The ability of Chelsea as a football club to snatch ignominy from the jaws of victory can never be underestimated, although last night’s victory at the Hawthorns at least protects a memorable Premier League campaign with another title, their fifth of the Abramovich era, writes Allan Prosser.
There’s still a chance to throw a Double away though. And to disenfranchise the manager who has proved to be the most popular with supporters since the first pressing of Mourinho Nouveau 2005.
For some 50 years Chelsea had only one league title to their name, won in 1955 under the guidance of a no-nonsense former Arsenal and England centre-forward Ted Drake.
They were the first team to be invited to compete in the fledgling European Cup, but declined after pressure from the insular Little Englanders of the Football League led by its pugnacious secretary Alan Hardaker. A grievous mistake. Next season Manchester United and Matt Busby were made of sterner stuff, entered the competition and founded a dynastic reputation on the continent.
I first started watching the Blues (Ted Drake abolished the historic “Pensioners” nickname for lacking in dynamism) in 1961. They had a young goalscorer; Jimmy Greaves (imagine the goal-poaching ability of Sergio Aguero and double it). He scored 132 top flight goals in 169 appearances. They sold him to AC Milan at the end of the season.
When Greaves became available to re-sign the following Christmas having failed to settle with the Rossoneri Chelsea had first refusal on the finest goalscorer of his generation. They allowed Tottenham to steal him away for £99,999. Greaves went on score 268 goals for Tottenham. Chelsea were relegated 10 months later. While many old school Chelsea supporters date their enmity with “Tottenham from the Lane” to 1967 its roots were laid by this transaction six years earlier.
Since then glory has been followed, sometimes very swiftly, by self-inflicted disaster.
The bright, young, Chelsea team of 60s swinging London led by Terry Venables, was broken up by a headstrong Tommy Docherty over a late evening out in Blackpool. Docherty was sacked shortly afterwards.
The hardened but super skilful side of Osgood, Hudson and Cooke which outmuscled Leeds and then a season later outplayed Real Madrid to win the European Cup Winners Cup was dismantled by Dave Sexton to prove a disciplinary point. Sexton was sacked months later.
The promising team rebuilt by Eddie MCreadie, and headed by an 18-year-old Ray Wilkins, returned from relegation at the first attempt in 1977, only for McCreadie to leave in a row over a company car.
The re-emergence of Chelsea as a power in English football under the sexy football regime of Ruud Gullitt culminated in the first trophy, the FA Cup, for 27 years. Gullitt was axed by Ken Bates the following year for demanding a salary of £3.25m “netto.” His replacement Gianluca Vialli took Chelsea to another European Cup Winners Cup win, a League Cup, and a SuperCup victory over Real Madrid.
He was sacked five games into the start of the 2000-2001 season.
Jose Mourinho was shown the door before the leaves had fallen from the trees in 2007 after two successive league titles, an FA Cup and a League Cup. Notably it was the arrival of Avram Grant as Director of Football that was the catalyst for this transition. He brought with him Michael Emenalo, who remains technical director to this day.
Since Mourinho, Abramovich has rattled the changes — Avram Grant (dismissed after losing the Champions League Final in Moscow); Scolari (six months); Guus Hiddink (two spells as caretaker including an FA Cup); Carlo Ancelotti (dismissed in a corridor at Goodison Park the season after a fulminating Double in 2010 which set the Premier League goalscoring record); Villas-Boas (six months); Di Matteo (eight months, including another FA Cup and the prized Champions League victory); the much despised (by Chelsea fans) Rafael Benitez whose eight months included the Europa League. Mourinho (two years and another Premier League).
The Abramovich haul since his takeover in 2004 includes 16 of Europe’s finest trophies. And the headcount is 11 managers. They equal Manchester United in terms of PL titles and Champions Leagues. If they win the Double in the FA Cup final against Arsenal on May 27 they will have lifted twice as many trophies as Manchester City since the Arab takeover nine years ago.
It appears that Antonio Conte holds all the aces in his forthcoming negotiations over his contract extension .
But this exactly the moment that seasoned Chelsea watchers should be looking over their shoulders and worrying about the fate of the passionate man from Lecce.
The Russian word for roof is “krysha” and it has a slang connotation. It means protection. Roman Abramovich understands the concept which is why he always has a Plan B. In Abramovich’s box last Monday night was Leonid Slutsky, former manager of CSKA Moscow and Russia. He is looking for a club in England. In the crowd was an old Roman favourite Andriy Shevchenko, now manager of Ukraine. Former local heroes Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba have some time on their hands.
And if Conte was prepared to quit his beloved Juventus because matters were not to his liking then shaking off London for his homeland will not be an impossible decision. The acid test will be what happens if Diego Costa decides to forsake a Champions League campaign for appearing before 30,000 people in the eight best team in the CSL in China’s fourth largest city for 2017-18.
If Conte gets the replacement he wants — Belotti of Torino or Morata of Real Madrid for example — the signs will be that he has got his way on player recruitment. If Romelu Lukaka pitches up from Everton, then it will be a different complexion of pasta indeed.
Chelsea have been linked with these names during a highly satisfactory season: Defence: van Dijk, Southampton; Koulibaly, Napoli; Davinson Sanchez, Ajax; Laporte, Athletic Bilbao. Wingbacks: Semedo, Benfica; Antonio, West Ham; Kolosinac, Schalke; Ghoulam, Napoli; Toljan, Hoffenheim; Mendy, Monaco; Sidibe, Monaco. Midfielders: Kessie, Atalanta; Bakayoko, Monaco; Bernardi, Sassuolo; Verratti, PSG; Nainggolan, Roma; Keita, Leipzig. Strikers: Belotti, Torino; Lukaku, Everton; Morata, Real Madrid; Sanchez, Arsenal; Icardi, Inter.
Antonio Conte has said he wants at least four more players, and getting the personnel he wants appears to be more significant than personal gain. On the outcome of this summer’s spending depends his future
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