Sunday 11 January ~
If Diego Maradona didn't decide to flee the country at the first opportunity after watching the abysmal Stoke v Liverpool game yesterday, he is expected to be at Man Utd v Chelsea today. As is Jose Mourinho whose Inter side will face Man Utd in the last 16 of the Champions League. One person who won't be there, however, is Roman Abramovich.
Chelsea first had to deny that their owner is losing interest in the club two years ago when he missed a sequence of matches while attending to his political responsibilities as governor of a Siberian province. Since then Abramovich has spent a lot more time back home, although his most high-profile visit did at least coincide with a major event for his club - indeed, the biggest match in their history - the 2008 Champions League final against today's opponents.
While Abramovich was spending a fortune on Chelsea after becoming their owner five years ago, club officials claimed that their target was to be self-sustaining by 2009-10. While no one, not even Peter Kenyon, would seriously believe that Chelsea really are being run on a recognisable business model rather than as a billionaire's indulgence, it is nonetheless the case that they are one of many clubs who will not be spending during the transfer window because the owner is indeed, finally, cutting back.
Abramovich's yes-men insist that this new prudence is a reflection of the global recession, rather than a sign that their employer is beginning to tire of his toy. Before the transfer window opened, Phil Scolari was still fretting over the club's failure to sign Robinho because "I wanted one player who is different - someone who’ll try something different when we play against teams who close us down". Chelsea's poor run of form at Stamford Bridge would appear to back up their manager's view - indeed, if their away record matched their home form they would be struggling to hold on to a place in the top four. Even though a win at Old Trafford will take them to within a point of the top, the Scolari era is already looking likely to be short and relatively unfulfilled.
Abramovich was said to have been ultimately bored by the way that Mourinho's teams ground their way to two Championships. But if today's game is shaping up as a home win, Mourinho might be expecting to get a long distance call from somewhere in Russia - that is assuming that the prospective caller can be bothered to watch.