In a parallel universe not far from here, the nation will tune into ‘The Apprentice’ tomorrow night and see Roman Abramovich setting the five remaining future C-listers the task of appointing a new manager for Chelsea FC.
“I said to this Grant bloke, good Jewish boy you may be but it don’t cut the kosher chicken with me, sunshine – I’ve seen no results from you and no indication that you’re going to deliver, so… you’re fired.”
Cue much footage of teams Alpha and Renaissance in gleaming people carriers, asking whether Ron Atkinson is working at the moment as Nick and Margaret (or Bruce and Peter) pull their best thin-lipped assassin faces.
Thankfully, the real world isn’t quite like that. Whilst there are reservations about the recruitment process and those making the decisions (more of which later), given our recent history, Chelsea FC isn’t about to become some sort of “Manager Idol” fly-on-the-wall show just yet.
A handful of people within the club know who the targets are, and if a couple of weeks waiting means the difference between making a knee-jerk appointment and sifting through a pile of CV’s to make a considered decision for the long-term benefit of the club, then so be it.
For those who want it, there is plenty of speculation in the media as to who will take up the reins / poisoned chalice (delete as appropriate) down at Stamford Bridge. The usual names will be thrown about, some interesting, some not so and some whose agent is looking for better terms on their client’s current deal.
We’ve seen enough close season lunacy and unseemly public haggling in the Abramovich era to last us a lifetime (the Essien transfer, anyone?), so the fact that we aren’t being treated to hourly updates with pictures of Peter Kenyon outside the gates of various different clubs trying to entice their current manager away is surely a good thing?
All that said, a stable managerial environment has hardly been a natural state for Chelsea in the past and the situation is not showing any signs of improvement; Roman is fast becoming Ken Bates without the slightly barking charm or the acerbic programme notes.
Why is this? The previous incumbents all had their flaws which the owner tired of. Grant did an excellent job of looking after the ship but was never the right man for the role in the long term; Mourinho delivered almost everything but fell out with the wrong man and Ranieri, well, he was just Ranieri.
(And whilst we’re fretting about our future, it should be noted that come next season when Juventus play Inter Milan, two former Chelsea managers will be on opposite sides of the dugout. Not something we’d have expected in the days of Bobby Campbell and Ian Porterfield.)
The missing piece of the ever-complex Chelsea jigsaw appears to be the cup we came within a coat of paint and a patch of wet grass of winning in Moscow. The Champions League trophy, and more specifically the cachet and riches that accompany it, are fast becoming Roman’s all-consuming obsession in life.
Whilst he probably isn’t locked away in the attic of one of his vast mansions, fashioning replicas of the big-eared urn out of toothpaste, mud and chopsticks like Richard Dreyfuss’s character in “Close Encounters…” or annoying the executive floor of Stamford Bridge by repeatedly playing the competition’s theme tune on his Stylophone, it is fair to say that he is unlikely to rest until his hands are firmly wrapped round club football’s biggest prize.
The concern is that the pursuit of football’s Holy Grail is starting to affect the judgement of those making the decisions. Track record seems to carry more weight than potential if the current list of managerial targets, containing some confirmed names and a few fairly obvious 2+2=5 speculative conclusions, is to be believed.
Former Champions League winner seems to be one of the key criteria. Enter Carlo Ancelotti and Frank Rijkaard.
The Dutchman is unemployed after a fairly turbulent and trophy-free season at the Nou Camp. His demeanour in the final months was that of a man who needed several weeks in a darkened room rather than the Stamford Bridge hotseat, but his ‘brand’ of football would certainly be an attraction.
Ancelotti’s recent confirmation that he has no interest in the job is unsurprising, despite Roman’s best efforts; he has shown little interest in leaving Italy during his career and AC Milan’s previous dismissal of Chelsea’s approach suggests that they are in no mood to do business.
The other attraction both candidates have in common is their connection to players like Ronaldinho, Messi and Kaka.
It would be harsh to suggest that the appointment of either would be the equivalent of inviting the slightly overweight lady to your party on the premise that she brings her more attractive and glamorous friend along, but it isn’t entirely impossible that the thought hasn’t entered the collective headspace of our oligarch and his retinue.
Cases can be made for and against the other candidates that we currently believe are in the frame; Scolari, Mancini and to an extent, Eriksson are proven winners at the highest level whilst Mark Hughes is well respected for his work at Blackburn, but looks certain to make the short move to Eastlands.
But if the owner can be persuaded to think a little longer term, there are interesting candidates who could be worth talking to – my personal favourite would be Thomas Schaaf.
Having spent his entire career at Werder Bremen, it would be difficult to persuade him to make the trip over the North Sea, but he is relatively young, experienced (and proven) in Germany where he has won a league and cup double and taken a previously relegation threatened club into the Champions League every season since 2004. He is almost slavishly devoted to attacking football; flying full backs, plenty of goals and with his number 10, Diego, he has shown that he knows how to use the kind of creative player required at the Bridge if we are to play the fantasy football Abramovich craves.
Schaaf may be happy to stay in Bremen, but if he has ambitions to further his career, a move to the Premier League might be just what he (and we) are looking for. If we are already trying to prise nigh-on impossible targets like Ancelotti away, then why not take a chance on someone like Schaaf?
A final thought on the subject: whilst Roman scours Europe waving obscene salaries and transfer budgets at any managerial candidate who might possibly deliver him his night of European glory, it is almost certain that the “money can’t buy class” jibes will resurface.
In these PR obsessed times at a club that has cringed at the behaviour of a former manager, eventually replacing him with an anodyne, uncontroversial yes-man, who will tell the owner that a demonstration of whispering wealth and thoughtful planning might be preferable to his money talking at an increasingly irritating volume?