Stamford Bridge: A Ground For Divorce. Roman Abramovich And Chelsea Are A Marriage Made In Managerial Hell
Paul Roberts writes from London: Well, that didn’t take long. Chelsea’s billionaire owner has now had more managers than Liz Taylor had husbands. Roberto Di Matteo’s failure to win every game seven-nil led the Russian ruler to instruct his lawyers after just eight months of wedded bliss.
Di Matteo’s departure is about as surprising as, well, any other Chelsea manager’s departure during Abramovich’s reign. He may have won the club’s first Champions’ League title and the FA Cup in May, just two months into his tenure after previous manager Andre Villas-Boas also failed to win every game seven-nil, but defeat to Juventus on Tuesday leaves Di Matteo’s former charges on the brink of becoming the first holders to exit the Champions’ League at the group stage. That, plus a domestic crisis of four Premier League games without a win, was clearly enough to give the Chelsea owner a headache. Not tonight, Roberto.
Abramovich has now sacked eight managers since taking over at Stamford Bridge in July 2003. The first of them, Claudio Ranieri, was there before Abramovich – a step-child from a previous marriage, so to speak – so clearly he had to go. José Mourinho came in and led the club to its first league title in fifty years, then another. However the Special One’s inability to win every game seven-nil ended Stamford Bridge’s most glamorous love affair. Likewise the same inexplicable failings of footballing coaches Avram Grant, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Guus Hiddink, before Villas-Boas toasted his nuptials with a drink from the poisoned chalice.
The Bridge’s registry office has been providing rich pickings for football’s divorce lawyers ever since the most enticing of Russian brides arrived in west London. To many an all-powerful symbol of everything that’s gone wrong in the modern game, Abramovich has lavished hundreds of millions of his billions on turning Chelsea into domestic and European champions; but his ownership of one of the world’s greatest football clubs has now gone beyond the seven-year, eight-manager itch.
Even Chelsea fans have had enough. ‘Chelsea, you make me sick, yours, fan since 1975’ says one, on Twitter. ‘Utterly bonkers. Makes no sense whatsoever,’ says another. There is talk of a fans’ boycott of the team – maybe even a breakaway club à la AFC Wimbledon. Never mind a green card. The Russian oligarch might be about to get a red.
Abramovich, of course, won’t care. He is worth an estimated US $20 billion. That kind of wealth, one imagines, breeds the kind of disconnected arrogance that even the likes of the Premiership’s over-paid prima donnas couldn’t comprehend. When he decides that his love affair with football is over, he’ll just buy something else.
But football, even the English Premier League, isn’t just about money. Yes, Di Matteo will pocket a sizeable divorce settlement, as did his predecessors during Abramovich’s reign (in which £86 million has reportedly been spent paying off sacked managers). But he has shown, in a Chelsea career that also included six years as a fans’ favourite on the pitch, that he is a man of integrity. His marriage to Chelsea was more than one of simple financial convenience.
So, Rafael Benitez becomes the ninth manager to be carried over the Stamford Bridge threshold in as many years. This time, though, it’s a temporary union, with Benitez on a contract only until the end of the season.
Well, saves the bother of an expensive pre-nup.