Friday, February 17, 2012

Abramovich's Final Exams

This Summer will mark nine years since Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea football club. That is quite enough time for anyone to be at school studying one subject which in this instance is how to run a football club.

In all that time, Abramovich has never spoken in public with regard to Chelsea but what we can glean is that he has a genuine interest in football. Many will also think he has a sharp business acumen given his vast wealth, the combination should be a heady cocktail of success and in many regards it has been given Chelsea's three league titles and various near misses in the Champions League.

What is less clear however is how savvy an operator Abramovich truly is. There are a myriad of allegations and suggestions regarding his acquisition of Sibneft and the subsequent billions that came his way. Whilst clearly 'street smart', business genius he may not be.

Whilst nearly every Chelsea fan would thank him for the success he has brought to the club, what is less appealing is his stop/start nature of investment and his constant changing of managers. With the exception of Jose Mourinho who has proven to all at Internazionale and as Real Madrid are about to find out - engineers his own departures, the problem for Abramovich has been the appointments that he has made in the first place rather than the subsequent axing.

After nine years, Abramovich now stands at a crossroads, does he listen to the young, struggling manager who he courted so expensively last Summer and who refers continually to his 'project'? Or does he listen to his ageing and fading stars who whilst having served the club magnificently will now do everything to hang on to their place in the dressing room no matter what the drop in their powers may be.

It is clear that the Chelsea dressing room is split once again. Since Mourinho left, every manager without exception (Ancelotti was just good at ignoring it) has been subjected to pushback in the form of player power against any new ideas, players or systems.

The most powerful influences clearly are John Terry, Peter Cech, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba. What is also clear is that every single one of those players is past his sell by date. That being the case, why listen to them?

You only need to look up the M6 to Old Trafford to see how these situations are dealt with there. Jaap Stam, David Beckham, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Roy Keane, Dwight Yorke, even Paul McGrath in the dark old days. All of these players were jettisoned at the first sign of either trouble or that they were possibly getting over the hill.

In most cases, good transfer fees were obtained and the money reinvested in younger players, the No7 shirt being the most obvious success. Beckham brought through as a school boy, sold to Real Madrid for 24M. The money reinvested in the 12M teenager Cristiano Ronaldo who was then onsold again to the Bernabeau, this time for a world record transfer fee of 80M.

Chelsea, have passed up several opportunities to sell both Didier Drogba and John Terry in the past few seasons, both who have become fitful performers at best. Whilst the Championship under Ancelotti would probably have not been won without those two granted, the probable 60M in transfer fees (City were prepared to pay over 40M for Terry at one stage) and the 300K or so a week in wages saved over that period would have allowed significant reinvestment in a chronically ageing squad and gone a long way to helping Chelsea get closer to the financial fair play regulations. The prospect of Terry being a Man City player when the Wayne Bridge scandal broke would also have been highly entertaining.

It is clear that Chelsea's transfer policy has suffered from a lack of continuity at manager level with each hired gun simply trying to win the Championship that season and keep his job rather than planning for the future which in fairness to AVB seems to be what he is trying to do. The problem is he has to keep the team in the Champions League spots at the same time or the financial fair play implications would render the team rebuilding impossible.

It is obvious that some players will not support his 'project', it is simply because they know it will no longer include them, what the players are not understanding is that it is not AVB's fault, it is Father Time's. There is no question that he would not love ten years younger versions of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba, who wouldn't?

Abramovich has been at school quite long enough and it is time for him to show that he has been listening in class and that he is ready to graduate. Listening to the calls from faded stars still texting Jose Mourinho and pleas for Guus Hiddink will send the club even further backwards. It is time for Abramovich to look to younger heads and instill some continuity with managers - No Nonsense.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Rangers in the red

Glasgow Rangers yesterday lodged papers signalling their intent to enter administration. The statement made by Craig Whyte was as opaque as his previous business dealings still remain.

He stated that the move had been made to 'protect the club' and with the possibility of liabilities to Her Majesty's Customs of more than 50M it may well be that he is acting in Rangers' best interests. His past and lack of disclosure on his previous dealings however means it is hard to either believe or understand what his true motives are.

Whyte stands accused as an alleged fraud and charlatan in his business dealings yet whilst he rules the roost currently, it is the previously heralded maverick reign of David Murray that has put Rangers into such a disastrous position. His ludicrous spending now appearing to be paired with illegal means of paying the players. The only thing that has not yet played out in this saga is that Peter Risdale hasn't offered to come to the rescue.

No club should ever feel it is too big to fail. Supporters of both Leeds and Fiorentina (both more famous names in European terms) would surely vouch for that. Where Rangers differs from either of these clubs is in terms of its' domestic stature as part of an all conquering duopoly with Celtic.

Whilst nearly everyone in Scotland that does not support Rangers will find great mirth in the plight of the blue half of Glasgow, the reality is that should Rangers cease trading, the implosion that would face Scottish football would be catastrophic.

Nearly every professional club in Scotland lives beyond its' means with Hearts as an example under the stewdardship of the Rasputin like Romanov struggling to pay their players on a monthly basis. The budgets - we use the term loosely - that these clubs use is based on television income, advertising and gate receipts which revolves around a huge percentage of income from matches against the Old Firm.

Should Rangers go under, every single contract or financial arrangement that these clubs have will be left null and void in terms of these club's ability to fulfill those commitments. Television and advertising income will dry up and the liabilities in terms of players' wages will become unserviceable. In basic terms, they will all have to enter administration also.

For Celtic, currently enjoying the plight of their neighbours, the perils are in some way the greatest as they have the furthest to fall. Their chairmen yesterday said that Celtic do not need Rangers in order to operate and in many respects he is completely accurate. What he is missing however is that in any sport where you remove all semblance of competition, that sport crumbles and dies.

Celtic's attendances, always far and away been the best in Scotland (even taking Rangers into account) have already started to teeter and without their closest rivals, can they really expect packed houses for a league that they will have already won by January?

The lack of any seriously competitive games will seriously hamper their already challenged European ambitions also. Their squad would face serious downsizing to that required to win the league given the remaining level of competition and the financial reality of the appeal of that product.

No one is to blame for this sorry mess other than Rangers themselves and the revelation yesterday by Whyte that Rangers were still operating at a 10M annual loss (presumably interest payments) despite the slashing of their playing staff and gates of close to 50,000 was quite staggering.

Scottish football has been a mess since the late 80s due the entirely lop sided nature of the league and every fan in Scotland will be feeling delighted about Rangers' predicament given their endurance of watching Rangers win nine in a row on the back of racking up a credit card debt that Mr Murray and the Ibrox side had no means of paying.

David Murray's legacy to Rangers it would appear is not the fantastic training and youth complex that bears his name and is actually an abyss for them to fall in to. The problem for Scottish football is that black holes aren't selective about what gets sucked in, they take everything without exclusion - No Nonsense.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Dalglish and AVB get it wholly wrong

King Kenny?
Firstly, let us draw a line under the Evra/Suarez nonsense. Dalglish made himself look ignorant, arrogant and entirely out of touch with reality with his barbed and aggressive post match interview defending his player.

Luis Suarez has behaved disgracefully and the direct intervention of the US owners was warmly welcomed. It's just a pity that Dalglish couldn't have shown some dignity without being instructed to do so, being given lessons in how to behave less crassly from Americans?

So on to the football and as we have stated several times before, Liverpool are going nowhere under Dalglish. Realistically they are no closer to the top sides than they were twelve months ago. A midfield containing Spearing and Henderson hardly inspires confidence and Dalglish's tactics left much to be desired.

One constant theme that has run through this season is that ManYoo's new keeper De Gea is 'dodgy' and cannot handle crosses. In front of him was an increasingly fragile Rio Ferdinand and the mediocre Jonny Evans. Armed with these facts, Dalglish chose to go with one only up front and leave the one man keeper wrecking machine that is Andy Carroll on the bench. It is also worth noting that Carroll had been putting in improved performances recently, if anyone could have unsettled De Gea it was he.

Liverpool were duly dispatched without too much difficulty with a late Suarez consolation flattering the scoreline for the Anfield side. Dalglish's negativity ensured that Liverpool never had a realistic shot at winning the match and his tactics are wholly to blame.

Andre Villas Boas
Chelsea fans are not everyone's favourites granted. In the same way that other fans can behave in similarly vile manners, they have been guilty of many distasteful instances over the years. One thing however that the crowd at Stamford Bridge typically does do is back their manager no matter what.

Since Abramovich's arrival, Mourinho, Hiddink and Ancelotti all enjoyed great support. Even the much maligned Grant and Scolari as well as the entirely wacky Claudio Ranieri were on the whole treated fondly by the blues' supporters and received their backing for the most.

AVB endured taunts from the travelling Chelsea fans on Saturday and the writer of this column for the first time in twenty years found himself thinking 'he has to go'. It is tough and probably premature to be calling for his head given the three year plan, the age of the man and the transitional phase that the team is in. With the financial fair play regulations however, finishing lower than fourth is not an option.

Ironically it may be that Abramovich's itchy trigger finger gives AVB a reprieve as the publicity (and cost) associated with his perennial sacking of managers means the oligarch would look highly foolish firing yet another manager so quickly.

In the same way that young players are 'bought for the future', AVB in his early thirties was hired with an eye to the next few years. The problem is that whilst no one expected Chelsea to win the league this year, the bare minimum is really third place as even fourth carries the danger of a qualifying tie for the Champions League.

Chelsea were entirely awful on Saturday. Without meaning any disrespect to Everton, the Toffees are a hard working and honest Premiership side at best and Chelsea could have played for a week without scoring against them. The worrying part is how a Chelsea side so poor can find a way to garner enough points to finish in the top four.

Tactically Chelsea were not at the races. Going forward they seemed to have no options in attack yet they always managed to look stretched when being attacked despite apparently having no players in advanced positions. With Terry on the sidelines, it seems odd that Gary Cahill was not selected given that he would have offered stability at the back and allowed Ivanovic to be deployed at right back.

Much of Chelsea's misery lies with Torres. Add 15 goals (as should be expected reasonably) to his tally this season and Chelsea could have possibly another 10 points. This however would be papering over the cracks of a team, especially in midfield that is woefully short of pace, ideas and quality.

It looks like Torres' career at Chelsea could be over come the Summer, the irony being that wherever his cut price destination is - possibly back to Atletico - his confidence may well return and the goals will hopefully come for him again. He cut an incredibly forlorn figure on Saturday as he again could find no way into the game.

There could be more than one Stamford Bridge employee heading back to the Iberian peninsula with their tails between their legs - albeit it with trouser pockets stuffed with cash - come this Summer. Did someone mention Jose Mourinho? - No Nonsense.