In the eyes of the vast majority of football lovers around the world, Roman Abramovich has reduced Chelsea to a laughing stock by the outrageous way he runs the West London club.
But the reason that managers like Rafa Benitez continue to line up for slaughtering at Stamford Bridge is simple: money and silverware.
Abromovich is impossible to satisfy, firing a succession of managers simply because they have lost a couple of matches – regardless of how many trophies they deliver. The counter argument is that the Stamford Bridge club has enjoyed an unprecedented era of success since the Russian oligarch came along with his millions. And for many Blues fans that is all that counts.
With few exceptions in football, managers have a limited shelf life. As George Graham told me on the day he was appointed manager of Arsenal: “Most of us know that one day we will be sacked.” The difference at Chelsea, since Abramovich took over, is that the axe is almost certainly going to come sooner rather than later.
New boss Rafa Benitez claimed at his unveiling that working for Abramovich will be “easier” than for George Gillett and Tom Hicks, despite admitting he had never even spoken to the Chelsea owner. The thick skinned former Liverpool boss will shrug off his inevitable unpopularity with Blues fans because he will be well rewarded for his efforts, regardless of whether or not he lasts the duration of his six month contract.
If he succeeds in delivering silverware it will be another achievement to add to an already impressive CV and getting the sack at Chelsea is far from being a career wrecker. So it is easy to see why the Spaniard who has been out of work for over a year was quick to jump at the opportunity to put his neck on the line. Don’t bet againt Benitez kicking off with a win against Premier League champions Manchester City at the weekend.
The simple conclusion to draw from Benitez being crowned Chelsea’s ninth manager in just over eight years is that Abramovich believes he is the man to get the best out of his much-maligned £50 million pound signing Fernando Torres. The irony is that the arrival of Benitez will, in my opinion, increase the pressure on Torres to prove he is not a busted flush.
Meanwhile, the dignity of the West London has been tarnished yet again by the brutal dismissal of Roberto di Matteo, despite becoming the first Chelsea manager to win the Champions League and as well as adding an FA Cup into the bargain.
Abramovich parades Champions League trophy AS Di Matteo wonders what his future holds
To quote The Independent’s James Lawton, Abramovich’s treatment of Di Matteo suggests that the club has “a certain rottenness at its core.” And that is the rub. Money can buy you many things but it can’t buy you dignity and honour.
It is also reassuring to know that some football managers have a bigger pricetag than any amount of money can buy. For Pep Guardiola to resist the riches thrown before him by the Russian is the delicious postscript to this tacky tale of West London extravaganza of obscene proportions. Guardiola has in many people’s eyes enhanced his reputation by ignoring Abramovich’s advances. That is something that will send his desirability soaring at a club like Manchester United who will one day be looking for a successor to the greatest British football manager of all time.
Jose Mourinho has made no secret of his wish to move in at Old Trafford when Sir Alex Ferguson eventually retires. But the Real Madrid boss will surely be challenged by his former Barcelona rival if the United hot seat becomes available any time soon.