If Roman doesn't respect Chelsea's managers, why would the players
23:17 GMT, 4 December 2012
It is possible to have a safe job at Chelsea: just not as manager.
Bruce Buck, the chairman, has been in his position since 2003. He was head of the European branch of the legal firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom, whose clients included Sibneft, the company owned by Roman Abramovich.
In this capacity, he advised Abramovich on a number of acquisitions, including Chelsea Village plc. When the deal was concluded, Buck became chairman of Chelsea. He’s still there.
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Eugene Tenenbaum has also enjoyed a stable career as a director at Stamford Bridge. A former head of corporate finance for Sibneft, he joined the Chelsea board in 2003 and remains.
Ron Gourlay, who became chief executive officer in 2009, arrived at the club in 2004 holding a variety of positions, including chief operating officer.
Steve Atkins, head of communications and public affairs, has been with Chelsea since 2007. Atkins and Gourlay assumed their present positions because their predecessors, Peter Kenyon and Simon Greenberg, resigned. Had they not sought fresh opportunities, one presumes they would still be employed today.
So the idea Abramovich enjoys firing people is untrue. In just about every other area of his football business, staff positions remain constant.
Gourlay does not take a call midway through a reserve match to tell him his time is up: he makes that call, to assistant manager Ray Wilkins.
Buck does not hold press conferences to announce his departure as chairman; he fronts up, on Abramovich’s behalf, having handed another managerial stooge his P45.
What appears to be absent here is respect. Abramovich clearly appreciates the work of lawyers, of business people, even public relations consultants; but anyone in a tracksuit is a clown.
The problem with such a short-sighted attitude is that, in time, it rubs off. First the owner thinks the manager is a fool, then the players and now the fans. Abramovich should not be surprised that so few are affording Rafael Benitez the consideration his c.v. merits; they are taking their cue directly from him.
The players know that if Benitez’s methods are not to their liking they can wait this one out.
Roberto Di Matteo also carried the enfeebling title of interim manager but he, shrewdly, forged a relationship with the players by giving them largely what they wanted. He dispensed with the most unpopular aspects of the Andre Villas-Boas regime — most significantly the poorly conceived high defensive line — and won friends by returning to familiar ways.
Long standing: Bruce Buck and Ron Gourlay have enjoyed lengthy spells employed by Roman Abramovich
Benitez is more confrontational. One of his early calls was to drop Chelsea’s player of the season, Juan Mata, for a home game with Fulham and his brazen announcement that Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard have no future at the club will not have helped forge an immediate bond with senior team members, either.
Cole, certainly, appeared below his usual standard against West Ham United on Saturday, while Lampard will hardly rush back from injury to save a club who are dumping him, if it means jeopardising his long-term fitness and a future contract elsewhere.
Benitez can be a cold fish as a manager. Steven Gerrard says he could not even tease a smile out of him on the night Liverpool won the Champions League final. Gerrard knew, though, that after such incredible success, Benitez was going to be around for a long time, so like it or lump it.
This isn’t true at Chelsea. Don’t like Benitez, don’t like his style Not to worry, another manager will be along in six months’ time and maybe you’ll click with him.
Speaking yesterday, Benitez said his players lacked a little confidence. Yet what should they feel confident in: a manager who won’t be there soon, or an owner who might already have taken against them, regardless of performances
Abramovich’s way does not breed confidence of the kind that turns around a crisis. Di Matteo was fortunate in that Villas-Boas was unpopular and he could play the good guy. That option is not open to Benitez.
Players that are disgruntled by Di Matteo’s departure are hardly likely to be inspired by Benitez’s brand of tough love; particularly as his job title suggests he is only passing through.
Friends in high places: Roberto Di Matteo was able to get on the right side of the players
The same is true of the fans. Would their reaction to Benitez have been so unanimously hostile if his was a long-term appointment
If the dissent is loud enough, and the results lousy, they reason, he might even be gone by the new year. In this way, Abramovich’s lack of respect for the manager’s role is impacting on performances. The owner doesn’t listen to the manager, so why should anybody else
Tonight, it is widely expected that Benitez will win his first game since arriving at Stamford Bridge. This being Chelsea, of course, that good news is likely to be overshadowed by a result in Donetsk that will spell the end of their Champions League campaign, making this the worst defence of the crown in history.
No champions of Europe have exited at the group stage the following season, a fact that will cast a pall over the anticipated win over Nordsjaelland, even if it ends with a Fernando Torres hat-trick.
Torres is doing a great job, said Benitez on the eve of the game, backing up his argument by praising his defensive work at corners.
Leaving aside that this was not exactly what Abramovich had in mind when he paid Liverpool 50million, it is a fine example of the muddled thinking at Chelsea. The owner has bought Oscar, Mata and Eden Hazard, and left them in the hands of a man who does not mind if his striker hasn’t scored for six matches, as long as he is keeping it tight at the back.
Looking for answers: Roman Abramovich is yet to find his perfect fit for the Chelsea dugout
Gary Neville mocked defender David Luiz for playing like he was ‘being controlled by a 10-year-old on a PlayStation’, but the real juvenile at the controls at Chelsea is Abramovich. He buys Torres and then assembles a forward line that is incompatible with his needs.
He sacks a manager, replaces him with his polar opposite, and wonders why the transition proves difficult. With each action, he appears to treat the art of producing winning football teams with contempt, as if anybody can do it; and if he even for one second seriously considered bringing Avram Grant back in any capacity, then he must believe anybody can.
What a pity he does not view football with the same respect he reserves for lawyers, financiers or even company executives. In those fields, Chelsea are rational, even nurturing, employers. At the sight of a tracksuit, however, the club lose their mind.
Play-offs It's England, Roy, not West Brom
Roy Hodgson says he will be happy with a place in the play-offs if England cannot win their World Cup qualifying group. He shouldn’t be.
England should not be second best to Montenegro, Poland or Ukraine. England should already be handily placed for Brazil, not playing catch-up after Christmas, fingers crossed, hoping for the best. And now the downgrading begins.
Hodgson calls the opposition underestimated, but that isn’t true, either. They are quite accurately estimated as inferior teams to England.
Aim higher: Roy Hodsgon says he'd settle for a playoff berth in World Cup qualifying. He shouldn't
FIFA’s world rankings can be quirkily random, but they are not totally bananas. The current top three are Spain, Germany and Argentina, not Moldova, Burkina Faso and Guatemala.
England at six seem over-rated but a place somewhere between 10 and 16 would not embarrass, and would still be a substantial improvement on Montenegro (34).
Poland (54) and Ukraine (55) have suffered through a lack of competitive football as hosts of the 2012 European Championship but even a 20-place promotion would still leave them trailing England.
So not mugs, but a friendlier route than Group A (Belgium, Croatia, Serbia) or the five-team Group I that pits Spain against France.
England got lucky in the draw and were given the sort of challenge that Fabio Capello and, previously, Sven Goran Eriksson completed with ease.
There is still time for Hodgson to do the same: but to be talking already about second place suggests a regime too familiar with low expectations.
This is not West Bromwich Albion: mid-table does not earn a pat on the back. The play-offs are only preferable to not qualifying at all, and surely a repeat of Steve McClaren’s dismal failure is beyond even the most pessimistic consideration
AND WHILE WE'RE AT IT
Do you want be a hero, Joe
We need a hero
Could just one footballer please come out and be gay, so everybody can be really cool about it and the sport can get on with its life Just one, it’s not much to ask surely
Football is beginning to sound a little desperate with its pleading. Rugby, cricket, they’ve all had their gay watershed moment. And until football does, too, it will continue to be presumed that the sport has not evolved enough to handle male homosexuality.
(Hope Powell, the manager of England’s women, has been openly gay for years, without comment, yet that does not seem to count.)
The gay pressure group, Stonewall, has called again for football to tackle its ‘culture of fear’, while Anders Lindegaard, the Manchester United goalkeeper, has said that football needs a ‘gay hero’.
So here’s a thought. Joey Barton continues his quest for intellectual and social respectability. Why not come out as gay Instant credibility, instant respect, untouchable by the Football Association or future employers. His past misdeeds mentally reprocessed and explained.
‘Well, of course he put his cigar out in that bloke’s face, Gary. He was a tortured soul, forced to live a lie.’
And imagine the new material. A never-ending treasure trove for Barton’s Twitter feed: Alexander the Great, Leonardo da Vinci, Oscar Wilde, Lady Bunny.
And, let’s face it, with that new accent, he’s probably halfway there.
Like a black fly in your chardonnay
Patrick Edlinger, known as ‘the god of free climbing’ has died at the age of 52. He was famous for overcoming sheer rock faces and horizontal overhangs, often without equipment, sometimes without shoes.
Top of the rocks: Patrick Edlinger, climbing's most famous face, has died
Edlinger regarded himself as a minimalist mountaineer, relying on strong fingers and toes, super flexible limbs and quite incredible core body strength to scale vast peaks and ranges.
He would hang from a rock, and flip his legs above his torso to somehow find a grip. This way, he took on the 1500-foot vertical ascent of the Verdon Gorge — France’s smaller but no less daunting equivalent of the Grand Canyon.
He had several films made about him and was a hero in France, where his passing was headline news.
Do you know how he died He fell down some stairs at home. Alanis Morissette should write a song about this stuff, really she should.
Footballers can't dive in like Becky
And now the return of an irregular series entitled: it's different for football.
Pound for pound, the well-funded Team GB swimmers flopped horribly at the Olympic Games, winning one silver and two bronze medals.
This has led to a review of the sport and the departure of its performance director Michael Scott. Rebecca Adlington is furious that British Swimming did not consult the athletes in this process. As the most successful British swimmer in history, she may have a point.
Speak up: Rebecca Adlington is often consulted by her sport's powers-that-be, unlike Steven Gerrard
Steven Gerrard, however, knows a bit about football too. Now imagine if England failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, the manager was sacked and Gerrard demanded the underachieving players were part of any Football Association inquest. He would be absolutely pilloried.
Adlington, by contrast, is now invited to air her views at a meeting with David Sparkes, chief executive of British Swimming. It’s different for football.
Save the Wales whinge
Wales would like to play their 2015 Rugby World Cup tie with England in Cardiff. Wales can, very politely, get stuffed.
There is one advantage to being the hosts, and that is no away games. For the organisers to even be considering a neutral venue such as Wembley is bad enough, but to play in Wales would be madness.
There is only one venue suitable for England at a home World Cup. Twickenham. That’s why they call it HQ.