Hazard a guess if Roberto matters – it's not the manager who's in charge
00:42 GMT, 27 March 2012
As neat and tidy as he once was in the heart of Chelsea’s midfield, Roberto Di Matteo fielded the question with impressive ease.
‘When the time is right in the summer, the people at the club will make the decisions that are right for the club,’ he said. The executive heavy mob at the back of
the room looked on approvingly. Bruce Buck, the chairman, and Ron
Gourlay, chief executive, monitored the public performance of the
caretaker, as they had that of Andre Villas-Boas in Napoli.
Noticeably, Villas-Boas is not around anymore. Di Matteo may not be, either, when the people he deferred to sit down to map out Chelsea’s long-term strategy. And therein lies the problem. Who schemes the future at Chelsea Not a manager, that is for sure.
Fielding questions: Roberto Di Matteo is content to let others deal with his future at Chelsea
Roman Abramovich, the owner, arrived at Stamford Bridge in June 2003, since when there have been only three occasions when it would have been possible for a manager to orchestrate transfer policy for the following season.
That was in the summers of 2005 and 2006 under Jose Mourinho — although manager and owner were at loggerheads the second of those years — and in 2010 when Carlo Ancelotti was generously given another go at it, having won the Double.
In all other intervening years — five in total — Chelsea have been in a state of flux during the close season and this summer will be no different.
Any preparations taking place at Stamford Bridge, preliminary negotiations and discussions over players in or out, casual conversations with agents and intermediaries, direct bidding or offers for players soon to be out of contract, will be taking place without a contribution from the man who will have to marshal these resources in August.
Even if Di Matteo secures his position long-term — and few are anticipating this, despite a decent upturn in fortunes — he is yet to be consulted on Chelsea’s long-term direction and not because the process is slow getting underway.
Target: Lille's Belgian midfielder Eden Hazard (right) is wanted by Chelsea
Already, those who claim to know the inside track at Chelsea are leaking the names of key potential recruits: midfielder Eden Hazard of Lille, Atletico Madrid striker Radamel Falcao, Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi of Napoli and most fancifully, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Yet if these names are targets, who is speaking on Chelsea’s behalf Who is holding the private talks with advisers Who is calculating where the new signings would play, or which players must make way
On a very basic level, who is perusing the scouting reports and making assessments on value If Hazard, for instance, was to ask where he would fit in Chelsea’s team next season, who could reply, honestly, without disillusioning the player
For the truth is, nobody knows. If the new manager has an idea of what Chelsea need to progress, this plan may arrive too late to influence summer business. And, yes, sometimes Chelsea have got lucky. Mourinho was delighted to discover Petr Cech and Arjen Robben were already on their way to Stamford Bridge when he arrived. But other times not. Villas-Boas probably could have done without 50m of his budget going on Fernando Torres six months before his arrival.
On his knees: Andre Villas-Boas was sacked after Chelsea failed to impress at home and in Europe
Some may dismiss this as simply the way of the modern football world. Tottenham are also circling Hazard, while not being entirely sure who their manager will be next season.
Yet this is due to a unique set of circumstances, the possibility of Harry Redknapp succeeding Fabio Capello as the England manager. Chelsea, by contrast, appear to be making a habit of managerial uncertainty, almost as if doing business in a void is the executive grand plan.
Maybe it is. Abramovich gets the players he wants, the manager arrives late to the party and, as a result, must accept what he is given. Here is your team, says the owner — now make it work.
And because Abramovich’s largesse buys quality players — and Mourinho’s organisational expertise gave Chelsea a default strategy that the team still reverts to in a crisis — they occasionally pull it off. Chelsea have a good chance of playing Barcelona in a Champions League semi-final this season.
They have won three league titles in recent years, plus a formidable collection of domestic cups, and were a missed penalty away from landing the Champions League in 2008.
Preparation: Chelsea train ahead of their Champions League clash with Benfica in Lisbon
In a poor season for English clubs in Europe, they are the sole survivors. Abramovich supporters would argue his meddling has merit. Except for the fact that, when this season is over, the need to rebuild this squad will remain.
The overhaul that was part of Villas-Boas’s remit still needs to be completed and requires attention to detail. The idea that a new manager can walk in, be presented with the latest set of random acquisitions, and somehow mould them into an efficient evolutionary process is bizarre.
That was one of Villas-Boas’s thorniest problems. If he was to replace Chelsea’s old guard it had to be done bespoke, with precise signings, specifically targeted for a role. Instead, he worked with the cast-offs of a previous regime, or players signed without his input.
Exactly as it will be again this summer, according to Di Matteo.
The message is clear. The people at the club know best; and even if they do not, they are careful not to create a manager strong enough to debate them.