These are chaotic days even for Chelsea. Scarcely had they been bundled out of any real chance of survival in the European Champions League, which they hold, in Turin and all too predictably sacked their hapless manager Roberto Di Matteo, controversially replacing him on a short contract with Rafa Benitez, than their flimsy case against the referee Mark Clattenburg was thrown out by the FA.
Why they ever brought it at all made scant sense — it looked little more than a diversionary attempt to deflect attention from the John Terry-Anton Ferdinand racism affair. The FA investigation had harsh words for the testimony of a leading Chelsea official over the part played in evidence by their left-back Ashley Cole.
The evidence that Clattenburg had called Jon Obi Mikel a “monkey” was negligible in the extreme. Mikel himself, though he reacted so furiously towards Clattenburg when the game was over and has now been charged for his pains, had not heard it at the time. Ramires, who was meant to have heard it, apparently has sketchy English and might have been hard put to understand Clattenburg’s Geordie accent.
Chelsea wheeled out the amiable but peripheral American lawyer, senior director Bruce Buck, to give a newspapers a rambling, inconsequential interview-cum-apology about Chelsea’s accusation, but it added up to very little. With the best will in the world, one hardly sees Buck as a football man. And, while we are on the subject, what is the actual role of the so-called technical director, Nigerian Michael Emenalo, who when appointed was said to have held but one coaching role — for a girls’ team in the USA. A somewhat embarrassing vignette by an eye-witness recounts that, at a certain European match, the then Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti sat beside him in the dugout and wholly ignored him throughout.
The implication is that he is in some way Roman Abramovich’s man, while Buck, whatever his American-acquired legal skills, speaks when he does for Abramovich himself. Di Matteo, in fact, never had a hope. Promoted to an ill-defined grudging role as temporary coach when the door was shown to Villas Boas, he triumphantly rallied a struggling team, almost miraculously took them past Napoli, conquered Barcelona at the Nou Camp and then Bayern Munich on their own ground to win the Champions League.
But he did it the hard way, probably the only way, by winning battles of attrition, in no small measure thanks to the muscular dynamism up front of Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba. But Chelsea foolishly let him go for nothing to Shanghai in the summer and the idea that the hapless, hopeless, misfiring £50 million Fernando Torres could replace him was farcical. Though not to Abramovich, who insisted he should be in the team.
Buying costly, elegant but lightweight attackers in the close season, such as Oscar of Brazil and Eden Hazard of Belgium — ludicrously used as chief striker in Turin — was a recipe for failure. Di Matteo tried it and got nowhere, though it must be said that the absence injured of the irreplaceable John Terry made the Chelsea defence sadly fragile. What consistency can be expected of another Brazilian, David Luiz, that most impulsive of players?
Now, to the rage of Chelsea fans who loathed him from his Liverpool days, Rafa Benitez has been given an absurdly short contract. Ever seeking elegant football, Abramovich we know pines for Pep Guardiola. But Guardiola ran a dazzling Barca team built up carefully through years of coaching, from junior levels upward. How can he work miracles with the players he would find at Stamford Bridge?
For Abramovich, who goes through managers at a rate of knots, among them celebrities such as Mourinho, Ancelotti and Scolari, winning isn’t enough — it must be done in style.
— The writer is a football expert based in England