Friday, 25 November 2011

AVB speculation sums up Chelsea’s weakness

"I don't agree [that I need help.] I don't solve problems on my own; I solve problems with my group of people and my group of players.

Says Andre Villas-Boas, who apparently is already under pressure in his role as Chelsea manager.

True, they face a fight to stay in the Champions League and the premier league odds have drifted to 14/1, but it is still a ludicrous suggestion, but one that is symptomatic of the Abramovich era at Stamford Bridge.

When the Russian took over Chelsea in 2003 and promptly set Claudio Ranieri on a wild spending spree designed to turn the club into the world’s best; critics – now doubt fuelled with a tinge of jealousy – argued they had sold part its soul in exchange for riches.

That argument looked weak when Jose Mourinho led the club two consecutive league titles – the first in particular a near perfect campaign from start to finish.

However, Abramovich became greedy and didn’t just want titles, he wanted to do it with attacking flair, rather than Mourinho’s conservative but effective tactics. Not to mention his burning desire to win the Champions League.

That led to him interfering into club affairs and the start of a succession of incidents that have undermined the man in the manager’s hot-seat at the Bridge.

First of all, Abramovich chose to sign Andrei Shevchenko for £30million. A player Mourinho didn’t want but had forced upon him, while also preventing him from having any cash to spend in the following transfer window.

With Mourinho’s position undermined by backroom appointments he called it quits in September 2007, and there began a succession of crises, manager sackings and a seemingly endless spiral of revival and failure.

What also needs to be pointed out is as a clique in the dressing room – we all know the names – that appear to wield a corrosive power at Stamford Bridge.

The unassuming Avram Grant was deemed not good enough despite leading them to second and a European cup final. Luis Felipe Scolari lasted seven months while Guus Hiddink was a temporary fix.

Carlo Ancelotti led them to a magnificent double but standing still is as good as going backwards and a failure to foresee (or able to deal with)  an aging and depreciation of a once great squad - as well as more backroom undermining - cost him dear.

Not that it was all his fault, Abramovich is clearly a man who gets what he wants and reacts wildly if he doesn’t.

So off went Carlo and in came Andre Villas-Boas, to the tune of £13million compensation to Porto. Now with just four months of live football in the Premier League under his belt he is under pressure.

It can be argued that the pressure was hyped up by the media – this is given weight by revelations that Roman has actually backed AVB and denied his job is under threat. English press in over hyping story shocker.

But chaos breeds uncertainty and the press are merely following on the pattern that has been set before.

It may hurt and be an unusual feeling for someone for whom money is the ultimate short-cut, but Abramovich may have to see things get worse before they get better. It may though lead to the type of success he was craving when he breezed into the Bridge eight years ago.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Ashley ends 118 years of history with Newcastle stadium re-brand

Mike Ashley certainly has an impeccable sense of timing. Whenever Newcastle are going well the club’s owner always seems to cause unnecessary disruption and incur further wrath from the supporters.

His latest act is to rename the club’s home – St James’ Park – the Sports Direct Arena, after his own company. With their shirt sponsor due for renewal next summer, Ashley is hoping to provide potential sponsors a taste of what it could be like for a combined shirt and sponsorship deal, similar to the ones seen at Arsenal and Manchester City.

It is a typical hard-nosed business decision from Ashley, a man who holds no room for sentiment when it comes to making money.

However, the uneasy marriage of business and football that has grown since the dawn of the Premier League has often left sentiment – something supporters hold dear – out in the cold.

Newcastle have played at St James’ Park since 1880 and the fans are hugely proud of their history and heritage. They see this move as a slap in the face and ignorant of their history. The timing is also pretty rotten, given the club are currently defying the football betting to sit in third place in the Premier League table following and unbeaten start to the season.

In a statement, United managing director Derek Llambias explained: "Our aim for Newcastle United is to continue to deliver success for the fans and everyone associated with the club. We must make this club financially self-sufficient in order to deliver that success.

"To grow sustainably and allow us to invest in our future, we will need to rely increasingly heavily on commercial income.

"These are very difficult economic times and the board have a responsibility to maximise all revenue streams for the benefit of the club."

The idea makes sense, but given the past few months has seen the likes of Kevin Nolan, Andy Carroll and Joey Barton al leave with much of the cash received banked, the supporters feels their positive football scores this season are despite of Ashley and not because of him. This latest move is the equivalent of asset stripping the history of the club for profit and the fans are now hoping this disruption will not negatively affect a wonderful start that has given them hopes for a bright future after a difficult few seasons.