Thursday, November 22, 2012

Chelsea lose all credibility

You could to a point argue that much of Chelsea's managerial merry go round was in some way defensible. Ranieri was a madcap manager from the old regime and no one could argue that Jose Mourinho was anything other than a fantastic appointment.

Mourinho although clearly irked by interference from above, proved to be a short term guy in any event who engineers his own removal when it suits him, he has done it at both Chelsea and Internazionale after all.

Avram Grant was nothing other than a short term fix designed to keep the Chelsea juggernaut on course until the arrival of a new broom in the Summer.

Again, few argued with the appointment of Luiz Felipe Scolari, a manager of huge international pedigree but here is where the case for any defence starts to breakdown. Scolari was clearly struggling to some extent to adapt but the issue of player power within the dressing room forced him out quickly.

Hiddink again was a short term fix who had no aspirations to manage Chelsea long term and he merely paved the way for Carlo Ancelotti.

Ancelotti lasted longer than most as he doesn't rock the boat - something which has clearly appealed to PSG's new owners - and he was a popular figure amongst the players. He was given little funds to develop an already ageing team and was merely asked to patch up the old warriors, the double in his first season wasn't enough to save him.

Andre Villas Boas would herald a brave new world we were told yet other than the inherited and erratic pair of David Luiz and Ferando Torres (not so much erratic as flat lining), AVB was only really given Juan Mata to add to the mix.

What AVB wasn't given at all was any time and with Chelsea lurching towards financial disaster in the shape of no Champions League football this season he was also hooked and Roberto Di Matteo stepped into the bridge with the rest of last season becoming the stuff of legend.

Everyone who follows football knew that RDM was not Abramovich's first choice over the Summer, in fact he may not have even been his second or third. We would also point out that this blog, as much as we love RDM did not think he was the right man either.

It was a populist choice based on the fact that he had somehow inexplicably steered Chelsea to Champions League glory and quite simply that Pep Guardiola had absolutely no interest in managing Chelsea.

Given that RDM was not Chelsea's first choice, it would seem churlish for anyone to suggest that the purchases of Hazard and Oscar were anything other than Abramovich's. Signings such as Victor Moses strike more of a manager who knows the game a little.

Whislt there is no question that there would be three less Premiership titles and one less Champions League title without Abramovich and that all Chelsea fans are extremely grateful for that, the situation has become a farce.

Chelsea now appear to purely be a billionaire's play thing, a reality version of Championship Manager if you like except that most CM players employ much more meticulous planning.

Given the level of investment and the push to move to a new style of football, why would you entrust the task to a manager that you clearly did not rate?

Rafa Benitez will prove a hugely unpopular choice - initially at least - amongst Chelsea fans who have a spikey view of him at best from his frequent clashes with Chelsea demi-god Jose Mourinho. It is also yet another 'interm appointment' meaning again that long term planning is a fantasy. It may also be nothing other than a last throw of the dice to get Fernando Torres playing well, Benitez after all being the only manager to bring him to the peak of his powers.

Pep Guardiola's name keeps being brought up but he must be looking at all of this and asking himself why on earth would he really need it? It is a long way from Barcelona.

There are certain clubs such as Real Madrid and Inter that have employed similarly ludicrous short termism but they remain a huge draw for managers given the stature of the those clubs. Chelsea are now of course a 'big club' given their recent success but they remain a level off these huge institutions and they would do well to remember that.

Winning the league this year was always going to be a stretch and whilst admittedly going out of the Champions League at the group stage will clearly hurt the club, it is again bad planning that is to blame for yet another manager being fired.

If RDM was to be given such little time and margin for error then he should not have been appointed in the first place. It is also not his fault that the ageing axis of Lampard and Terry has not been adequately replaced yet and that Jon Obi Mikel is simply not good enough as their holding player.

Chelsea's dysfunction has become an embarrassment for the fans but unfortunately not for the club's management. They however care not what the fans nor anyone else think.

Abramovich would argue - if he ever spoke - that his policies have brought around three Premierships and a Champions League in the nine years he has been there and he would be right to a huge degree.

He clearly has a passion for football but unfortunately, unlike the Championship Manager players, his trigger finger exists in the real world and is to the wider detriment of the club irrespective of the trophies that come along the way - No Nonsense.

Friday, November 9, 2012

What is wrong with Roberto Mancini?

It is often said that teams are a reflection of their managers. ManYoo down the years have had Keane, Hughes, Cantona, Ince, Neville G, Stam, Schmeichel, all have breathed fire down their opponents necks in the image of their master.

Arsenal in the same way adopt a very studious and methodical approach to any given match yet there's an inherent suspicion that they're really just a bit of a pansy.

Chelsea under Mourinho were efficient, full of purpose, prone to the odd tantrum and devastatingly successful, the list goes on. So how does that leave Manchester City under Roberto Mancini?

City are an utter paradox, a team of spoiled overpaid superstar individuals who refuse to take the pitch in crucial Champions League ties, a team that threw away the title lead in such weak fashion towards the end of last season and have again flunked in the CL this time around.

Yet they are also the team that clawed back that lead that they gave up to win the title, they are the team that were 1-2 down to QPR with only minutes left in the season yet scored twice to win the most dramatic title in the English game since a certain Michael Thomas scored at Anfield twenty three years ago.

They are a team that were 1-0 down at West Brom recently with ten minutes to go and sent on the brooding Edin Dzeko to score twice and are still unbeaten this season. So which is the real Manchester City?

Much of the reason for this conundrum must lie with Roberto Mancini. Mancini was a brilliant (check you tube) yet highly temperamental player (a toned down version of Di Canio or Cantona), prone to mood swings and brilliance.

As a manager he utterly confounds with a combination of charm, wit and humour and a very quick temper and thirst for confrontation. His predilection for act first/think later reactions is there for all to see and it is this Jekyll and Hyde that appears to be muddling his team.

Mancini is clearly getting many things right. Many clubs have spent a lot of money yet have not necessarily bought success. It can be done but it still requires sound management, especially when faced with Sir Alex Ferguson.

Winning the league last season was no mean feat and yet Mancini has flunked his lines so badly in the Champions League yet again. There also appears to be little joy in the man, win or lose and that feeling seems to be transmitting itself to the fans who were leaving the stadium in droves in midweek despite City trying desperately for a win. The CL is the pinnacle of the game yet their fans seem ambivalent towards it, why?

Mancini is a naturally confrontational person, indeed he seems to revel in it (why else re-sign Mario Balotelli?) and there is nothing to suggest that prevents you from being a successful manager, after all Mourinho, Ferguson and Cruyff before them have managed to blend their caustic tendencies with winning trophies.

There are of course managers who's abrasive manners have hindered their managerial careers no matter what their intelligence or footballing knowledge, step forward Graeme Souness and Roy Keane. There is no doubt that Mancini has been successful but he appears to be treading a fine line between the two.

Manchester City need more than anything else right now, stability and continuity and both of those must come from the manager. Despite knowing this - and he must be aware of it - Manicini continues to agitate against his employers constantly complaining at his treatment.

It may come from an inherent insecurity, he was after all sacked from Internazionale after winning Serie A due to his failures in Europe. With City in exactly the same position and with ex Barcelona staff being hired and Pep Guardiola looking for a new challenge, these feelings of uncertainty may well have grounds.

Recent public revelations that he had extensive talks to join Monaco in the Summer as well as talking to several other clubs would seem to serve any positive purpose to anyone connected to Manchester City yet someone either connected to Mancini or City leaked the story. Either he wants out or someone wants him out.

There is much talk of the egos in the City dressing room. Yaya Toure talked openly about it recently. This is nothing new, successful clubs are full of big egos, it goes with the territory yet the truly great sides have these egos in check, either through the Mourinho and Ferguson method of sheer ruthlessness or through the Barcelona method where the joy of what they are achieving seems to render egos within the team meaningless.

Mancini is adopting the former method yet his attempts to clamp down on his players smack of rage rather than authority, the Carlos Tevez saga being a prime example. Whilst there is no doubt that Tevez has generally behaved terribly, there also seems little doubt that there was a huge element of misunderstanding in what happened that night on the bench in Munich.

Unlike Ferguson who managed a diplomatic climbdown over the Rio Ferdinand 'kick it out' furore, Mancini was unable to do the same, sticking to his guns to the extreme with the upshot being they lost a key player for most of the season and was probably the reason they nearly lost the title.

Both Ferguson and Mourinho rarely talking badly about their players in public, only doing it one suspects for strategic reasons when they feel it will have a positive effect on the player in question. Mancini has been quick to criticise several of his players in public including Dzeko, Tevez and Balotelli as well as more recently Micah Richards and Joe Hart. Alex and Jose would have dealt with things 'in house'.

Manicini it seems is at war with both those above and below him at Manchester City and whilst it is possible that he is actually trying to get sacked - as Mourinho did at Chelsea - he would appear to be on increasingly borrowed time. As it was so succinctly put in Braveheart, if you make enemies on all sides, you'll wind up dead, who'd have thought Manicini should be heeding advice from Mel Gibson? - No Nonsense.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Problems Mount For Chelsea

Roberto Di Matteo's honeymoon has been an extended one with last season's heroics in the Champions League being followed by an - until recently - impressive start to the season with Chelsea's new starlets Oscar and Hazard settling into the side quickly.

The John Terry affair has been an unfortunate cloud hanging over for the club and in hindsight it appears it would have been far better to have had the matter dealt with last season with on pitch sanctions taken at that point. It would have given the club more time to rebuild their damaged reputation also.

Whilst Chelsea's problems surrounding the John Terry affair have been well documented, problems on the pitch appear to be mounting too. Impressive wins against Spurs and Arsenal away have been offset by being well beaten by Atletico Madrid, Shaktar Donesk and ManYoo. Tactically against the best sides Chelsea appear to be wanting, much the same as Man City have been in Europe.

The writer of this blog was (un)fortunate enough to be present for the ManYoo game at Stamford Bridge and several things were apparent. The biggest issue other than tactics appears to be a chronic lack of leadership at the club.

It stems all the way from the owner. All Chelsea fans love him for his chequebook but none could profess to knowing his thoughts - and certainly not his values - on many issues other than his supposed love for total football.

Watching United in the flesh for the first time in many years since moving abroad, the writer again was struck by the drive that the men in red have stemming almost certainly from the touchline where one manager breathes fire and the other appears to be everyone's friend.

ManYoo man for man looked to be a poorer team than Chelsea - other than upfront and we'll come to that - yet the difference in desire and the level of aggression was apparent from the start, it is something that doesn't always come across on television.

Whilst Chelsea's play this season has often been commendable, this was a team shorn of the characters of Drogba, Terry, Lampard as well as others who have left such as Essien. Whilst this blog is not suggesting these players should still be playing regularly or even at the club given the need for younger legs, there is no doubt that the club is lacking character and apparently at all levels.

This brings us to Fernando Torres who has been defended many times on this blog. Torres appeared to have been enjoying a mini renaissance after his well documented struggles but of late again he has been at his surly and shoulders sagging worst.

Enjoying a beverage after the game, I asked one of my fellow fans what they thought the score would have been had we had RVP today and United had Torres, both of us agreed Chelsea would have won.

Chelsea are inherently going to struggle if they are going to persevere - Sturridge the only other current option - with their central striker seemingly unable to re-find either his physical form or his mental strength.

With the array of inventive talent behind him moving the ball around quickly it should be food and drink for Torres yet his goalscoring chances seem to be limited to headers from crosses and corners.

In addition to these issues, Chelsea have taken great umbrage with Mark Clattenburg over firstly his handling of the game and then the alleged comments to Jon Obi Mikel. The reality is Chelsea lost the game because they were set up poorly, far too open at the back.

Ashley Cole is supposedly the best left back in the world yet he was horribly isolated twice in the first twelve minutes with the result being two goals. Chelsea were again exposed in the second half leading to Ivanovic's fully deserved sending off.

Whilst the Hernandez goal was offside, it wasn't a blatant mistake and one made by the linesman after all and the kind that are got wrong at every stadium all over the country every week.

That leaves the Torres second yellow as the only howler and whilst it ruined the game as a spectacle - especially for someone who had flown five thousand miles to see the match - it wasn't the reason that Chelsea lost the game.

Chelsea have made a further rod for their own back by making snap accusations against Clattenburg that seem unlikely in the extreme, indeed the Juan Mata accusation was withdrawn promptly.

Whilst there is little doubting the appalling on field behaviour of many footballers, it seems staggering to believe that a professional referee would have said the things that are being suggested.

Referees do not behave like footballers on the pitch in the same way that they rarely get involved in roastings, assorted nightclub incidents, urinating in public and getting into fights outside McDonalds off it. It is doubtful after all that the referees could afford the super injunctions.

It is not all doom and gloom for Chelsea, they have after all had an incredible year given the Champions League triumph and the exciting new signings give much cause for hope. Seeing Oscar in the flesh in particular, he looks a huge talent with defensive duties to match the attacking talent. Alongside the likes of Mata, Hazard, Luiz (we still rate him highly), Ramires and Ivanovic, Chelsea have mainly talented players not yet even in their prime.

The siege mentality however fostered during the Mourinho years has been replaced by an air of near paranoia and of being just plain sore losers. It's time for Chelsea to show some leadership and that means at all levels in the club starting with the crunch home tie with Donetsk this week - No Nonsense.