High hopes, glamour, Logan's Run: Why Abramovich should be careful what he wishes for
As Roberto Di Matteo starts clearing his desk at Stamford Bridge, FourFourTwo.com Editor Gary Parkinson explains why we really shouldn't be surprised...
In the 1976 sci-fi film Logan's Run, a 23rd-century civilisation manages its consumption of resources by killing everyone who turns 30 years old. As they approach the critical day, a crystal implanted under their flesh starts to flash.
Over the last month, Roberto Di Matteo's crystal has blinked with ominously increasing rapidity, and this morning he was dismissed after 262 days in charge at Stamford Bridge. He managed five more days than his predecessor and former boss Andre Villas-Boas (257 days), who himself had clung on 13 days longer than the last but one permanent incumbent, Luiz Felipe Scolari (244 days). Chelsea managers don't get 30 years: most don't even get 30 weeks.
Consumption of resources seems not to be a problem for Roman Abramovich. For all the talk of trying to run the club as a business rather than a toy, an aim which predates UEFA's Financial Fair Play initiative, Chelsea are still in the habit of spending eye-watering amounts of money to hire players and fire managers.
Despite recently announcing an annual profit Ã¢ÂÂ albeit over a period which included the ÃÂ£50m Champions League prize money but ended shortly before the club spent a similar amount on Eden Hazard and Oscar Ã¢ÂÂ Abramovich has spent something like ÃÂ£88m in managerial pay-offs. For context, that's ÃÂ£42m more than Everton's entire net spend since the Premier League began.
Anyone professing to be "shocked", "stunned" or "amazed" simply hasn't been paying attention, either to the long-term plotline or the short-term noises off. Chelsea started this season brilliantly, but they had done so under Scolari before a November wobble, and the Brazilian was gone by Valentine's Day.
Di Matteo's sacking might be ungrateful, short-termist, unrealistic and Ã¢ÂÂ as various self-appointed guardians of dignity wearing other teams' shirts have been quick to say Ã¢ÂÂ classless, but it isn't unexpected. As Sky Sports News presenter Mike Wedderburn mentioned to a momentarily startled Tony Cascarino, there are similarities with the legendary Sword of Damocles: for Tony's benefit, Damocles was a king's courtier who assumed the throne, above which was suspended a huge sword dangling by a single hair. In other words: be careful what you wish for.
Smile if you got a big pay-off!
But there will be plenty to come forward for the job: as @MirkoBolesan noted, "you get paid loads and don't stay there long enough to have your reputation ruined". After a couple of young managers in Villas-Boas and Di Matteo, Abramovich may wish to swing back toward experience. That idea would delight the increasingly visible Harry Redknapp, who might by now have been fire-fighting four miles away at Loftus Road had QPR owner Tony Fernandes not displayed the patience so manifestly absent in his Stamford Bridge counterpart.
The bookies' early favourite is Rafa Benitez. The Spaniard's stock has risen since Liverpool's has fallen Ã¢ÂÂ in 2009 he led the Anfield club to second place with 86 points, which would have won the title the following year Ã¢ÂÂ and of course has also won the Champions League. Benitez is certainly up for a challenge Ã¢ÂÂ it's nearly two years since he left Inter, where his decision to follow Treble-winning Jose Mourinho displayed either hubris or happiness to aim high Ã¢ÂÂ and Chelsea's owner would hope Fernando Torres could be reinvigorated by the man who brought him to England. So, presumably, would Torres, who since summer 2010 has seen the back of five managers Ã¢ÂÂ Benitez, Roy Hodgson, Carlo Ancelotti, Villas-Boas and Di Matteo.
If Abramovich wants experience, he might turn back to the man he approached in May before having his hand forced by Di Matteo's Champions League triumph: Fabio Capello. True, the Italian is now in charge of the Russian national sideÃ¢ÂÂ¦ but so was Guus Hiddink when Abramovich needed him in February 2009, and the Dutchman combined duties to everyone's satisfaction. A proud man who left the England job on a point of principle Ã¢ÂÂ the FA's decision to remove the armband from John Terry without consulting their manager Ã¢ÂÂ Capello might delight in rubbing a few English noses in it, especially with the Terry/FA subplot having rumbled on in the meantime.
Existing responsibilities aside, Capello's main problem might be his reputation as a proponent of somewhat dour football. Amid the apparent chaos of Chelsea's managerial selections, there is something of a pattern: idealism alternates with pragmatism. So the empire-building of Jose Mourinho was followed by the quiet calm of Avram Grant, then Scolari's brave new world and Hiddink's dose of reality. And after AVB's failed reboot, Di Matteo himself had to be turned from interim to incumbent once he'd won the Champions League.
Having got the job (and Champions League) by making Chelsea difficult to beat, Di Matteo splurged on creative players to meet the club's apparently insatiable demand for attacking football. It's a hard row to hoe: nowhere Ã¢ÂÂ not even Real Madrid Ã¢ÂÂ is the need so acute to balance glory with glamour, success with style. And so, inevitably, talk turns to Pep Guardiola.
Guardiola is often held up as an idealist, and certainly his Barcelona team reached heights of brilliance which defied belief: pacy attacking football, determined defence (note how much more porous they have become under Tito Vilanova) and trophies galore: at one point they were hoarding half a dozen per season. But they won nothing last season Ã¢ÂÂ which would irritate Abramovich's trigger finger Ã¢ÂÂ and Guardiola walked away, taking advantage of his habitual one-year rolling contract.
Perhaps he fits the bill after all. Some depict him as a sensitive flower unable to cope with the inevitable interference and pressure he would get at Chelsea, but as Barcelona boss he carried the hopes and expectations of the Catalan nation. If he takes advantage of Chelsea's desperation and sets out demands for total footballing control of the club, he could also secure his own exit strategy: it would be no surprise or detriment if Guardiola left after a short period, but he could also build upon his own legend.
If Chelsea go with Guardiola, he will be their third successive young manager. Like the dystopian Logan's Run, it seems life at Chelsea is a young man's game. Just don't be amazed when the next guy's crystal starts to flash.