Chelsea FC: Football's Equivalent Of A Mythological Greek King
Greek mythology has always had its fair share of loopy, loony and downright crazy characters. The tale of Sisyphus is one among the many that fall into the last category. Sisyphus was once the king of the Greek town of Thessaly. By all descriptions, the man seems to be no saint. Deceitful, vengeful and greedy, he was often famed as the craftiest of all men. Even in death, he managed to return back to Earth by outwitting the gods twice. For all his trickery, Zeus punished him by making him roll a huge boulder to the top of a steep hill for all eternity. The catch was that before he could reach the top, the huge stone would roll back down and he would be forced to repeat the task. Forever.
Chelsea FC’s story over the past hundred years ago is perfectly analogous to Sisyphus’s tale. Formed in 1905, the club’s early years saw little success - the closest they came to winning a major trophy was reaching the 1915 FA Cup Final, which they lost to Sheffield United. Chelsea gained a reputation for signing big-name players and for being entertainers, but made little impact on the English game. In 1952 however, former Arsenal striker Ted Drake took over as the club’s manager, and proceeded to revolutionise the club (briefly). He got rid of the club’s amateurish image, removed any links with the term ‘Pensioners’ (club’s nickname at that time) and introduced scouting, tougher training regimes and an endearing focus on ball skills – which were nothing short of radical in the English game. He led the club to their first Championship in 1954, but failed subsequently to either retain the title or win it another time.
During the 60s and 70s, the club achieved a few honours – most notably the UEFA Cup Winners Cup against Real Madrid in 1971, their first – but came achingly close to others such as the treble in ’64 (they ended up with only the League Cup) and the FA Cup in 1967 (runners up). The 1980s ushered in an era of financial instability for the club due to an ambitious development plan of Stamford Bridge. Key players were sold and the club was relegated to the Second Division. On the pitch, things weren’t any better with the team flirting with relegation to the Third Division. In 1982, with the club at the nadir of its fortunes, businessman and all-round good guy Ken Bates (just ask the Leeds United fans about him) bought the club for a nominal sum of £1. John Neal was appointed manager of the team and Chelsea quickly bounced back to win the Second Division title in the ’83-84 season, before being ingloriously relegated again in 1988. The club produced a miraculous return by immediately winning both the title and promotion in the very next season. Over 30 years of football had produced periodic ups and downs for the club.
With the advent of the Premier League era, Chelsea were soon to be transformed into a global force. They reached the 1994 FA Cup final and in 1996, the club appointed former European footballer of the year Ruud Gullitt as player-manager. Inspired, the club captured the 1997 FA Cup final and re-established themselves a major English side. The next 15 years were a rock’n'roll ride for the club. Gianluca Vialli was named the manager in 1998, and he went onto win an unprecedented haul of trophies which included League Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup in ’98, the UEFA Super Cup in ’98 (beating Real Madrid yet again) and an FA Charity Shield in 2000.
Sisyphus was once the king of the Greek town of Thessaly. By all descriptions, the man seems to be no saint. Deceitful, vengeful and greedy, he was often famed as the craftiest of all men.
In 2003, Ken Bates sold the club to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich for £140 million pounds, a record at the time. The oligarch quickly infused over £100 million pounds into the club, but a lack of titles under then manager Claudio Ranieri led to the Italian being given the boot, paving the way for the man who would turn the club into a veritable superpower. José Mourinho. The Portuguese’s take-no-prisoners style of management led to arguably the most successful period in the club’s hundred-year-history. Chelsea won back-to-back league titles in the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons, League Cups in 2005 and 2007 and the FA Cup in 2007. They consistently managed to reach the final stages of the Champions League as well – reaching the semifinals of the competition in 2005-06 and 2006-07 (losing to Liverpool both times) and the final in 2007, which they lost on penalties to Manchester United.
However, all weren’t as rosy as it seemed. Rumours about a break down in relations between manager and owner began to surface in 2006. Mourinho was said to have sparred with Abramovich about the Russian’s transfer policy and over the appointment of Avram Grant as Director of Football, despite the Portuguese’s objections. The match made in heaven came to an abrupt halt when Mourinho left the club on 20 September 2007 “by mutual consent”.
The unflappable Avram Grant was appointed as caretaker manager and he immediately conceded both the title and the Champions League final to a rejuvenated (and rather lucky) United. Going with tradition, he was immediately fired by Abramovich who then named Luiz Felipe Scolari as the new manager for the club, effective from July 2008. In retrospect, Big Phil’s reign was just as ill-fated as Cloughie’s at Leeds. Following a string of poor results, the World Cup winning Brazilian was packed off by an increasingly irate Abramovich, as then Russia manager Guus Hiddink was named interim-manager till the end of the 2008-09 season. Hiddink didn’t have a great time either, winning only the 2008 FA Cup against a toothless Everton side.
When Hiddink left, not many managers wanted the post in all honesty. The job was said to be cursed, and Abramovich’s tendency to get rid of managers at will didn’t appeal terribly to most of them. Eventually, Carlo Ancelotti made his way over from AC Milan to take the job. Having won literally, well,everything with Milan – including Abramovich’s Holy Grail, The Champions League – the Italian was expected to hit the ground running. And he did. In his first season, he won the the league, the FA Cup and the FA Community Shield, beating Manchester United for the league as well as the Shield. Chelsea fans were happy, and all seemed well.
Most footballers who transfer to a foreign country are often said to suffer from ‘second season syndrome’ – a case where the players does not end up performing as well as he does in his debut season. Maybe this was the case with Ancelotti, as, compared to his debut season, his second was a disaster.
Firing AVB now though might just be the stupidest thing Abramovich could do. If United hadn’t stuck with Fergie through all those early years, Liverpool might well be crowing atop their perch even now.
The club underperformed at all levels, and conceded the title back to United. They were also knocked out of the Champions League by the same team, who beat them in the quarter-finals in both legs of the tie. They also lost the Community Shield to United, at the beginning of the season. Despite Ancelotti repeatedly saying he did not fear the sack, he was given the bullet within hours of Chelsea’s 1-0 loss to Everton on 22 May 2011.
Catastrophe, it seemed, had struck the club yet again. The old saying “what goes up must come down” had just hit the club like a train.
For the current season, Abramovich has named Andre Villas-Boas as the coach. A relative new comer, Villas-Boas had been the manager of FC Porto the year before. There, he had an accumulated an almost Mourinho-esque collection of titles within a year, winning the Portuguese Primera, the Supercup, the Portuguese Cup and the UEFA Europa League.
AVB’s time at Chelsea hasn’t been all that jolly. He has often seemed out of both his depth and comfort zone. He has been chastised for his all-out focus on attacking football, and for his tactic of playing a relatively high line of defence. His naivety has shown when Arsenal gunned five past them at home, United came back from three goals down to draw them at home, and most recently Everton outclassed them 2-0 at Goodison Park.
This has led to some fans already calling for his head. The Blues faithful sure seem to be fickle-minded, and given the fickle-mindedness of their almost tyrannical owner, I wouldn’t blame them. They’ve probably seen too many managers come and go for no specific reason and hence expectations can be rather high. That said, Villas-Boas hasn’t been helped by his players attitude to him. The fact that Frank Lampard is about the same age as him doesn’t help either. He does not seem to draw the same level of respect that Sir Alex or Wenger commands in the dressing room. His perceived inexperience might also seen by the senior players as a fatal flaw.
Firing AVB now though might just be the stupidest thing Abramovich could do. If United hadn’t stuck with Fergie through all those early years, Liverpool might well be crowing atop their perch even now. They stuck with him, and are reaping the rewards even today. If history teaches us a lesson, it is that Chelsea have always, and I mean always come back from the dead just as well as United have. If they persevere with Villas-Boas, they may just find themselves ascending once more, and finally push that boulder up the hill.
This article first appeared on State Of The Game
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