Ever since Roman Abramovich took over at Chelsea, his and his staff's handling of club affairs has been extremely similar to the sort that you see on the continent: The owner pays in money to bring in players at his own personal expense, managers make good use of the money pit by bringing the club – and by extension the owner himself – instant glory, or they get the sack. Then the owner gets a new boss and unleashes more funds, repeating the circle. Real Madrid are probably the most famed adherents to this policy, but it's no stranger to followers of Italian football either: Juventus, Milan and Inter are all dominated by owners of extreme wealth, who have used the success of their football clubs to strengthen their own fiefdoms. Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi has been explicitly using his club and football to make himself look good for two decades: only a few weeks ago the official Milan supporters club released a craven plea for fans to vote for Berlusconi's PDL party in the local elections in their newsletter. Thankfully they were convincingly thumped by the centre-left coalition. With this in mind it can't have come as much of a surprise to Carlo Ancelotti that he was sacked immediately after Chelsea's last game of season, for the sin of finishing second in the league, the season after he captured the club's first ever double.
Despite his weaknesses – a lack of tactical flexibility, persistence with badly performing players and a lack of trust in young players coming through – Ancelotti did not deserve to be dumped in the way he was. It was a typically classless move from a club that has never known how to handle its private affairs: right back in 1995 the club was playing out a messy boardroom drama in public, as Matthew Harding and Ken Bates fought for control of the club in the press, and near enough every manager we've had in my lifetime has been binned off in a wave of controversy. I can think of only Hoddle who went amicably, and that was to take the England job. Since then Gullit, Vialli, Ranieri, Mourinho, Grant, Scolari and Ancelotti were all sacked in an acrimonious fashion, with Gullit even being subject to rumours – leaked from the club – that he cracked up at half time of a crucial FA Cup game with Liverpool; bashing his head against the dressing room wall while Graham Rix re-jigged the team that won 4-2 (and eventually went on to win the FA Cup). Even Eddie McCreadie, way back in 1977, was sacked after a row over a company car. The only other one who parted on good terms was Guus Hiddink, who arrived in the winter of 2009 and turned the team's fortunes around after Phil Scolari's disastrous reign, winning the FA Cup in the process. It look very much like he will be taking Ancelotti's place very soon. But then what?
John Terry's back problems mean he is even less mobile as he once was, while Frank Lampard has a groin problem that he himself has said will never heal.
Quite apart form the fact that the club have again gone swaggering around, assuming that they have whatever they want, whenever they want it, Hiddink's eventual appointment will be another short-term commitment: there's no way that he'll stay much longer than two years, even if he does manage to win the Champions League (and by the way, I'm yet to meet a Chelsea fan who is that bothered about winning that infernal tournament). The other practical problem is that the players Hiddink did so well with in his brief previous stay are all either past their best or close to it, with only Drogba of the team's spine still looking like he's got another couple of years at his peak. John Terry's back problems mean he is even less mobile as he once was, while Frank Lampard has a groin problem that he himself has said will never heal. This means not only that he's going to get less out of his key players, but he's going to have to deal with new players coming in and the waning influence behind the scenes of those he made alliances with before.
This isn't to say that he's not a good coach, or even capable of doing a good job; he clearly is. The problem is that we are now beyond the stage where the team will win games just by the virtue of knowing the jobs José Mourinho set out for them in 2004: much of the good Hiddink did in 2009 was showing the team that they were working under a proper coach, keeping the balance right between being a disciplinarian (so that the dressing room cabal led by you-know-who didn't get out of line) and an amiable father figure, and simply putting the team back into the same format and mindset created by Mourinho. Smart management for sure, but that won't cut it this time round: Hiddink is going to have to deal with a very different team and club, and won't be coming in as a saviour trying to salvage the damage done by incompetents. In that kind of atmosphere, where instant success is demanded from a twitchy owner and failure is punished by an unceremonious sacking (accompanied with a whopping great pay-off – luvvly jubbly) what kind of coach is going to take on the job: one who has a long-term plan, or a big name looking to get a couple of baubles attached to his name before taking his seat back on the merry-go-round?
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