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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London

For six years, Chelsea have been a relentless winning machine, but that arrogant sense of superiority has faded away. In its place is hesitancy, vulnerability and a worrying inability to dictate the flow of games. Chelsea are dropping points so frequently that you’d swear that the FA coated them in butter before handing them out.

Some have suggested that this poor run of form is John Terry’s fault but, while lurid headlines may have damaged his standing in the dressing room, Chelsea’s problems are a little more complicated than that. Yes, the Blues have picked up just 14 points from a possible 24 in the eight league games since news of his affair broke, but in the eight games before the controversy, they’d only managed 15 from 24, just a single point more. The truth is that Chelsea’s biggest problems have been the loss of two critical players and their inability to adapt to their absence

The long-term injuries to Ashley Cole and Jose Bosingwa have robbed Chelsea of their width. Usually the full-backs would push up around the midfield, coating the steel spine in raw pace but, without those two, Chelsea are simply a back four, a narrow midfield three with a perky Florent Malouda, a bewildered Nicolas Anelka and a frustrated Didier Drogba. Every team suffers from injuries, but what really matters is how you react to them. Chelsea simply haven’t found another way to play and the more points they drop, the more their confidence drains away.


Because Roman Abramovich has squandered the biggest financial advantage that any English football club has ever enjoyed. Back in 2003, he was able to spend the entire transfer budget of rival clubs on single players. With the right leadership, Chelsea should have been propelled to the top and stayed there for decades but, as Jose Mourinho pointed out last week, Abramovich didn’t know very much about football back then.

The first year was an expensive waste. New players were signed by committee and forced on Claudio Ranieri, who was then given the bullet despite finishing runners-up to Arsene Wenger’s invincibles and narrowly missing out on a place in the Champions League Final. In his place came Mourinho, whose first move was to completely re-shape the team, spending even more money and offloading the prima donnas. The decision to remove him three years later will remain the subject of debate for many years but, having spent so much money, Abramovich had every right to flex his muscles. He was however, a fool to swing the axe in the middle of the season, and an irredeemable fool to replace Mourinho with Avram Grant.

Grant had no pedigree for such a high-profile role and the players knew it. Replacing the charismatic personality cult of Mourinho with the funereal mumblings of an Israeli nobody led to a sudden power vacuum that the senior players rushed forward to fill. John Terry took on the role of spiritual leader, despite his rumoured involvement in the rebellion against Mourinho, and no manager has been able to dominate the dressing room since. Chelsea stumbled through the remaining campaign with Mourinho’s players playing in Mourinho’s formation but without Mourinho’s leadership. They ended as runners-up in almost every competition.

Luis Felipe Scolari followed, but by now the players were so powerful that they could openly defy him and complain to the board that training sessions weren’t interesting enough. Unable to speak English, Scolari was annihilated by the attack-dogs of the tabloids and hid away in the dressing room after games, leaving press conferences to Ray Wilkins. He didn’t last the season. Guus Hiddink arrived to steady the ship, but only on a short-term contract, before the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti. Six managers in five years. No wonder there’s no stability at the club. No wonder that Ancelotti is struggling to teach his players a Plan B. No matter how adventurous the intentions of every new manager, they’ve all eventually reverted to Mourinho’s 4-5-1.


Long-term managers like Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson can carefully monitor players, young and old, preparing themselves for problems before they get out of hand. Short-term managers, anxiously glancing over their shoulders at trigger-happy owners, don’t have that luxury. They know that they are only ever three bad results away from the sack. They don’t give young players a run in the first team, they don’t care who is coming up through the ranks, they don’t worry about whether or not a 32 year old striker will still be able to perform next season. They concern themselves only with the next game.

As a result of Abramovich’s meddling, a succession of powerless managers have allowed Chelsea’s squad. The youth teams, packed with players poached from other academies, have gone unused. Gael Kakuta, recruited so controversially, has played just 31 minutes of league football this season. Fabio Borini, the highly rated young Italian front man, has been allowed only 32 minutes in the league, spread over four appearances from the bench. Michael Mancienne, once called into the England squad, has made a grand total of two league starts for his employers and now finds himself on loan at Wolves.

Until a manager feels secure enough to give the youngsters some playing time, the only way that Abramovich can maintain Chelsea’s lofty status is by artificially boosting their coffers and sanctioning yet another spending spree. But Chelsea haven’t made a penny in profit since he bought them in 2003 and even Abramovich’s resources have to run out sooner or later.


For all of this, Chelsea aren’t actually doing so badly. If they win their game in hand, away at Portsmouth this week, they will be back in second, only a point behind Manchester United with the two teams set to meet on April 3. It’s not a crisis, but it is a gathering storm. When Arsenal go through a bad spell, they can console themselves by looking at birth certificates. When Manchester United slump, they can rotate their enormous squad. When Chelsea wobble, it’s a little more serious. Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack, Juliano Belletti, Paolo Ferriera, Ricardo Carvalho, Deco, Drogba and Anelka are all in their 30s, while Terry, Malouda and Ashley Cole will be joining them there by the end of the year.

Ancelotti’s leadership skills will be severely tested in the coming weeks. He will need to rally the players to his flag, no-one else’s, and convince them that they are still in this title race. Then, when the dust settles in the summer, it’s time to rebuild. Chelsea can’t afford to change the manager again. Six managers in three years is the kind of lunacy that even Real Madrid’s hierarchy would point and laugh at. Abramovich must stop meddling and just let his manager manage. Ancelotti must rebuild the team according to his own designs. It’s time to shed some older players and replace them with new stars. It’s time to give the youth team a chance to shine. In short, it’s time for Chelsea to grow up and start behaving like a proper football club.
I don't think it's a coincidence that Chelsea's form has dipped while Frank Lampard's has...

It's also stereotypical of a team whose average age is edging dangerously past 30 that, when it comes to the nitty gritty of March, they just haven't got the engine to compete with the two games a week the Premier and Champions League imposes on you.
As a result of Abramovich’s meddling, a succession of powerless managers have allowed Chelsea’s squad.

What have they allowed the squad to do? The suspense is killing me!


Sorry for being your sub-editor, as usual. I can't help myself. Great piece, though - very insightful.