I have no Napoleonic dream. I’m just hard-working and pragmatic – Roman Abramovich.
After Chelsea owner Abramovich sacked Roberto Di Matteo, one can safely say he doesn’t know the meaning of being pragmatic. Pragmatism is a philosophical tradition centered on the linking of practice and theory. It describes a process where theory is extracted from practice, and applied back to practice to form what is called intelligent practice.
But there was no intelligence in Abramovich’s decision. Di Matteo had been in charge since Andre Villas-Boas was sacked and he won Chelsea the FA Cup and the Champions League. His calm composure earned praise from all quarters. He managed to soothe the nerves of the crossed seniors like Frank Lampard and he did it without breaking a sweat.
After the disaster that Andre Villas Boas’ tenure was, Di Matteo felt like a dream. The manner in which Chelsea held off Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals last year after their skipper John Terry was sent off in the 37th minute was inspiring. And the inspiration was widely thought to have come from Di Matteo.
Ten men defended as if their lives depended on it. Of course, they all had a point to prove after they orchestrated AVB’s exit. They wanted to prove that they were good enough and in Di Matteo they found the right man to help them channel their anger into victories.
Chelsea under him seemed transformed. They discovered a joy and a playing style that had eluded them all season. But the good results also meant that Abramovich was forced to stick with Di Matteo. The Italian was handed a two-year contract but as everyone knows, contracts don’t matter to the Russian billionaire.
Since 2003, Chelsea have had eight managers and have won 10 titles. Since 2003 — well since forever, Manchester United have had one manager and they have also won 10 titles. So what’s really eating Abramovich?
Does he expect his managers to win every match they play? Then, he would be better off hiring 365 managers for each day of the year or he could even contemplate having a rotation system in place for the manager’s job.
The Russian needs to realise that it takes time to build a good side; it takes times to earn the respect of the players and the fans. Chelsea’s start to the season was surprising — they started with 7 wins and a draw in their first eight matches. But in the last four matches, they have two losses and two draws.
However, they are still third in the Premiership, just four points off leaders Manchester City, who the Blues face on Sunday. A win in that game would have put them back in contention for the top spot. But Abramovich found the run of results ‘unacceptable’ and that was that.
Di Matteo is on his way out and Abramovich has once again managed to show why owners need to stay away from running the game. They have a manager to do that and for once, he should let the man do his job. The grapevine tells us that Pep Guardiola, who quit Barcelona in the summer to take a sabbatical from the game, is the owner’s preferred choice.
But one doubts Pep would be upto the challenge of keeping Abramovich happy. Indeed, for that matter, one doubts any manager would be upto that challenge. Managing Chelsea requires less effort than managing the owner and that is a curse every Chelsea manager will have to live with.
At Chelsea, managers are expected to not prove themselves on the field — results are after all secondary for a man who believes he can buy everything. They are instead expected to be at Abramovich’s beck and call and that’s something no self respecting man will want to do.
Chelsea have been called the Blues for a long time now but the nickname might reflect the state of the mind of every man who manages the club. Di Matteo should walk out with his head held high — he did a good job. Meanwhile, Abramovich should consider going off on a world cruise on his $600 million yacht.
By the time he gets back… who knows… Chelsea might actually begin to resemble a club and not a game of Russian roulette.