Stick with Rafa Call for Avram Or go all out for Guardiola Just 12 days into the Benitez era, Abramovich is at the crossroads again…
11:58 GMT, 3 December 2012
Just two weeks ago, Roman Abramovich thought he had chosen the right man and the right path.
Sure, the appointment of Rafael Benitez as manager came with the caveat of the word ‘interim’ but, the Russian believed, that would do nicely for now.
However, just a few footsteps along that new path and Abramovich finds himself confronted with yet another crossroads. He is standing there scratching his head in disbelief, trying to solve another colossal dilemma.
Much to ponder: Following a poor start to the Rafael Benitez era, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich finds himself facing another dilemma
Slow start: Chelsea have collected just two points from nine since Benitez took charge and were beaten 3-1 by West Ham United at the weekend
He has three routes to select from. The first is to break habit and show faith in his appointment, to overlook the two points gained from nine thus far, to have patience and give time and money so Benitez can gradually impose his ways and whims on the club and its players. This route looks long and winding.
The second is to give Benitez a helping hand – to bring back former manager Avram Grant as an adviser in the hope his familiarity with the club’s inner workings will help to arrest a slump in form that has had some pundits already handing the Premier League title to Manchester. This route looks shorter and straighter, but is not without its perils.
Third is to radically shake things up again, to thrown every conceivable ruble, incentive and sweetener in the direction of Pep Guardiola, the man Abramovich surely sees as the proper long-term choice. This route looks particularly arduous but it could lead to a pot of gold at the end.
It’s almost like the dilemma of a contestant stuck on a question on Who Wants to be a Millionaire Does he phone a friend in Avram for a 50:50 It’s probably best not to ask the audience right now.
Helping hand: Avram Grant (right), who was in charge of Chelsea when they beat Benitez's Liverpool in the 2008 Champions League semi-final, could return in an advisory role
CHELSEA'S BUSY DECEMBER
December 5 – Nordsjaelland (H) Champions League
December 8 – Sunderland (A)
December 13 – Club World Cup semi-final in Yokohama
December 16 – Club World Cup final or third place play-off in Yokohama
December 19 – Leeds United (A) League Cup quarter-final
December 23 – Aston Villa (H)
December 26 – Norwich City (A)
December 30 – Everton (A)
And as he stands at the crossroads pondering his options once again, Abramovich can hear the dissent of the fans – the jeers and the pointed vitriol at Benitez, the choruses of ‘Roberto Di Matteo’ – and above even that clamour, he can hear a clock ticking.
Whatever his choice, he needs to make it quickly. Chelsea are now entering a frenetic and unforgiving month of eight matches in 26 days. /12/03/article-2242179-16260C1D000005DC-645_306x431.jpg” width=”306″ height=”431″ alt=”Victor Moses of Chelsea” class=”blkBorder” />
Absentees: Victor Moses (left) and John Obi Mikel will be playing in the African Cup of Nations early next year
This is where the second path looks less appealing. Avram Grant isn’t going to suddenly reinvigorate the faltering energy levels of an apparently ‘small’ group of players – and his appointment could prove more trouble than it’s worth.
Benitez and Grant have a cordial relationship but how quickly this will sour under the pressure of chasing results. There will be uncertainty and conflicting ideas on who to field and how to play.
While both know the way to the Champions League final – Grant’s Chelsea beat Benitez’s Liverpool, of course, in the 2008 semi-finals – it’s doubtful they can work well together in such an environment, with the axe swinging above their heads.
The bottom line is that the arrival of Grant would fatally undermine Benitez and hasten his exit. It would not be possible for him to be more ‘Interim.’
The Spaniard’s credibility, already running on empty in the eyes of most Chelsea fans, would hit rock bottom. While Grant is more popular among the Stamford Bridge faithful, he’s hardly the charismatic ‘fixer’ that is required and not a great deal better than Benitez.
Not wanted: Chelsea fans have been quick to make their frustrations known over the appointment of Benitez
If Abramovich stands by Benitez, he will feel obliged to ask his manager for a list of players to chase in the transfer window. If Benitez is saying now – and he made this very clear to the owner within days of his arrival – that his squad isn’t big enough, then by the end of December, after another eight games and a trip round the world have taken their toll, he’ll be practically hammering on the door calling for reinforcements.
The question is whether Abramovich will be willing to spend having paid the best part of 50m in the summer and over 90m last season on exciting players intended to deliver the attractive, attacking brand of football he demands. The kind of attractive, attacking football they were playing earlier in the season under Di Matteo.
Benitez has identified a left-back, a central midfielder and a striker as priorities, but there’s every chance the Russian will turn around and say ‘chequebook closed’ and order his stopgap boss to make the best of the expensive bunch he has.
He will expect Benitez – as the manager who knows him best – to get the best out of 50m Fernando Torres and, if the faith he has shown in the Spanish striker so far despite his patchy form is anything to go by, will be reluctant to bring in a front man who could usurp him.
Out of sorts: The sight of Fernando Torres looking dejected has become one of the defining images of the season
Or Abramovich may see the third way as a more worthwhile outlay. Approaching Guardiola would be costly, involve difficult negotiations and destroy the reputation of Benitez, but that may be a small price to pay for accelerating his desired long-term appointment of someone who would deliver not only wins but a way of playing that matches his vision.
Pep would be an elixir for Chelsea but persuading him to cut short a sabbatical from the game he seems to be really enjoying will be tricky – remember, Abramovich failed to convince him to make a comeback after Di Matteo went last month.
And, frankly, he may decide, with other top clubs including Manchester City after him, it isn’t worth the bother.
Benitez is 12 days in to his reign at Chelsea and it’s already looking ominous for him. If the 12 Days of Christmas prove similarly unkind, then Abramovich will once again be choosing a different path.