Coaches consistently strike out against Chelsea owner
Is there a repressed striker in the unconscious mind of Russian oligarch and Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich?
Why else is it that most of the coaches Abramovich has parted company with over the years – José Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Roberto di Matteo and others – are as a result of the unhappy strikers Andriy Shevshenko and Fernando Torres?
One of the reasons Mourinho's tenure ended abruptly at Chelsea was the Ukrainian striker Shevchenko, a close friend of the billionaire. The winner of the European Player of the Year award arrived at Chelsea from AC Milan for £30-million. As the fourth-highest top goal scorer in Europe of all time, it was expected he would score more than the nine goals he managed in 48 matches for Chelsea.
In a 2006 interview that shows the jagged edges of Mourinho's relationship with Shevshenko, the coach told a reporter that the striker was not too important to be dropped from the team.
"Sheva is not untouchable because of the way he is playing. Roman is very intelligent. He would never do this," the coach said, when asked whether Abramovich would demand that the player be included in the starting line-up.
"If he does this, it is because he does not trust the manager. If he does not trust the manager he has enough money to sack me, give me compensation, send me home and bring another one in."
After a string of poor results and repeated run-ins with Abramovich over his refusal, or reluctance, to get the best out of the striker, Mourinho was indeed fired in September 2007 and, presumably, given his compensation.
Fast forward to the Mourinho-Shevshenko death dance of 2011. This time the coach was Champions League winner Carlo Ancelotti, an Italian Abramovich had long desired. The striker was Torres, imposed on the Chelsea manager after being bought from Liverpool at a British record fee of £50-million.
Torres made his Chelsea debut on February 6 – coincidentally against his former club Liverpool – but it was only on April 23 that the striker was able to score. That is 903 minutes for a player who netted 29 goals in his first season, a tally that surpasses that of one of England's and Liverpool's finest strikers, Michael Owen. About 88 games and three managers later, Torres has found the net just 19 times.
In a crucial Champions League match against Italian side Juventus last week, former Chelsea manager Di Matteo dropped the out-of-form striker. It was a decision that probably cost him his job.
Di Matteo was duly fired the following morning after a 3-0 defeat and replaced by Spanish coach Rafael Benitez.
The Spaniard originally brought Torres from Athletico Madrid to Liverpool.
In the decision to hire Benitez, you can see that Abramovich brought in the Spaniard not just to stop Chelsea's run of bad form, but also to resuscitate the Torres of old.
To see Abramovich's bemused Boy-Scout smile, you would never guess the thuggish means with which he, and other oligarchs, obtained their wealth. They got rich through an opaque sale of state companies at never-to-be-repeated prices in an anti-competitive atmosphere.
The collapse of the Soviet Union created a wild and chaotic landscape in which crony capitalists and mafia thugs thrived. It was a territory in which precision, good fortune and being at the right place at the right time came together.
Yet Abramovich's signature purchases in football have been imprecise and wild, showing none of the logic you would think a billionaire would use to obtain a lofty station.
This is the same man who brought Shevshenko to England, a more physical and frenetic league, when the then 30-year-old Ukrainian had given the best of his legs to the slower and more technical Italian league.
It was a decision that anyone with the most elementary knowledge of football and physical science would have said was bound to fail. What was less obvious, though, was the trajectory of the then 26-year-old Torres. He had proven himself in England and in his last season at Liverpool, one plagued by injury, he still managed to score 22 goals in 32 games.