Tuesday 10 February ~
The radio reporter standing outside Stamford Bridge last night commented that fans “wanted to see the Chelsea of old”. Presumably this golden-era, “old” Chelsea is the one of three years ago rather than 30 years ago, or memories of Jose Mourinho as manager rather than Ray Wilkins as a player – he left on relegation in 1979. Nothing, of course, will ever be the same at Stamford Bridge since Roman Abramovich bought the club and no one is keener to remind us of this fact than the current Chelsea regime, in close collusion with sections of the media.
Nowhere is the tension between “old” and “old-old” Chelsea clearer than Tony Cascarino's column in the Times. This former Chelsea “legend” (eight goals in 40 games) has been holding forth today: “It doesn’t matter if you’re a manager who’s lifted the World Cup and you’re only seven months into your job. It wouldn’t surprise me if Chelsea’s stars had begun to lose faith in Luiz Felipe Scolari because top players are like Roman Abramovich, the club’s owner: they demand the best.” The message is clear, Chelsea are the very pinnacle of the footballing world – the fact that it is Tony Cascarino making this point makes it particularly jarring.
Scolari is the latest victim of a new boardroom machismo. Football was obviously changed radically by Abramovich's arrival at Chelsea but the corporate business and marketing-driven language of Premier League club executives has also increased since. By sacking Scolari, Chelsea are making a statement, that their standards are higher than others – very few other clubs could (or would) sack a manager of Scolari's stature after less than seven months in charge.
Indeed very few other clubs expect success every season or feel that they need it to capture as much of the international TV market as possible. Clearly, Abramovich is in complete control at Chelsea. Despite the rumours of player revolt and a divided dressing room, many reports suggested that Chelsea's owner ignored the advice of the ceremonial chief executive and chairman, Peter Kenyon and Bruce Buck respectively, in sacking Scolari. Kenyon, invariably a man for Chelsea's dirty work, is reportedly currently on holiday in Barbados.
Abramovich and his regime have been ably assisted in creating this vision of new Chelsea. Many of this morning's papers have written off Avram Grant as a temporary managerial appointment for the club on account of his name not being big enough, or his reputation sufficiently illustrious. All the top-division records set by clubs and players are now referred to in terms of the Premier League only, and enough time has now passed for many fans not to find this irritating or strange or, indeed, to know any different.
Luckily, the past is not as easy to hide and other reminders of older incarnations of Chelsea keep cropping up, even in speculation over the next manager. One the most potentially amusing rumours is that of a temporary joint role for captain John Terry and current caretaker Ray “Butch” Wilkins. And of course, one of main reasons that Scolari was sacked was the fear, in both playing and business terms, of missing out on a Champions League place. Their quarter-final first-leg of that competition is against Juventus on February 25, the club now managed by Claudio Rainieri, sacked by Roman Abramovich, then handsomely compensated, in 2004.