Friday, 6 September 2013

Jose and Back Again: The psychology of Roman Abramovich in his pursuit of greatness.

As Jose Mourinho's second coming as Chelsea manager gets underway, Sam Winter looks at how he got there in order to understand the psychology of Russian billionaire and Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich

20th September 2007 and world football was digesting the news that Jose Mourinho had left Chelsea Football Club. The man who led The Blues to their first domestic championship title in 50 years, amassing 95 points and conceding only 15 goals along the way, was gone under a cloud of huge uncertainty amid long-standing rumours of a rift with owner Roman Abramovich. Mourinho was Abramovich’s first managerial appointment since his sensational arrival the previous year, when he arrived from Russia with endless pockets and big ambitions for the London club. The Special One could do no wrong; 2 Premier League crowns in successive seasons, 2 League Cups, and an FA Cup triumph had Chelsea fans in dreamland. Stamford Bridge was unbreakable and European Glory was surely not far away. But then the wheels came off.

Lampard and Terry were key men in Mourinho's assault of the Premier League.

 There was nothing broken at Chelsea, so there was no need to fix anything. However Abramovich tinkering began before a ball had been kicked in 2006/07. Andriy Shevchenko came in above Mourinho’s head and rumblings were evident with Sporting Director Frank Arnesen. Troubles were clearly brewing, Mourinho would admit as much in media interviews. Abramovich became a closed book, Mourinho having to deal with advisor Piet de Visser instead of the owner directly. Relationships were broken, the honeymoon was over, and Sir Alex Ferguson swatted Chelsea away to take the Premier League crown back to Old Trafford.

Just two days before Mourinho left, 3 months into the following season, Chief Executive Peter Kenyon described the Portuguese as “the key to glory” in Chelsea’s hunt for European dominance. But Abramovich had become impatient and relationships were at the point of no return, and it was Mourinho to go.
Less than six years on and Mourinho is back at Stamford Bridge, a sensational return for the special one. Issues seemingly resolved, Mourinho’s return has made Chelsea many people’s favourites for this seasons Premier League crown. Staggeringly, 7 managers have been in the Chelsea hot-seat since Mourinho departed and only Guus Hiddink left on his own terms. Abramovich’s ruthless hiring and firing of household names suggests complete disaster post Mourinho. Yet six major trophies and a community shield were won in that period of managerial merry-go –round; including an impressive regain of the Premier League under Carlo Ancelotti in the double season of 2009-10, and that elusive all-conquering Champions League crown under Roberto Di Matteo. Even the Europa League was won under Rafa Benitez, completing a clean sweep of all available major trophies to Chelsea in the decade of Abramovich.

The way Abramovich has constantly discarded the notion of “giving manager’s time” and spent millions and millions on appointing and sacking big name managers such as Scolari, Villas-Boas, and Ancelotti, has always made me despairingly wonder just what it is that Abramovich wants? What goes through the psychology of the introverted Russian billionaire with the hugely successful football club? What was it he was looking for when he let Mourinho go? And what hasn’t he found that has signalled Mourinho’s return?

Europe or Bust

At first I was convinced Abramovich’s motives were driven by Champions League failings. Mourinho seemingly hadn’t done it in enough time, and only a slip in the rain of Moscow prevented Avram Grant from being the unlikely source of success. Given the unrest over Mourinho’s departure, Grant did a remarkable job with Chelsea that season but he was never the long term solution. So in came Big Phil Scolari, World Cup winner, to turn the tide on Champions League fortune at the Bridge. But from the first negative result Scolari was doomed, with rumours of player unrest not helping his cause, and he was off within half a season. Guus Hiddink steadied the ship with an FA Cup success but wouldn’t continue the poisoned chalice full-time and in came Carlo Ancelotti, who brought the good times back with an impressive double in 2010. Chelsea were lethal again, Drogba and Anelka leading the charge, but Sir Alex Ferguson once again swatted them away in 2011 and Ancelotti was quite unbelievably sacked. This was the clearest indicator that it wasn’t just the Champions League that sacked a Chelsea manager; Ancelotti’s perceived failure to double up on Premier League crown’s had cost him. Abramovich couldn’t stand not being top dog in England let alone Europe, and Ancelotti paid the price.

Carlo Ancelotti brought the good times back for Chelsea but soon was on his way out

A Change in Style...Just Don't Change That.. 

Abramovich suddenly wanted Chelsea to go in a different direction, to play a different way to generate consistent success, and he had no problem in activating an extortionate release clause to bring in Andre Villas-Boas to achieve it. Villas-Boas was the start of a bright future, a long and successful tenure bringing through exciting young players and ousting the old guard; regaining the Premier League and winning the Champions League at long last. But despite such positive statements Villas-Boas found himself out favour for trying to play teams without John Terry, Didier Drogba, and Frank Lampard in. No player should be bigger than a club yet Abramovich has always valued Lampard and Terry above all others and the tactical changes clearly sat unfavourably with the owner. A few poor results and the media frenzy swallowed up player unrest and tactical disagreement, and Abramovich sensationally pulled the trigger again. From wanting his club to do things differently, to build a long term strategy, Abramovich had changed his tune at the first signs of such implementation. 

AVB found himself unable to implement changes at the club.

Di Matteo Delivers the Crown

His impatience is a key factor in understanding his character. If success isn’t immediate then no manager is safe, even Mourinho found that once surrendering the Premier League. Abramovich demands instant success and disregards the possibility that managers and players, tactics and systems, may need time to adjust and settle. His closeness with his senior stars, the ones who brought the initial success to the club, perhaps hinders any Chelsea long term development and his yearning for Champions League glory was also pulling on his patience. The sensational victory over Bayern in Munich therefore had seemingly brought an end to his misery. The searching was over, the solution found. Roberto Di Matteo conquered Europe and took the FA Cup back to the Bridge. He was a bright young managerial talent, the players loved him and the fans worshipped him and most importantly he’d delivered for the owner. The future looked bright, Chelsea started the following campaign in blistering fashion yet a demolition at the hands of Falcao and a bad night in Turin meant it was all over once again. Di Matteo’s dismissal added a new dimension to the confusion over Abramovich. Surely he’d got everything he wanted now? He had the crown, he had the future, and they’d started an assault on the league in fine fashion. All his previous issues were seemingly solved, so what was it that was missing? And then it was clearer than ever. Mourinho.

Problem solved? Di Matteo won it for Abramovich but it wasn't enough.

The Second Coming

Since the day The Special One exited Stamford Bridge he had been linked with a comeback. After each and every managerial dismissal Mourinho was rumoured to be returning to rescue the club. It was clear to me the Mourinho would be back permanently after Di Matteo was sacked, even more so when Benitez was installed as the sensitive “interim”. Abramovich had spent six years trying to move on from Mourinho, to replicate his success with other men. But he couldn’t, what he wanted WAS Mourinho, and only Mourinho. And Chelsea would never have stability without his return. 

Despite the fantastic trophy record in his decade at the helm, Abramovich has attracted copious criticism for his running of the club, his handling of managers and finances. From an ethics perspective, the sheer fortune spent on buy-outs and pay-offs of world-renowned managers, Abramovich’s methods are disappointing and it’s certainly hard to agree with the man. Yet you can’t argue with his trophy cabinet. Perhaps with the Special One back in town all will be forgotten and the drama will simmer down in that respect. But Mourinho will know exactly what is expected of him, and Abramovich won’t be much less lenient now his prized leader is back. A trophy-shy season might get alarm bells ringing but I think it would be tolerated this time around, but only this time. Abramovich deals only in success and not even Mourinho is safe if success isn’t brought to Chelsea. Perhaps the owner will have learned his lesson, bringing Mourinho back when he should never have let him go in the first place. 

There was only ever one man for Chelsea fans

Abramovich has always struck me as someone who wants to control absolutely everything, to be the manager as well as owner, and his interference in the past has probably served only to hinder the club. Certainly such interference would have to be completely eradicated as far as Mourinho is concerned. Here is a man who managed to get himself full control of dealings at Real Madrid, something completely unheard of. The issue of power had owner and manager at loggerheads the first time around, and for the second coming to work at Chelsea, this can never rear its ugly head again. Both men are older and wiser now and hopefully a long-standing, successful era will ensue for the fans of Chelsea Football Club. Or perhaps the merry-go round will just keep on going. You just never ever know in football. Let's just hope Roman doesn't have a thing for Super Cups.

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