All managers are egomaniacs but most chairman comfortably fulfil all the criteria of megalomania. None more so than the mute and distant Roman Abramovich. Most often following team events from aboard his 533ft yacht Eclipse, comrade Abramovich rules Chelsea FC with what caricaturists like to portray as akin to a control-freak modern day Caesar, who yields power according to his whim. Pulling the strings of his club so vigorously and frequently undercuts any sense of strategic direction, with achievements often short-lived and sporadic.
And yet, there have been many achievements under his reign: three Premier League titles, four FA Cups and last season’s Champions League in the most successful ten years of the club’s history. The narrative of the club over that period is not just tied to Abramovich but also to influential players such as Didier Drogba, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Petr Cech. Even for a club so divorced from traditional sporting values, it’s somewhat reassuring that the influence of players over results and club culture still holds considerable sway.
With Drogba gone (though maybe to return on a short-term loan?) and the other three mentioned players approaching the end of their careers, the team is widely agreed to be in transition. Having a stable management structure would therefore seem to make sense in order to give a solid foundation to the young stars upon which the club’s destiny is intertwined. Not to Roman. His fleets of fancy have previously led to disastrous appointments such as Avram Grant, Luis Scolari and Andre Villas-Boas. Maybe Rafa Benitez will steady the good ship Chelsea, which Roman is scuttling by his own hand. Maybe not. Either way, Chelsea have clearly nailed their blue colours to Pep Guardiloa’s mast for next season.
Benitez has been the one manager in English football who has been able to coax some life out of Fernando Torres. Perhaps this largely explains his attraction to Roman. We don’t really know of course, because Roman doesn’t feel it necessary to account for his actions. So to the list of managers above, add Roman ‘signings’ like Torres, Andriy Shevchenko and Yuri Zhirkov as destabilising forces introduced by the chairman and owner. Put together, it’s as if Chelsea have achieved success in spite of Roman.
Well, on balance, no. The counterfactual is by definition unknown and it’s not helpful to speculate. But there are many tangible good things Roman has done for Chelsea. He brought Mourinho to the club. He funded the aggressive capture of players in that early era and has sustained funding ever since. How Chelsea made a profit last year is hard to fathom. Fluking the Champions League and the illogical system of player amortisation go some way to explaining it, but it’s still hard to believe given their outlay over the period.
But, in reflecting on the fact that he first eyed Tottenham Hotspur as a club ripe for his investment and involvement at the start of the century, I’m exceedingly grateful that he went sniffing around elsewhere. Spurs chairman (not owner) Daniel Levy may also have a proclivity for managerial overhaul, but at least he’s not rich enough to have reached Citizen Kane-levels of power hunger.