By Kieran Lovelock- 90Soccer Chelsea correspondent
In 2003 Roman Abramovich (photo) took over at Chelsea and less than two years later the club had gone from the verge of extinction to runaway Premiership champions.
Abramovich was reportedly worth $14 billion at the time and was unrestrictive in the wages he would offer Chelsea recruits and the money he would give his managers. There was little strategy in terms of bringing youth through and no player was out of reach hence the immediate success Chelsea experienced when Abramovich first came in.
But although Abramovich invested serious amounts of his own hard earned cash in Chelsea he has always given his managers freedom in who they hire and who they fire. In a way it was a dream combination with a bottomless pit of money being on call from a man who didn’t care how it was spent.
However in recent seasons things seemed to have changed. Sources at Stamford Bridge have assured me that Chelsea were lining up Fernando Torres during the summer, but it never occurred because Ambramovich refused to splash the cash. Chelsea then released Joe Cole and Michael Ballack and sold Ricardo Carvalho to Real Madrid. But rather than ensure they were adequately replaced Chelsea only brought in the Brazilian Ramires, who has somewhat flattered to deceive this season.
Would Chelsea have lost the amount of games they have if they had Carvalho, Ballack and Cole to cover their numerous injuries? Would they have been embarrassed like they were against Sunderland last week if Carvalho was playing at center half rather than the two full backs in Ivanovic and Ferreria? It’s doubtful.
As well as this, the sudden departure of assistant manager Ray Wilkins cannot be overlooked as a non issue. Why would Carlo Ancelotti want away with one of the most well respected coaches in the game and who is loved by everyone at Chelsea? Wilkins is not a trouble maker and is as diplomatic as they come in football so him causing problems in the dressing room is unlikely. If he simply wasn’t good enough at his job then why would Ancelotti replace him with an internal appointment like he did by promoting Michael Emenalo from head scout? Surely with the wealth of the club’s owner they could afford a world class coach but apparently not.
If anything the assistant manager is as important to the players as the manager because he is the one who takes training and who builds up more of a rapport with the players. Not only this but Wilkins was an ideal coach for the modern day young player, who tends to be more sensitive, in that he is calm, composed and doesn’t operate by shouting the walls down- surely this is ideal for the kind of team Abramovich wants to build with more investment in youth. Wilkins’ departure just doesn’t add up and it all points to unrest and a lack of common direction behind the scenes between the owner, the directors and the manager.
Carlo Ancelotti insists that he can win the Premiership and the Champions League with the young squad that he has, but questions remain. On the opening day of the 1995-1996 season BBC pundit Alan Hansen stated that Manchester United could never win anything with kids and he was proved wrong as United romped to Premier League victory.
But the combination of Beckham, Neville, Scholes, Butt and Giggs far outweighs the young players Chelsea have now and probably what anyone ever will have again. The financial pressures to perform in the Premiership now means that teams built on youth are always going to struggle for clubs now always go for established players rather than inexperienced ones, no matter how beneficial it may be for the balance sheet.
Despite their recent wobble however Chelsea are still favorites for the title with the likes of Lampard, Essien and Terry to come back- which is somewhat indicative of the lack of quality in the Premiership this season.
However you cannot win anything without at least three high quality center backs (Chelsea have two who are both injured) and a sense of unrest behind the scenes. So if Chelsea are to get back on track Ancelotti must be allowed to buy at least one center back in January and then use all of his undoubted quality and experience as a manager to ensure that everyone at the club, from the owner to the tea lady, is working in the same direction.