Thursday, June 05, 2008

Who's next for Chelsea?

Despite nudging Chelsea into the realm of big-time footy, albeit with an infusion of funds of speculative origin, Roman Abramovich has seemingly completed the task of turning Stamford Bridge into a new Siberia. And I don't mean it's Siberia because visiting teams never get more than a point there, but because the Russian billionaire has effectively frightened off any manager with any notions of reality. While we all knew Avram Grant's days were numbered since he began, most obviously by the lack of support from most of the squad, the Israeli's sacking officially labeled the club as not only a trinket for Abramovich, but a manifestation of his megalomania.

You can't criticize an owner for wanting to win it all. Abramovich was able to take a competent squad compiled by Claudio Ranieri, and added the key ingredient in Jose Mourinho. But unless there's another gaffer out there like the Special One, anyone who takes that job will suffer the same fate as Grant. If one can get in, win some silver and do it one's own way, then perhaps there's a chance. But if that's more optimism than reality, very few will hope to stay longer than perhaps a year or a bit more.

There's a lot of bleating on about how managers don't get enough time to mold their clubs into winning sides, almost as much as the is complaint about the high number of foreigners in the English Premier League. How does a potential manager get the chance to mold a squad with his vision, to get time to assemble a side that will compete? The short answer is that he doesn't.

Top flight management is more a mercenary occupation than ever before. Does Roman Abramovich really want to give a guy like Mark Hughes time to build a squad as he did at Blackburn? Of course not. In Abramovich's mind, he's one or two pieces away from what he wants: a dominant side both in England and in Europe. The manager isn't necessarily the visionary in this case, but rather another part of the machinery. As soon as Jose Mourinho ceased being merely a part was the beginning of his demise as Chelsea manager.

And that is why Inter Milan is so perfect for Mourinho. Serie A champions at a time when Juventus has yet to assert itself and AC Milan is in a rebuilding stage, there only remains the Champions League to be won. If Jose Mourinho cannot grasp the trophy with the Nerazurri, realistically who can? Sure, Massimo Moratti can be as tyrannical as the worst soccer despot, but it's highly unlikely that Mourinho is in it for the long haul in Milan. Inter are just another notch on the Special One's bedpost, another domino to fall in his attempt to conquer the continent.

Chelsea's future may seem muddled, but if Avram Grant can get the Blues to within three points of winning the league and into the European Cup final, you have to think Abramovich isn't worried about who the next manager will be. The notion of a club built and modeled on the vision of a great manager is gone. You can point to Sir Alex Ferguson with Manchester United and Arsene Wenger with Arsenal, but these are gaffers that are at the top of the game in the world. Considering the money at stake and the rabid impatience of fans, all that matters is silver, there's very little advantage of giving a manager time unless the goal is to establish a mid-table team as a consistent mid-table team.


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