James Lawton: Abramovich will not succeed until he puts his faith in real football men

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The Independent Football

As Chelsea strain at the leash to devour the pretensions of Tottenham tomorrow, and maintain their clear lead at the top of the Premier League after the Battle of Manchester they may well consider a sideshow, it is possibly the wrong time to ask the question. But then perhaps not if you have observed, however casually, Stamford Bridge's latest pantomime version of how you run a major football club.

The enquiry is fundamental to the long-term future of Roman Abramovich's plaything. Will the rouble ever drop? The evidence, at least beyond the touchlines within which Chelsea's old guard are currently displaying formidable power and consistency, could scarcely be less encouraging.

It is a problem that has been clearly visible ever since the impact of Jose Mourinho was allowed to erode in a welter of club politics and all that unseemly scuffling for personal preferment. Oddly, no-one knows better than Abramovich that you would not run a fuel business like this, not if you wanted to sell more than the odd tin of paraffin.

Now it seems the oligarch is even further embedded in the fallacy that ultimate success can be conjured by other means than the classic one of putting most faith in a football man who has proved he understands the vital nuances of the game.

This week's formal transfer of power from Peter Kenyon to "sporting director" Frank Arnesen could only be seen as confirmation that Abramovich remains critically distant from an objective view of who might most help his ambition to win, finally, the Champions' League.

Kenyon was highly successful in the sports shirt trade but so often ludicrously out of place when he joined in counsels of serious football men. Arnesen, the architect of the Gaël Kakuta affair which threatens to tie the club's hands in the transfer market until January 2011, carried a great weight of under-achievement from Tottenham in 2005.

Yet these are the bookends of the Abramovich reign, the men in charge of shaping the club's ethos and operation and whose time of influence has seen the rise and fall of Claudio Ranieri, who was so memorably told by Kenyon that his job was to oversee 5-0 victories featuring spectacular, long-shot goals, Mourinho, Avram Grant and Luiz Felipe Scolari.

Now we are told that Carlo Ancelotti's track record as a Champions League winner in the service of Silvio Berlusconi's Milan will give him no greater access to Abramovich's ear than Arnesen.

It is perhaps little wonder that Guus Hiddink so emphatically ended his brief but brilliant stewardship of a previously failing team when returning to the helm of Russia, over which he is the undisputed football master.

What is plain enough is that if Hiddink had stayed he would not have suffered the interference of lesser men. He would have proclaimed, as Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger will always do, that he was in charge of the football club, its personnel, tactics, selection, discipline, and that at the very moment it was not so he would climb into his leathers and crank up the Harley.

Certainly that was the invitation to Mourinho when his power was so relentlessly reduced by Abramovich, when he was prevented from making signings he wanted and was forced to accept those he didn't – notably Andrei Shevchenko, who, as the "Special One" had suspected, was completely at odds with the ground-devouring style of Didier Drogba. Mourinho walked out of Benfica in 2000 when he saw that he would not have a free hand but perhaps at Chelsea considered he had too much invested in a contract settlement to permit such a grand gesture of independence.

For his greatest admirers, this was a sadness because if anyone had declared himself his own man, and was guaranteed to find more or less instant re-employment, it was surely Mourinho. Certainly he might have exposed Chelsea for what they had become in the course of rushing to two straight league titles. They were a club where power was being distributed from the top without any proper grading of responsibility.

There is, it has to be allowed, a counter argument to this claim that the Abramovich way will always prove to be self-defeating.

Though it has inarguably offended grievously some of the cardinal rules of good football management, there are those triumphs in the league, FA Cup and the League Cup, and the fact that but for some bad luck – John Terry's missed penalty in Moscow and some outrageous refereeing in the semi-final at Stamford Bridge last spring – Abramovich might now be in possession of two Champions' League victories.

It is also reasonable to believe that if Ancelotti's men can survive serious injuries, the calls on Drogba by his African nation and his tempestuous nature, and any serious loss of individual form in an ageing team, the Italian can marshall enough strength, and savvy, to win the league and make another serious run at the Champions League. However, such old and potential success, if you put aside the vast initial outlay, might be said to be in spite and not because of the club's methods.

According to the projections of the fallen Kenyon, Chelsea should now be operating in a "league of one." Given the club's resources, it could indeed have happened. That it hasn't, and is less likely to now than at any time since the opening phase of the Abramovich era, can be assigned to mere misfortune, if you like.

Here, though, the suspicion remains rampant that Chelsea continue to be the authors of their own fate. They have momentum now but they've had plenty of that in the past and still been submerged by the revived weight of Manchester United.

If it happens again, and perspectives could change sharply even in the next 36 hours, maybe Roman Abramovich will finally step back and ask: why? For his sake let's hope he interrogates the right person, someone perhaps like Ancelotti, someone who has been around for a little while and who has done a few things. Sounds simple, I know, but at Chelsea it might come to be mistaken for an act of genius.

Lemi put his finger on another way sport has lost perspective

At the end of another parlous week for sport, Emmanuel Adebayor, who awaits sentence for his provocative dash almost into the rabid maw of a bunch of Arsenal supporters, makes a striking case for the perspective he believes has been so lamentably lost by his critics.

Forgetting, presumably, the vicious stamp he landed on the head of his former team-mate Arsenal team Robin van Persie, the new superstar of Manchester City announces: "If a man in the street was abused for an hour, he'd do a lot worse than celebrate a goal."

But if that is stunning in its isolation from reality and responsibility, what of Flavio Briatore's ( above) nauseating assertion that he walked away from Formula One in order to save his team Renault, the one that he led into the conspiracy to have a raw young driver crash his car for a win that might easily have cost innocent lives?

You might also have thought at a time when the latest product of "Bloodgate" is the suspension from her profession of the woman doctor alleged to have been persuaded to cut the lip of the Harlequins wing Tom Williams, rugby would have been careful with its use of language.

However, the Rugby Union's chief law officer, Judge Jeff Blackett, who at one point turned his face against investigation of four other alleged blood-faking cases partly on the grounds that it would further damage the game's reputation, apparently saw no irony in the tone of his chastisement of the Wasps winger David Lemi, who gave the finger to supporters of Bath.

"There is no place for this kind of behaviour in rugby union," said the judge, before adding, "I am confident Wasps have acted decisively and proportionately, but I have warned David as to his future behaviour."

Lemi says he is contrite but perhaps not as deeply as he might have been had the hard word come from Judge Jeffreys.

Flintoff situation highlights greatness of Ponting

Andrew Flintoff's place in the hearts of the sporting nation some time ago passed beyond challenge. However, the dedication of Flintoff to the game he so enlivened, and which has brought him such great reward, cannot be said to be on a high tide.

His decision to reject an England contract, partly on the grounds that it would forbid dangerous, and presumably lucrative, minor sports such as bungee jumping, inevitably provokes speculation that continued service to the nation's cricket is running strictly second to the financial possibilities of the Twenty20 circus, wherever it may spring up.

Ricky Ponting, on the other hand, has elected to jettison Twenty20 in favour of Test cricket, in which he hopes still to be competing at the time of the next Ashes series.

It is maybe the difference between a hero of the game and one of its greatest ever players.

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