach is the route cause of why the club are in the situation they are in at the moment where they only have the FA Cup left as a realistic possibility for silverware this season.
Roberto Di Matteo had delivered Abramovic his holy grail of the Champions League trophy, something which not even the great Jose Mourinho managed to achieve at Stamford Bridge. Despite this, after a poor run of results and an unsuccessful attempt at retaining the European crown, the Blues’ owner couldn’t resist the urge to make yet another managerial change.
Continuity is a key component for success and the clichéd examples such as Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United display this. While I understand that the nature of the game has changed in the modern day and manager’s job spans have decreased, they still need time to build a team. Chelsea are in a position of transition where the older guard which have been the core to their success are in the twilight of their careers and they are trying to bed in a crop of younger players to replace them. I feel that this makes it even more important that there is consistency above them at the club.
Many have jumped on the back of Rafa Benitez, but he has taken a very difficult job in almost impossible circumstances. After Di Matteo was sacked, it was a slightly outlandish decision to appoint someone who has had such bitter rivalries with the club in the past to take his place.
One thing Di Matteo had was the respect of the players and fans alike, there was a positive atmosphere around the place and you could see that they played their hearts out for him. The Champions League success from last season is a fine example of this, albeit they had a bit of luck along the way but they always hung in there. I feel that each time Abramovic makes managerial changes, this vital bond between the players and manager is lost and it’s something which takes time to rebuild. Benitez can’t be blamed for being appointed, and although he has made some strange decisions in his time in charge and should shoulder some of the blame, the buck falls with Abramovic here.
I don’t think interim managers work when there is the widespread assumption that there has been with Benitez that he won’t be in charge for any longer than the initial six months stated. This immediately adds a lack of authority to his role. This kind of public perception of a situation can also transmit to the players which then leads to uncertainty and confusion, something which is derailing the Chesea team at the moment. They don’t look like a group pulling in one direction to me and what’s worse is that the fans are also unhappy with the situation. They held Di Matteo in great regard and have expressed their feelings on Benitez’s appointment in no uncertain terms, with abusive chants directed in the former Liverpool manager’s way on a regular basis.
A Stamford Bridge source was quoted by the Mirror as saying:
“There is not a bad feeling among the players towards Rafa, just a feeling of the inevitable. Everything is very temporary. What is the point of a player trying to change how they play or do something differently when they don’t think Rafa will be here next season?”
That quote sums up the current situation perfectly in my opinion. I think this pressure has also affected his management, as to me he has sometimes come across as trying too hard in order to get the job on a permanent basis. Some of his decisions have been inconsistent and hard to understand, from a manager who, whatever anyone thinks of him, is an accomplished tactician.
It may have been a case of the Russian owner jumping the gun in the hope that he felt confident of luring Pep Guardiola to Stamford Bridge in the summer. With the former Barcelona man now confirming his decision to take over as Bayern Munich boss next season, Chelsea find themselves in a situation where it is hard to see who they can replace Benitez with. Whatever Abramovic does now though, I think it is time for him to bring some consistency to the club and stick to it. He has disrupted a good project that Di Matteo was building and a happy club, for no reason whatsoever.
While Abramovic’s desperation to succeed has no doubt played a huge part in Chelsea’s recent success, the more times he pushes the panic button, the more times he is possibly losing managers with the potential to take the club further.