Abramovich and the myth of takeovers

With Arsenal fans (and Manchester United fans before them – still, actually) going up in arms against the threat of hostile takeovers, the situation at SW6 is going to serve as a live reminder of the dangers of being at the behest of billionaires who don’t understand football. In fact, scratch that – Chelsea’s situation, unfortunate as it is, is the clearest indication we have yet of how someone who isn’t a fan of the club can hurt it, and hurt it badly.

In the long run, Mourinho’s departure will have little impact – he was going to leave sooner or later on his own, once he had won enough and once he wanted a new challenge. In his absence Chelsea will still be fearsome opponents and unless things go considerably worse at Stamford Bridge, Champions League regulars as well. It’s not as if Avram Grant is a bad person or a bad manager – if Harry Redknapp and Arsene Wenger speak highly of him, that’s good enough for me.

The problem is that the move does NOT benefit Chelsea in the short-run in any way. They’ve lost a manager the players would have died for (the rumoured bustup with Terry aside), they’ve lost whatever chances they had of winning the Champions League or the Premier League this season, and if this move was designed to improve Chelsea’s image, it has had the opposite effect. I wish Chelsea well, and I hope they don’t implode or fail this season as a result of this, but whatever Avram Grant can do, Mourinho would have done it, and done it better.

Peter Kenyon, when outlining Roman Abramovich’s plans for Chelsea (can you spot what’s wrong with that sentence?), said:

“It’s building that dynasty. That’s what Roman wants to be part of, Chelsea becoming part of Europe’s dynasty. We had a 10-year vision for the club. It was about building a team that was successful, not once but consistently.

Over a 10-year period, you need two European Cups to be a world club. You have to dominate your domestic league. We have to have an infrastructure to deal with that and people to deal with it.

We will win the Champions League. It’s just when is the question. We’ve got a squad, a structure, a belief and we’ve got quality. And I do believe the Champions League is not that far away.”

It’s a good pep talk but this is not a science. Titles can be bought, but heritage and fan base cannot be bought. However, if this was all there was to it, then Roman’s influence on Chelsea and as a consequence on English football would have been a positive one. So far, it’s been 50-50 – the money has come in and Chelsea are better off for it, but titles and sustained domination win fans, not ‘pretty football’. Chelsea’s brand of football has been aggressive and with flair, but last season there was a step backwards and what has happened now is a direct consequence of Roman’s impatience from last year.

The other day my cousin asked me what I would do if I had enough money to buy Manchester United. Whimsical fantasy, perhaps, but the more I thought about it the more I realised how important it was for fans to be in charge of the club. I would have focused on 3 things: Making everything more affordable for the fans, doing everything in my power to promote the club (a long-term process but one that clubs have historically been poor at, especially since they’re stuck in the 80s style of marketing) and give the manager the time, space and money he needed to win titles.

I don’t think Roman’s moves have anything to do with playing pretty football – he wants to play fantasy football and worse, he wants to be loved for buying titles. The first is a ridiculous prospect if you want to win titles, and the second simply won’t happen. Under Mourinho, at least we had someone we loved to hate. Grant may turn to be a boring manager, a Roeder or a Curbishley. With Mourinho they had that one spark that attracted people to Chelsea and made them respect them, like them even. Without him, Roman will find Chelsea being pitied / loathed / ignored in equal measures this season – not a good sign for a club looking to build a dynasty.

I’m changing my stance on takeovers when it comes to football – whether it’s a billionaire or a sports tycoon, they simply cannot be good for a successful club unless that club needs the investment, and even then the potential problems are such that the club and the fans will hurt even when successful.

Unless fans start minting money, football is slowly going to hell.

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