When Roman Abramovich’s Russian revolution took place at Stamford Bridge in 2003, Chelsea fans were cock-a-hoop and salivating at the prospect of untold investment into their team. So much so, they even began to refer endearingly to their own club as “Chelski.”
In his first year in charge, Chelsea finished second in the Premier League, and made the semi-finals of the Champions League. The eventual winners, Porto, were rank outsiders and managed by the relatively unknown Jose Mourinho. Before that, Mourinho was mostly known, at least in England, as having been Bobby Robson’s interpreter at the Camp Nou.
The following year saw Mourinho take over from Claudio Ranieri, and delivered the first League title for 50 years. However, it did not take long before two over-inflated egos could no longer work together, and so Mourinho left by mutual consent.
Abramovich brings in managers and gets rid of them in the same way that a spoiled rich kid demands a new toy – he gets it, tires of it, and then demands a new one to replace it.
He’s now been through: Ranieri, Mourinho, Avram Grant, Luis Felipe Scolari, Guus Hiddink, Carlo Ancelotti, André Villas Boas and Roberto di Matteo.
It wasn’t enough that Di Matteo brought the Holy Grail to Stamford Bridge, winning the UEFA Champions League and the FA Cup in one season; Abramovich still sacked him a few months later. Di Matteo is seen as a legend at Stamford Bridge, universally loved by the fans.
So who did Abramovich bring in to replace a Chelsea legend? He decided on Rafael Benitez, who is almost universally hated by the Chelsea fans, owing to his constant sniping of the club when he was in charge at Liverpool.
Ray Wilkins, a former Chelsea captain and coach, who was also sacked by Abramovich, said:
“If I’d spent £1 billion on something, I wouldn’t have too many people telling me what to do, either.”
Wilkins is missing the point. It may be fine to act dictatorially in the sterile world of oil and steel, but football is a people business, and people are beginning to tire of Abramovich’s whims.
It is starting to happen on the terraces of Stamford Bridge, where the Chelsea fans are taking a perverse pleasure in seeing their own team fail. They want Benitez out – and they are not going to change their minds.
It is also happening with elite managers. Guardiola was the man Abramovich desired, but he is not going to get his way this time. The Spaniard turned down Abramovich’s advances and chose instead the relative stability of Bayern Munich; some people are now saying no to the dictator.