Chelsea in turmoil: what next?

Avram Grant-AP

The new Chelsea manager, Avram Grant, is of a cautious nature and has never been remotely associated with open and exciting football.

There was an old American saying, “What’s good for General Motors is good for America.” Alternatively, we might say that what’s bad for Chelsea is good for English football.” Schadenfreude, that well known German word, denoting glee in other people’s misfortunes, seems appropriate here. For when the billionaire oligarch Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea and made his infinite wealth available, it seemed that English football might be unbala nced endlessly.

Chelsea, who hadn’t won the English Championship for half a century, and then in such deeply different circumstances, with a team shrewdly put together by the manager Ted Drake — ex-Arsenal star — with players from the lower divisions, proceeded to take the title two seasons in a row. The new Portuguese manager, Jose Mourinho, who had worked wonders with previously modest Porto — though one had seen them gallantly win a European Cup Final against Bayern Munich — took over the team, with panache. Not to mention arrogance, immodesty and an infinite capacity for losing badly.

But now, suddenly and abruptly, he is gone, replaced by Avram Grant, a dull Israeli coach, appointed director of football against Mourinho’s wishes, who promptly promised he would play more open and attractive football when his record suggests he has never done so in the past. Though you did feel a slight twinge or pity for him when on his first outing, not only did he have to face Manchester United away, but lost a game in which a plethora of bad refereeing decisions by an inept Mike Dean went against his team.

The $64,000 question which has strangely remained unasked is this: next time Abramovich throws his toys out of the pram, will he walk away not only from his team — as he did when he flounced out of the directors’ box at Villa Park after the home team had scored their second goal in a 2-0 win against Chelsea — but out of Stamford Bridge altogether. Since he has invested infinite millions in a club still deeply in debt, it is hard to see how they could economically survive. Having spent so much money — though it be merely a fraction of what Abramovich has after getting on the right side of Boris Yeltsin and his daughter, as he now sees on the right side of Putin — the oligarch plainly seems to believe that he should automatically have bought success.

Relations with Mourinho are known to have been tense for sometime. Just as it is known that it was Abramovich not Mourinho who in the summer of 2006 wanted to bring in at huge expense his beloved Andrei Shevchenko, the Milan and ex-Dynamo Kiev striker, and Germany’s captain Michael Ballack. Shevchenko has been something of a disaster suddenly reduced, despite the £30 million paid to Milan and his £130,000 a week salary, to a shadowy figure, lacking in pace and incisiveness though he did head a very good equalising goal against humble Rosenburg to save Chelsea in that European Cup tie from total embarrassment. Ballack who didn’t in fact cost a fee but is also on some £130,000 a week looked, when he did play last season, a semi-detached figure and this season, with a persisting injury, he hasn’t played at all and was left off the European Cup roster.

I’ve seen three home Chelsea games in a row this season and can only agree that the team has been dull, even flaccid. Though even last season, when Mourinho was so reluctant to use wingers, the consequence was, especially in home games, that the attack was severely constricted making it easier for visiting teams to shut up shop. As for this season, it should surely be said that Mourinho and his team have suffered badly from injuries, ruling out such vital players as Portugal’s Carvalho in central defence, Frank Lampard in midfield, and Didier Drogba, the quintessential goal-scorer, at centre-forward. Shevchenko is no substitute for him however dear to Abramovich.

Abramovich is reported not only to want better results — for which the ousting of Mourinho and the appointment of the cautious Grant are the least likely of guarantees — but a more open and exciting football. Again the very kind with which Grant for all his promises and protestation has never been remotely associated.

Though he had recently had his disagreements with Joe Cole — too often left out of the team in the Portuguese’s day — and even the skipper John Terry, not as dominant as of yore, there is no doubt that the players at large were as attached to Mourinho as the now outraged fans. Now that Mourinho has gone, with massive compensation to assuage his feelings, there are those who have been picking holes (and there are a good many) in his character and behaviour.

All too easy to remember his disgraceful accusation after a lost European Cup tie in Barcelona that the Barca coach, Frank Rijkaard, had visited the dressing room of the referee Anders Frisk at half-time. Quite untrue but it led to poor Frisk being drummed out of football. When subsequently Liverpool knocked Chelsea out of Europe in an Anfield semifinal, Mourinho railed bitterly against the linesman’s decision that a Liverpool attempt had crossed the Chelsea goalline. It probably had but even if it hadn’t, Mourinho stubbornly ignored the fact that his ’keeper had fouled an opponent, and could well have given away a penalty and been sent off.

Yet compare Mourinho and his comportment with the late and flamboyant Helenio Herrera, of Barcelona, Inter and Roma fame, and Mourinho seems almost a plaster saint. Nearer home, what of the arrogance and greed of Brian Clough who worked wonders at Derby and Nottingham Forest, and how amiable a character is the most successful British club manager of all-time Alex Ferguson, with his explosive outburst, his demanding behaviour over the racehorse Rock of Gibraltar — he demanded breeding rights as well as a free share of winning — and the strange background to the transfer of the American ’keeper Tim Howard when a huge sum was paid to an Italo-Swiss agent who’d supposedly helped Howard get a week permit. As one who served on the Department of Employment appeals committee I knew no agent could ever play a part.

It seems that Chelsea, having inexplicably announced that Grant, whose rapport with the Chelsea players will be minimal, is to stay for the rest of the season, will appoint the likes of Guus Hiddink in time. But will it really be in time?