So said Marie-Antoinette a little over 200 years ago from the tumbril on the way to her appointment with the guillotine, and her foresight was spot on. Within three years, not only had many, many aristocrats and bourgeois been likewise executed, but also so had all those who were responsible for sentencing her to death, the Robespierre, Danton, Saint-Just and the like. Thus it is with the passing of The Special One, one can wonder who, if any, is likely to follow.
As I write this, the first group, the Portuguese coterie, has already been dispatched and they will have to be replaced quickly. A modern coaching staff cannot function without specialised coaches and these have all evaporated. Given the early state of the season, it is going to be hard to find quality replacements (unless Avram Grant has been preparing this for some time). Let’s hope this is sorted out soon.
No doubt there will now be players who are champing at the bit to clear out in January, followed by others next summer. High on anyone’s list must be Didier Drogba who has repeatedly said he stays because of Jose Mourinho, and who reportedly was in tears at their parting at Cobham yesterday. Others though must feel a sense of relief, Andriy Shevchenko and Michael Ballack come to mind, though the latter will surely be playing elsewhere this time next year in any case – the call of Bernd Schuster at Real Madrid will be too strong. If Frank Lampard and, heaven forbid, John Terry (though I think this unlikely), also feel they have to go, then the team will have been eviscerated.
Then there is the villain of the piece, Avram Grant. From his arrival to do I never did figure out what, he has been patiently awaiting Mourinho’s departure knowing he was being groomed as the replacement. As several people have remarked in these pages, his achievement of nearly qualifying Israel for the World Cup is rather insignificant in comparison to that of winning the Champions League, or even the UEFA Cup. Is he even better than Claudio Ranieri? Only time will tell, but we may be in for a grossly sub-standard year compared with recent performances. Now that is a depressing thought, though I sincerely hope not, for if we do perform well this year, I shall be the first in line to congratulate him. However, my gut is telling me otherwise. No, his ride in the tumbril is already booked, it’s only a question of when. And then the fun really starts. A second Real Madrid in the making perhaps: a succession of managers, a succession of past prime players, a succession of sub-par performances. Perhaps if we are lucky, we can get David Beckham back from Hollywood.
And what about the executives? The case of Peter Kenyon is interesting. M-Day minus 1 he was still telling all and sundry that Mourinho was in the for the long haul, with the support of everyone in the club. There are rumours that he was not aware of what was boiling up between Roman Abramovich and Mourinho in which case where does that leave him? The club’s most significant event in the last three years and he was sidelined. Perhaps this more than anything shows how much real, day to day, power Abramovich exerts in the club when he no longer needs proxies like Kenyon.
So who does that leave us with? Well… Abramovich.
So he does not like our style of play. Well, from the comments in these posts over the last year, neither did most of us (not to say the legions upon legions of Chelsea haters who seem to crawl out of the woodwork at our least discomfort) – and why was that? For the simple reason that to accommodate Shevchenko and Ballack, we were obliged to dispense with the highly successful use of wingers and play instead a midfield diamond. It is noticeable that towards the end of the season there was a resurgence in stylish play when Ballack was injured, and so we were forced to resort to a more familiar 4-3-3, Shaun Wright-Phillips supplying the width and creativity we had so often missed. There are conflicting reports as to who was responsible for acquiring Shevchenko, but I find it hard to believe that Mourinho could have been overly enthusiastic to fit in to a winning system a player who was on the downside of what had been a remarkable career, but who was also clearly not fully fit (as was only too clear from his performance in the World Cup). If Shevchenko had played in the Premiership, then it might still have been possible, but the styles of play between this and the Series A are like chalk and cheese, not to mention that Milan had more or less built a side around him, something that was clearly not going to happen at Chelsea. For all that Mourinho claimed to have sole responsibility for the team selection, there must have been enormous pressure on him to select Shevchenko (and Ballack), so it is hardly a surprise that relations between himself and Abramovich reached an all time low when Shevchenko was not even on the bench for the first few matches of the season, his playing finally being contingent on Drogba’s injury and Claudio Pizarro’s fatigue.
So Abramovich is unhappy that we have not yet won the Champions League. I suppose he has just cause for being unhappy with the way we were eliminated the last two times in the semi-finals: to be eliminated on a very dubious goal in one game, and then on penalty kicks in the other (a very English trait?) is decidedly careless, almost Ranieriesque. However, only a couple of days ago, Kenyon said that Big A wanted to win the Champions League a couple of times in the first ten years. Well, my arithmetic is not infallible but that surely leaves at least six years to do this. So either Kenyon did not know what he was talking about (see above), or someone’s math is a lot worse than mine.
One can continue ad nauseum with an analysis of Abramovich’s desires vis-a-vis Chelsea, but it is becoming clear that he is taking a more hands on approach. There are two ways this can go: he can continue to stock the club with cronies like Grant, forgiving the lack of performance, and turn us back into what we were, a play thing for the owner; or if he really desires to succeed, he will continue to cut and paste, until finally, it will dawn on him that he is never going to succeed in this until he allows the club, and particularly, the team’s coach, to run things in their own way. My belief is that this will never occur to him, and so in a year or two, he will decide to cut his losses and get out, the last of the fall out from Mourinho’s departure.
So what will a post-Abramovich Chelsea look like? I’ve frankly no idea. However, Abramovich will leave a legacy. We have the most modern and best equipped training ground in the world. Our stadium has been upgraded and if the the new lighting works, the pitch will remain in good condition throughout the year, a minor miracle. He will also leave, at least at this point in time, a club that has started to win trophies regularly, and whose supporters expect the club to continue doing this; and of course, there is the little matter that he once hired a young man called Jose Mourinho, an opinionated, arrogant bastard, who nevertheless had the knowledge, strength, and ability to back up his words with deeds and who produced the best team this club has ever had, or is ever likely to have, more’s the pity. Not such a bad legacy at that for all the grief we are going to suffer through. If only Big A would jump now so the rest of us could get on with our lives.