It’s safe to say that Roman Abramovich isn’t exactly known for his patience. His trigger happy finger has been a constant source of amusement/disillusionment/exasperation (delete as appropriate)
However, for the most part, things have turned out well for him. He fired Jose Mourinho, and his immediate replacement Avram Grant took Chelsea to the last day of the title race, and within touching distance of the Champions League (more than what Mourinho managed in his last full season).
“Big Phil” Scolari was sacked halfway through the 2008/09 season, but his immediate replacement Guus Hiddink won the FA Cup. And of course most recently, Roberto Di Matteo became arguably the most legendary caretaker of all time – guiding the side to the FA Cup and their first ever Champions League.
So taking all this into account, you can’t blame Roman for feeling a tad smug. Almost every time he fires a manager, to the disapproval of many pundits, his chosen replacement ends up delivering a good degree of success. Instability and knee jerk reactions appear to be the route to success in this regime.
However, with the appointment of Rafa Benitez, this may be one of those occasions where Chelsea’s owner regrets his managerial merry-go round. Not only is his interim boss somewhat of a hate figure for many Chelsea fans, but he’s not been given the key luxury which was afforded to the likes of Grant, Hiddink and Di Matteo – an experienced, powerful Chelsea side.
Although a manager is undoubtedly important, at Stamford Bridge it sometimes feels as if the players are more important, and the success is almost solely based on their abilities and mindset.
Grant may not have been the most able or popular coach, but he was blessed with a Chelsea side bang in their prime. Cech, Terry, Lampard, Essien, Ballack, Drogba and the 2 Coles all in their peak years. Makelele still around. He was an average coach in charge of a formidable squad.
Hiddink, who took over less than a year later, had largely the same group of players, whilst Di Matteo was able to eke out the final drops from the veterans. Out went the AVB introductions such as Romeu and Sturridge, in came the likes of Lampard, Mikel, Drogba and even Kalou.
Benitez however doesn’t have this benefit. Drogba, for so many years the symbol of the Chelsea side, has departed, while the three English veterans are not the players they once were (credit to Lampard for a decent renaissance though). They’ve also had absences from the side due to injuries and suspensions. In other words, unlike the other managers who’ve stepped in when Abramovich has fired someone, Benitez can’t rely on going back to the tried and trusted methods. He has a team in transition.
The likelihood of Chelsea challenging for the Premier League is slim to say the least – the gap between them and Manchester United has increased by 7 points since he arrived. They suffered a surprise League Cup exit to Swansea last week, while they will need a replay against Brentford to progress in the FA Cup.
The Blues will still finish in the top 4 and may manage a good FA Cup run, especially with Benitez’s record in knockout football. But they probably could have got that with Di Matteo at the helm (for the record, this writer believes that giving Di Matteo the permanent job in the first place was a bad decision – doing well as a caretaker is no guarantee of permanent success. Just ask Kenny Dalglish…)
There is no question that Abramovich would have been hoping for a similar level of success to his other short-term appointments. By the time the season ends, he may have to admit that the big pay-out given to Di Matteo, as well as the dissent amongst the Chelsea fans, could all have been avoided.