Short-term goals haunt Chelsea

Russian owner Roman Abramovich has not nurtured continuity at Chelsea. If he had he would not have employed seven managers in eight years and would never have removed the knowledgeable Carlo Ancelotti the season after he won the double, let alone Mourinho who won back-to-back league titles. By Frank Malley.

The problem at Chelsea is not Andre Villas-Boas.

It is not the fact that the manager with arguably the most pressurised club job in English football is just 34 and in his first season in the English Premier League.

Neither is it the fact that Villas-Boas has tried to instil a more attacking ethos and employs a high line of defence. It is not even the fact that Chelsea at the moment appear a team short of confidence and lacking the swagger of old. Not really.

The problem at Chelsea and the reason they find themselves on the slide in the league and within one defeat of exiting the UEFA Champions League after their defeat by Bayer Leverkusen is the knee-jerk rule of owner Roman Abramovich.

The whims and ego of the Russian billionaire have created a club which flits from one manager to the next, from one season to another, with short-term glory the target and long-term stability little more than a passing thought.

That was okay in the days of Jose Mourinho when the core of Chelsea's team were young, motivated and inspired.

But Frank Lampard no longer guarantees them 20 goals a season from midfield as once he did. John Terry might retain the support of the Chelsea faithful and the backing of England manager Fabio Capello but anyone claiming he is the defensive rock of old must be suffering from a severe case of myopia.

Goalkeeper Petr Cech, too, is a cause for concern, while Didier Drogba, despite his opener in Germany, no longer scores with the frequency of the Mourinho years.

In short, the old certainties are fraying at the edges. When you mix in the defensive frailties of David Luiz and the struggle to find a right-sided combination, teaming any two from Luiz, Jose Bosingwa, Branislav Ivanovic and Alex, the scale of the challenge becomes clear.

We must also compute the fact that this is a team inherited by Villas-Boas with players who have been hand-picked or, at the least, been given the nod by Abramovich. Sir Alex Ferguson might struggle to turn such a ship around. For an inexperienced manager such as Villas-Boas the task is daunting.

Come to think, doesn't the mention of Ferguson highlight the folly of Chelsea?

Would you not think a bright billionaire might have looked up the M6 sometime in the past eight years to study the design for a conveyor belt capable of delivering trophies year after year?

Manchester United have ruled the EPL for the best part of two decades because their manager has been allowed to manage, to buy his own players, to invest in youth and regenerate from a position of strength.

A transitional United won the EPL for the 12th time last season. The new breed includes talents such as Rafael, Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley and two men in Danny Welbeck and Phil Jones who could be at the heart of England's endeavours for the next decade.

That is building for the future. Solid. Reliable. A future built on trust on the manager's eye for talent and his ability to make players feel part of the dynasty he has created.

Abramovich has not nurtured such a root-based system at Chelsea. If he had he would not have employed seven managers in eight years and would never have removed the knowledgeable Carlo Ancelotti the season after he won the double, let alone Mourinho who won back-to-back league titles.

True, Chelsea could still beat Valencia and progress to the knockout phase of the UEFA Champions League. They still have GBP50 million Fernando Torres on the bench and Juan Mata is a star ready to blossom at the Bridge.

Yet it would be a brave man who would bet on Villas-Boas lifting a major trophy this season and a foolish one who would back him to keep his job if he did not.

Abramovich does not play the long game. Therein lies Chelsea's problem.

* * *

Forget Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, as brilliant as they have been over the past year.

There is one candidate who stands head and shoulders above the rest as football's best striker in 2011: Robin van Persie.

His 33 goals in 30 matches for Arsenal during that time have come as the arrowhead of a team struggling to retain their position as one of the EPL's leading lights.

This season so far Van Persie has scored 13 of Arsenal's 25 goals in the league and 17 in all competitions. Of course, there is no such thing as a one-man team, but the Dutchman is getting pretty close.

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