Chelsea FC: A managerial wasteland?


The biggest transfer story of the 2013 winter transfer window hasn’t been a player but a manager. For the last couple of days the news that Pep Guardiola has opted to succeed outgoing manager Jupp Heynckes as Bayern Munich boss were inescapable.

It dominated the continental football press and even prompted the esteemed New York Times to publish an article on the matter. Pep Guardiola returning to management was, or rather is big news.

Football’s most sought after manager has put an end to the ever increasing speculation about his future.


The former Barcelona manager’s next destination was probably as eagerly as anticipated as LeBron James ‘decision’ a few years ago. But that’s where the similarities stop.

Unlike Miami Heat’s LeBron James, Pep Guardiola’s appointment was first made public via Twitter and not in a televised one hour special. Courting the attention has never been part of Pep Guardiola’s M.O. He likes to go about his business in a quiet, almost unassuming manner.

While “Pep to Bayern Munich” was the headline, the subplot of this story has been “Where does that leave Chelsea FC?”

The ten managers employed by Abramovich

The London-based and Roman Abramovich-funded outfit are known to be long-term admirers of Pep Guardiola, in some circles even touted as the front-runners for the Catalan’s signature.

However, the Russian billionaire couldn’t sell his Blues project to the Barça legend. According to various media reports the wages Roman Abramovich offered Pep Guardiola would’ve made him the best paid manager in football, perhaps in all of sports.

How does the Jay-Z assisted Jermaine Dupri song go again? “Money Ain’t a Thang”

It stands to reason that the notoriously fickle Chelsea owner assumed that it was only a matter of the right price. Who can blame him?

After all, he’s one of the richest individuals walking the face of the earth, a mainstay on Forbes richest list. There’s virtually nothing he can’t buy, or hasn’t bought already. And yet Roman the Emperor couldn’t land his man.

Pep Guardiola’s rejection of the Blues restores some faith in professionals usually deemed as money greedy mercenaries just looking for the next and bigger paycheck.

Furthermore, in some circles some would’ve considered Pep Guardiola to Chelsea FC an act of treason. Anywhere but Chelsea; that’s the one destination, along with Real Madrid, Culés had hoped he would avoid.

There’s no love lost between FC Barcelona and Chelsea FC. Joining the one side that quite literally parked them out of the 2011/12 Champions League Final is on-par with Luis Figo’s signing for Real Madrid. Hence FC Barcelona fans were quite relieved when they learned their icon decided to become the manager of another FCB.

Pep Guardiola at Stamford Bridge during Chelsea’s 1-0 win against Barcelona

Nevertheless, it’s probable that this sentiment hasn’t entered Pep Guardiola’s thought process when he tried to sort out the offers on hand.

Considering his ties to FC Barcelona only Real Madrid were and are the only job he’d never consider. Still, Barça fans would like to believe that Chelsea is also one of those forbidden destinations.

At any rate, Pep Guardiola’s Chelsea snub does have some implications. Chief among them, Chelsea FC is a graveyard for ambitious managers with a long-term vision. Full stop.

One would assume Chelsea FC to be an easy sell. After all, the Blues won their inaugural Champions League trophy, acquired some of the most exciting talent in football and regularly compete for the highest honors.

On the surface of it all appears to be in order. But at closer inspection not all that glitters is gold and neither is Chelsea FC offering the perfect environment to fulfill a vision.

As mentioned earlier, Roman Abramovich is quite trigger-happy when it comes to disposing managers. Usually the fall from grace takes some time, at Chelsea it is instant, if not imminent from the day a manager is appointed.

Even Rome wasn’t built in a day, much less a lasting football dynasty that leaves its imprint on the sport like the great Ajax Amsterdam, AC Milan or more recently FC Barcelona sides.

Still, that hasn’t deterred Roman the Emperor from making rash and irrational decisions in the past and present. And one gets the feeling it won’t change anytime soon. In 10 years of Abramovich’s ownership, the Russian billionaire has hired ten different managers.

In comparison, AC Milan’s own erratic billionaire, ex-Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, has presided over 13 managers in 27 years (including Fabio Capello on three different occasions). The longest serving manager under Berlusconi lasted 8 years: Carlo Ancelotti.

Incidentally, Ancelotti also holds the distinction of being an ex-employee of Abramovich’s, though he joined the Blues from the Rossoneri.

Before Pep Guardiola, and after Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti was at the top of Roman Abramovich’s personal shopping list. After years of courting he finally got his man in 2009. And the Italian delivered right off the bat.

Ancelotti is the first manager to capture the domestic double (FA Cup plus EPL title) in his debut season in the Premier League, and the first domestic double in Chelsea’s history. While the subsequent season was a flop it wasn’t a disaster either.

Chelsea qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League and finished 2nd in the league. Carlo Ancelotti, however, was sacked in the aftermath.

It must be noted though that Ancelotti was forced to implement misfiring Fernando Torres in his plans midway through the season after Roman Abramovich decided to make the Spaniard the most expensive signing in Premier League history, at a hefty £50 million (roughly €60 million).

Carlo Ancelotti still lasted longer than his successor Andres Villas-Boas though. The Portuguese is a special case as Chelsea FC activated his €15 million release clause to sign him. It’s unusual as release clauses almost exclusively included in players contracts.

At any other club that would’ve been fifteen million reasons to hold onto an investment (quite literally). Not at Chelsea and certainly not in the eyes of Roman Abramovich. The current Tottenham manager’s reign at Chelsea didn’t exceed nine months.

The managerial tenure of his replacement, Roberto Di Matteo, was cut short to eight months even after he salvaged the maximum of what could’ve turned out to become a catastrophic 2011/12 season, culminating in an unlikely Chelsea FC’s Champions League triumph.

At the center of Roberto Di Matteo’s exit, another below-par campaign of Fernando Torres. The Spaniard is the gift that keeps on giving… the axe to his managers.

At the moment Rafael Benitez is at the helm of the Chelsea “project”, or is it the “project” Chelsea? When the ex-Liverpool boss took over the role as interim manager the Blues were still in the frame for the Premier League title, the FIFA Club World Cup, the FA Cup and Capital One Cup, though all but certain to exit the Champions League.

In two months under Benitez’s stewardship Chelsea FC has lost the FIFA Club World Cup, are relegated to spectators in the domestic title race (being 13 points adrift of pace setters Manchester United) and are on the verge of crashing out against Swansea in the League Cup.

Rafa Benitez in the Chelsea dugout

Taking all into account, Chelsea FC are actually in a worse state than under Roberto Di Matteo. It would’ve been virtually impossible for the Italian to do worse than Rafa Benitez.

It says a lot about Chelsea FC, or rather Roman Abramovich, when the managers of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid (two of footballs most notorious hotseats) have greater job security than any incoming Blues boss.

In ten years of Abramovich ownership, Chelsea FC has pretty much disposed off football’s managerial A-List (except one or two). Pep Guardiola was the biggest name available and he didn’t want the job. It is clear why. The only name of equal or higher repute is Jose Mourinho, and he doesn’t seem to be the type of manager who returns to a place.

Now the names being touted as possible candidates for the Chelsea (death row) seat are Borussia Dortmund’s Jürgen Klopp and Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone.

The former was once linked to Bayern Munich but didn’t appear to be interested and signed a long-term contract extension with the Dortmund outfit instead. He ignored the advances from Bavaria, so what would prompt him to fall for the lure of Roman’s petro-money?

Borussia Dortmund play an exciting brand of football with some of the most promising talent Germany has to offer. Why leave and train the likes of Eden Hazard when he has Mario Götze at Dortmund already?

Besides, Klopp’s Dortmund has topped 2012/13 Champions League group of death ahead of Real Madrid, Ajax Amsterdam and Manchester City while Chelsea FC crashed out of the competition at the group stages.

Diego Simeone seems to be a more realistic and plausible target. Though his Atletico side is currently occupying the second position in La Liga and alive in all cup competitions, the Rojiblancos are not likely to break the duopoly of FC Barcelona and city rivals Real Madrid anytime soon.

Then again, at Atletico, Simeone enjoys the trust of the board and is revered by the fans, translating to greater job security he’ll ever have at Chelsea.

For the time being Chelsea FC is viewed as toxic wasteland by all managers who harbor the ambition of leaving a legacy of their own. Perhaps Chelsea supporters should befriend the idea of having Rafa Benitez as permanent manager come July.

Karma is a funny thing.


You can follow Sebastian on Twitter @JubeiKibagame

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