Chelsea in trouble

Most damning of all tactical policies aside, what Phil Scolari has now plainly failed to do is to keep up Chelsea’s morale.-AP

Thrashed 3-0 at Old Trafford by Manchester United, Chelsea hardly had a decent shot at goal. And you might say that salt was rubbed into their wounds by the fact that none other than Jose Mourinho, their former, highly successful manager, was watching. Apparently he was so affected by his old team’s ineptitude that he stayed in his seat till well after the final whistle. By Brian Glanville.

Here’s our old friend schadenfreude again. The German word meaning delight in other people’s misfortunes. In this case, Chelsea’s. Almost a moral tale whose motif would be, money isn’t everything. Thrashed 3-0 at Old Trafford by Manchester United, Chelsea hardly had a decent shot at goal. And you might say that salt was rubbed into their wounds by the fact that none other than Jose Mourinho, their former, highly successful manager, and now the manag er of an Inter team which must face Manchester United in the European Cup, was watching. Apparently he was so affected by his old team’s ineptitude that he stayed in his seat till well after the final whistle.

Absent from the match was Chelsea’s billionaire oligarch owner, Roman Abramovich, who preferred to be on holiday, with his new girlfriend. It was noted that in the recent past he would never have missed a game of such significance and that very seldom indeed has he been seen as he used to be in the recent past at the club’s hugely expensive training ground, paid for by him, of course, out at Cobham. Perhaps more significantly still, the new Chelsea manager, Big Phil Scolari, has had only brief and fleeting contact with him. This could well mean that the writing is on the wall for Scolari, but might it also mean, much more seriously, that Abramovich might walk away from Chelsea? Billionaire he may still be, but the word is that in the recent global financial crisis, he has suffered huge losses. And what satisfaction can he have gleaned this season from his club’s uneven performances; this last defeat ending such a long unbeaten run away from home, just as Liverpool inflicted the first home defeat for ages on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Were Abramovich to walk away, the question literally would be, what price Chelsea? All very well for Peter Kenyon, the chief executive, to burble that the club is getting close to balancing its books on the basis of its most recent figures. That doesn’t even make a dent in the £750 million or so which is owed to Abramovich. And which has led to such hyperbolic salaries, £130,000 a week or so, paid to the likes of Frank Lampard and John Terry. Even if Abramovich did walk out, such salaries would still have to be paid.

If you want to identify a significant moment in the club and the team’s decline, I suggest you cast your mind back to Chelsea’s defeat at Aston Villa last season, the afternoon when Abramovich, who indeed was watching then, threw his toys out of the pram.

More precisely, when he turned the moment after Aston Villa had scored their second goal in what would become a 2-0 win, when he turned his back on the game and flounced out of the directors’ box. This was the harbinger of Jose Mourinho’s sacking and, in my view and hardly mine alone, the harbinger of Chelsea’s decline.

For Mourinho, or ‘The Special One,’ as he has so modestly termed himself, has simply not had a successor to match him. Certainly not the Israeli, Avram Grant, Abramovich’s friend, although he has, ever since being removed last season, trumpeted his own virtues. And to be fair, Chelsea under his aegis did reach and unluckily lose the European Cup Final in Moscow on penalties to Manchester United. A United team which never began to dominate them as it did at Old Trafford on that humiliating day. Which, let it be remembered, followed hard on the heels of another humiliation when in the FA Cup Chelsea were held to a 1-1 draw by modest little Southend United, who scored a sensational headed equaliser in the closing minutes, then held on to their draw with an equally dramatic goalkeeping save. Yes, Chelsea that afternoon had chances to have won by a distance, but the fact is that they did not take them. Worse still, at Old Trafford, there appeared to be a collapse of morale. Even with John Terry back in the defence, the rearguard was shaky, and after United had scored their second goal in the second-half, heads appeared to go down. That would hardly have happened under Mourinho.

Abramovich hastily and foolishly got rid of him when Chelsea were going through a brief bad patch, not least when they were held to a draw at The Bridge by little Rosenborg of Norway. Mourinho certainly didn’t get all things right all the time. There were games in which a lack of width was plainly hindering the Chelsea attack, and I found it hard to understand, still harder on his present form, why that clever Dutch winger Arjen Robben was sold to Real Madrid, where he is now flourishing. Nor why Mourinho, having paid a fortune for him, gave such short shrift and such limited opportunities to a natural right-winger in Shaun Wright-Phillips, who, this season, has rebuilt his career at Manchester City, a club he should never have left for London.

Yet, by and large, Mourinho built a team which always, even on its worst days, didn’t throw in the towel and which won the club a couple of Championships. As one who began to watch Chelsea, though an Arsenal supporter, from the age of 10, I’ve always been fascinated by the club and its inconsistencies.

Founded in 1905, when a journalist remarked, “Chelsea will stagger humanity,” they did not win the Championship for 30 years and then, please note, it was a team mostly composed of bargain buys made by manager Ted Drake, earlier the dreadnought Arsenal and England centre-forward. It took another 50 years before they won it again; at colossal expense. And so poor was their FA Cup performance that, in the 1930s, a comedian even made a satirical record, ‘The day that Chelsea went and won the Cup.’ They did it, at last, in 1970.

Now Big Phil has resources Ted Drake could never dream of. Yet, how good a manager is he? Yes, he won titles with Brazilian clubs but had the reputation at Gremio of encouraging his players to make minor fouls in midfield to break up the opposition’s rhythm. Yes, he won the 2002 World Cup with Brazil but not least because the star players defied his defensive methods.

But his Portugal team, playing at home, twice lost to modest Greece, eventual winners of the 2004 European title. Nor did Portugal, under his aegis, exactly excel in the ensuing World Cup, though again on home territory.

Would they have beaten England on spot kicks or at all, had Wayne Rooney not been kicked out of the game? Most damning of all tactical policies aside, what Scolari has now plainly failed to do is to keep up his team’s morale.

And though they feebly lost a League Cup Final against Spurs at Wembley, that didn’t happen, even under Grant.