LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 13: Roberto Di Matteo (L), interim first team coach of Chelsea smiles as listens to John Terry talk to the media during a press conference ahead of the UEFA Champions League round of sixteen, second leg match between Chelsea FC and Napoli at Stamford Bridge on March 13, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Chelsea's owner won't ever let them get into the predicament that Rangers are in, but their decision-making processes are similar. Things need to change at Stamford Bridge.
On August 6, 2011, Rangers took a week off from their SPL (the Scottish league, as a consequence of rare ‘common sense' starts in late-July these days) commitments to host Chelsea in a friendly match. This match was a rare official nod to the special relationship which has existed between (elements of) the two sets of supporters since the ‘dark days' of football hooliganism in the 1970s, when fans clubs across the country formed alliances with one another. Fans of the Irish league club Linfield complete a unionist holy trinity known as ‘The Blues Brothers' (a fanzine of this title gets sold at three clubs' home games).
In the interests of balance, many supporters of all of these clubs absolutely deny the existence of any real link. They see the Blues Brothers as an anachronistic and unwanted element, unrepresentative of their club. That said, my mate was at the aforementioned friendly and he said all three Chelsea goals were celebrated by both sets of fans so, since this is all anecdote anyway, the link stands.
Even if the two clubs were (or are) not linked by their fans, there are enough parallels between their current situations to sustain an article of this type. The man or woman (his/her identity, understandably, is kept anonymous) behind rangerstaxcase.com (RTC) has done an excellent job in documenting and publicizing the extent and severity of Rangers troubles (and the Scottish media's apologist complicity therein). Clearly Chelsea, currently concerned with finding the best way of playing straight into Napoli's tactical hand, have a far rosier problem than that which currently threatens the existence of Scotland's most successful club. This line, however, taken from RTC's recent Q&A is portentous for the English axis of the Blues Brothers:
‘Rangers today are an accumulation of time-bombs set years ago as expediencies designed to "win the title now" without regard to the future'.
Even taken benignly, this description is apt for the Chelsea of today too as various managers have tried and failed to diffuse the Terry-Lampard-Drogba time-bomb through which Jose Mourinho ‘won the title now' but which, though still a several-hundred-thousand-pounds a week drain on the coffers, is only fit to (maybe) ‘finish third or fourth now'.
As I have written here before, Roman Abramovich's recruitment policy has indicated an awareness of his squad's impending descent into self-apocalypse. Carlo Ancelotti made sense when the brief was to extend the life-force of Mourinho's winning machine. When that brief changed, inexplicably in the summer of 2010 after a League and FA Cup double (which vindicated the appointment), to one of rejuvenation Cuddly Carlo was no longer appropriate and when he was eventually replaced Andre Villas-Boas made sense as his successor. Apparently disposed by player power, AVB's sacking indicates that the brief has again changed; at least in the short term, the job is to get Chelsea into next season's Champions League using the current squad.
Abramovich and his board must have felt that the squad's relationship with their manager had decayed to such an extent that persisting with the Portuguese would harm their already dangerously narrow chances of Champions League qualification, so he had to go. Most likely, though, the job description will revert back to that which Villas-Boas thought he was signing up for at the end of the season because they need to replace these players.
Abramovich's latest sacking, then, is also his most illuminating. By getting rid of AVB, Chelsea have indicated the extent to which they need Champions League football. Perhaps this is because of impending Financial Fair Play regulations; perhaps it is because ownership of a non-Champions League team is less commensurate with Abramovich's self-image. Either way, the move enshrines the short-termism that has defined Chelsea since Mourinho's feted acquisition of ‘proven winners' in the middle of the last decade. Chelsea, and their fans, don't have to look too far to see what short-term thinking can do for long-term prospects.