A rich man’s fart can be expensive; Roman Abramovich has proved this with his latest gambit. In a pique, he let José Mourinho walk out the Stamford Bridge gates and left others to carry the can of such monumental mess. Indeed, I watched Avram Grant’s so-called first press conference as Chelsea manager and it was nothing but a bad dream. In historical terms, it’s like being thrown back into the Middle Ages after lapping up the Renaissance. Bruce Buck, Peter Kenyon and the new manager all looked every bit like men facing a bone-breaking ordeal and, somehow, you can’t help pitying them. They kept talking about José and “the club” reaching a breakdown in their relationship and how they mutually agreed to go their separate ways, but it was just too obvious that by “the club”, they meant Abramovich. Unlike some of our ever suspicious fans, I do not have any hesitation in saying that Kenyon really liked José and enjoyed a good relationship with him, but unlike him or Buck, José is no yes-man. Of course, it’s easy for men like Buck and Kenyon to be yes-men because of the work they do, but for José, that is akin to professional suicide. Now Grant, already a dead man walking has nothing to lose being the manager of a club that the Times newspaper’s Martin Samuel described as a rich man’s plaything. In fact, Grant seems a genius at going through the motions.
Yes, time was when I used to have all the answers to the Martin Samuels of this world and all the Abramovich critics out there, but that was when Abramovich was God. Now that he’s showed the devil in him, I’m really struggling. For example, a Liverpool-supporting friend who’s eternally suffered terrible ignominies in his attempt to undermine my support for Chelsea has had his best days against me since Mourinho’s exit. Apart from celebrating as though they’ve won the league already, he’s been busy making jokes, at my expense. “Congratulations for appointing Tubby as your new manager!” he crowed. For the first time, I found no repartee to take him down, so he bravely continued. “But, you know this is impersonation, don’t you? Your Tubby doesn’t have Rafa’s record and he looks like a man permanently constipated!” When I found my voice, I said something to the effect that this is just a self-imposed handicap to show that we can win the league blindfolded and with one hand tied behind our back. Or doesn’t he know that such stunts only make our ordained victory sweeter? I quickly dropped the phone before he said anything else. Another friend, this time a Manchester United supporter, called later to inquire if Abramovich was going to be in the dugout on Sunday. “Who will he be choosing to partner Shevchenko upfront?” he asked. “Ah, Roman our new manager is itching to pit his great wits against Sir Alex’s, no doubt; but the FA, Premier League and League Managers Association are refusing to grant him the dispensation to sit in the dugout apparently because he’s yet to complete any of his coaching badges and the UEFA Pro Licence needed to manage in the Premiership”, I protested. “Anyway, he’s got his assistant (Grant) in there to do the job. Our game at Old Trafford is a doddle, you know; so the big masquerade himself need not be in the dugout to get the job done,” I concluded. The man graciously laughed off my tiresome humour; but later in the night, the same fellow called me and dropped a message saying he’s just read in the news that Grant does not have the UEFA Pro Licence as well. I didn’t return his call.
Make no mistake, Abramovich has made the job of those Chelsea fans who stridently defended his takeover of the club and his conduct ever since more difficult with his actions over Mourinho. If, as Kenyon claims, there were no clashes over players (including Shevchenko), transfer targets or how and who to play, what then was the reason for the divorce? Was Mourinho caught winking at the new woman in Abramovich’s life? Has a new security report commissioned by Abramovich fingered Mourinho as part of a big plot to pinch his choice cigars? Did they find Mourinho with his hands in the Megastore till? There can only be one reason, the details of which are immaterial – Mourinho has refused to do Abramovich’s bidding where the team is concerned and Abramovich, exercising his unbridled power as the owner got his board together to throw him out, all expenses paid. And, of course, complete with confidentiality clauses, so we plebeians are left in the dark where we belong.
But we really can’t argue when a rich man farts, can we? Even a gesture of self-preservation such as quickly covering your nose can be misinterpreted as disrespect. So, we’ll have to sit here and see it out. Luckily, even the worst of farts take only a few seconds of our breath, nothing more. Avram Grant is Abramovich’s fart – if he doesn’t smell, no one will be the wiser. We’ll celebrate his victories as we always do and hail Abramovich as the Wise Emperor we know he is. But if he smells, will Abramovich be humble enough to wipe out the embarrassment from his benign bum by bringing back The Special One? The man has said he didn’t close the door and, of course, the fans will never close the door. The club has said they’ll always accord him his pride of place at Stamford Bridge and that he’s always welcome. Abramovich has to begin reciting his mea culpa, because for our sake and for his own personal redemption in our eyes, he may just need it a few months or even years down the line. Stranger things have happened in football.