James Lawton: Abramovich has earned money, but little respect

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The Independent Football

Roman Abramovich looked pleased enough with himself at the Russian World Cup celebration party in Zurich. Indeed, he made the kind of picture of contentment which was so easy to foresee six or so years back on the banks of the Tagus in Lisbon.

There the image of the master manipulator of football, the Citizen Kane of the round ball, was rather more spectacular than anything seen on the field in those mostly humdrum European Championship finals.

His two monster yachts were moored at quayside, where a fleet of limousines was manned by uniformed chauffeurs at all times of night and day. Supplicants came and went in an unending flow. The first days of a football empire were unfolding. No price was too much, no obstacle too great.

So why is the oligarch still awaiting his first European Champions League prize, the one that was so rudely snatched from his grasp in hometown Moscow by Manchester United?

Why are his Chelsea, who looked so imperious in the early going of this season, groping their way with such uncertainty towards the light?

It is because we have yet another reason to believe that after all the money spent, all the lessons on offer, he still doesn't have a serious clue about running a football club.

He didn't like Jose Mourinho's style of football, or at least that's what we were told, but was it perhaps that he couldn't warm to the idea that a man who didn't own a sizeable chunk of the mineral rights of a vast country had become an instant and deeply popular legend, at least among the fans of his own plaything club, and that he was underwriting the creation of a personal image so much brighter than his own? Was it that he was ready to buy success but less happy to share it?

Maybe, maybe not, but we know what happened to Mourinho. He was besieged by the mediocrity and the whims approved in the executive suite.

Now we have the sad business of Carlo Ancelotti's disenchantment. It is only surprising if you believed that Mourinho's extraordinary triumphs with Internazionale may have finally underscored for Abramovich the scale of his folly.

Ancelotti seemed to have broken the cycle when he recovered so well from Champions League failure at his first attempt at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea finished last season in wondrous order, and started this one in the same fashion. It made those of us who said that the appointment of a man of Ancelotti's credentials was pointless, in view of the treatment of his predecessors, have reason to feel distinctly squeamish.

Why not, the argument had gone, appoint some token of a manager and let the wheels of power roll over him in due time?

It seemed like a most relevant question until Ancelotti showed precisely why he had operated so comfortably and successfully under the regime of no less a control freak than Silvio Berlusconi.

Now Ancelotti looks like someone in mourning for a time which seems to have been fatally undermined by the crude sacking of his trusted assistant Ray Wilkins, one that may have been provoked, at least according to one theory, by the too forceful expression of the view that you must grow up in football to truly know it.

Whatever the cause of it, there is a strengthening view that the wounds opened up in the Wilkins affair may never be permanently healed. We are told the oligarch may be reaching for his chequebook again. This would no doubt help – but not nearly as much as something more than a kopek's worth of respect.

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