James Lawton: Abramovich money has highlighted the game's darker side

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The Independent Online

So far the spotlight has been on Sven Goran Eriksson's eerie genius for side-stepping a moral issue even when its hands are reaching for his throat - and the truly dismaying sight of the chief executive of the Football Association, Mark Palios, not so long ago laughably described as the new strong man of English football, talking about a re-signing "coup" rather than a shameless surrender.

But what do we think of the role of Roman Abramovich? How do we assess his contribution thus far to English football? If we can forget for a minute the great cache of oil money he has brought to Chelsea from Russia, a nation liberated from communism, perhaps, but so imperfectly that surgeons and professors have to eke out their incomes by growing vegetables at the local allotments, it is not exactly uplifting. He has displayed the style of a chieftain of unchallengeable power.

He has said that he believes that what he wants he should get, and who cares about the consequences? That is for others to worry about, little people who didn't get a licence to print money in a country where for the vast majority life is loaded with unremitting hardship and injustice. Football is only a game, we know, but within its boundaries you can see both the best and the worst of the wider world, and often with the sharpest clarity. Already in his brief time in London, Abramovich has surely shown us some of the worst. The courting of Eriksson alone was a demonstration of formidable boorishness.

His most significant act thus far, apart from treating his coach, Claudio Ranieri, as though he was some forehead-touching serf in Tsarist days, has been to de-stabilise his host nation's preparation for the European Championships. It is one of the scandals of English football that someone like Abramovich can take hold of a famous club without any proper investigation of his background, but you might have thought that having done so he might have shown some minimum courtesy. Making a crude grab for the services of the national coach was certainly less than ingratiating.

We learn now that far from being embarrassed by the havoc he has caused in the ruling circle of the game here - not to mention a complete loss of face and dignity - the Russian is less than enchanted by the performance of his chief executive Peter Kenyon. The job was to get Eriksson... not provide him with a big rise from the Football Association, and, who knows, possible get-out clauses which would trigger another edition of the whole unedifying story at some future point of the England coach's convenience.

Kenyon's current difficulties are not going to keep many of us awake at night. His appalling public role in the marginalising of Ranieri is quite enough to rule out any possibility of sympathy, but more interesting is the apparent operating style of his boss. He has money and he apparently believes it can get you anything in life, which in the case of Eriksson was perhaps a not unreasonable calculation. However, none of his wealth is buying too much love at the moment, not even at Stamford Bridge judging by the evidence of the crowd reaction at Saturday's game against Wolves.

One interesting question is how many of those remaining on the Abramovich short-list will be so keen to accept the role as second choice to Eriksson? Fabio Capello, who doesn't need to be told of his status in the game, has already said that though he finds the prospect of a stint in England intriguing, he is in no hurry to make the move - and would Abramovich wait for a year for a man of great pride and achievement? It is doubtful. The way it should work, the thinking at Chelsea seems to go, is that Abramovich rustles the roubles and they all come running.

Ranieri may not be the best football coach in the world but he has struck a chord in these days of football amorality. His humanity is self-evident, and it is supported by boundless charm. These qualities may not be too highly prized in the world from which Abramovich came to us groaning with such a ready supply of roubles. Heaven knows, they have been all but extinguished in English football, where not so long ago many believed the brutish behaviour of Arsenal players at Old Trafford was no more than a jostling triviality. But perhaps Ranieri has caused a spark of resistance.

Perhaps he has invited even the most fervent of Chelsea fans to ask the question of quite how much you pay for the reflected glory of supporting a winning club? How glorious is it to clatter so roughshod over every other interest but your own? Who could draw any uplift from the sight captured by the cameraman from The Sun last week of Eriksson slipping so furtively into the flat of Kenyon? What did it say about the Chelsea operation? It said that they were playing a ruthless game underpinned by nothing more than the power invested by sheer wealth.

One Sunday commentary carried the headline, "£40m? Now that seems a good reason to switch jobs." It all depends, you have say, on how you see the world and your own place in it. There was a time, after all, when 30 pieces of silver was deemed a fair price.

Lorimer's aim remains as accurate as ever

Those friends and admirers of Peter "Thunderfoot" Lorimer who felt that he was the victim of a cheap shot when his past financial difficulties were raked up on his appointment to the new Leeds United board could only glory at the lucidity of his response.

Yes, Lorimer admitted, he had suffered from a devastating gambling habit. It had taken him into great money problems. However, Lorimer pointed out coolly that he had never felt compromised by those old events when he criticised so strongly the incompetence which had brought the club he had helped to make great to the brink of extinction.

Said Lorimer, "Yes, I got through a lot of money. But all of it was my own." Compare that with some of his marvellous goals, and it was undoubtedly one of the best - a 25-yarder smacking into the net, and on the rise.

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