James Lawton: Another toy thrown from the playpen - News & Comment - Football - The Independent

James Lawton: Another toy thrown from the playpen

It seems it escaped Villas-Boas too that footballers are not clockwork items

When you buy a football club as a personal playpen, somewhere to wander in and out of whenever the whim takes you, there is a very good chance a lot of the toys are going to be smashed.

In the the case of Roman Abramovich and what might be described laughably as his stewardship of Chelsea most of the playthings are human, which in the wake of the misconceived adventure starring Andre Villas-Boas has to make you wonder how long the casualty list will become before the oligarch tires of a futile game.

No one wants to see the hand-wringing humiliation suffered by Villas-Boas these last few months, but then sympathy for the latest victim has to be somewhat muted when you also consider the fate of those vastly more experienced football men who went before him without any airy, guileless talk of being involved in some bullet-proof "project" to be completed in its own sweet time.

Someone like Carlo Ancelotti, chopped down by Abramovich's minions in a back corridor of Goodison Park last spring after a career filled with distinction both on and off the field. Or World Cup winner Luiz Felipe Scolari, who was plainly doomed from the moment he issued a public analysis of the competitive integrity of the dressing room which yesterday added Villas-Boas's scalp to its belt.

This isn't to mention, of course, the most fundamental error of all, the undermining of Jose Mourinho once it became clear that his aura outstripped at Stamford Bridge by some distance that of the man who had come along with such a large slice of the mineral wealth of the Russian people.

Nor does it feed into the horror of all those Chelsea fans who believed that their much loved football club had not been usurped for one rich man's pleasure but rescued, at least a little bit, on their behalf.

Abramovich wanted his football club as the latest evidence of his extraordinary success, something to place alongside the super yachts and the masterpieces of art and all the other symbols of extraordinary wealth.

He wanted to bask in the glow of football success, something so close to the heartbeat of so many ordinary people across the world.

He wanted to make his mark and no one can say that he hasn't done that. Unfortunately, it is one that signifies someone who who has a capacity to get it wrong, out of ego, impatience, a failure to understand the basics of what constitutes a winning football club, and – perhaps most fundamentally – a failure to grasp that such an organisation will always depend on the spirit and the commitment and the good faith of all those other human beings involved.

Frank Lampard, John Terry, Ashley Cole, Didier Drogba and all may have their strengths and their weaknesses and their foibles – and certainly it is hard not to believe that their reaction to Villas-Boas and his slender experience in the top flight of football and his total lack of it as a professional player has not been a factor in his downfall – but apart from anything else they have their own fears and uncertainties about the future.

They are not clockwork items you can wind up and then so easily wind down.

This, it seems, largely escaped Villas-Boas at a time of huge upheaval in their careers – and maybe it will never dawn on the businessman who has dealt such mayhem in the lives of some of his most distinguished football employees.

There doesn't seem a whole lot of point in dwelling on the accumulation of often gross miscalculations, only to hammer the central point that if you don't understand something you are going to have as much difficult identifying a problem as solving it.

There is some persistent belief, though, that the fall of Ancelotti's English Man Friday, Ray Wilkins – which so undermined the Italian and the ambience of the club – became inevitable from the point he suggested in the dressing room to the oligarch who owned everything and everyone within shouting distance that there were some aspects of football which could only be understood if it was in your blood.

If you could turn the production of plastic ducks in a Moscow flat into one of the world's most dramatic examples of personal wealth you plainly knew about business. You had scuffled and proved yourself in your line of country. But if you had never kicked a football professionally, if the game had never been at the core of your existence, your feel in this particular arena was perhaps a little less sound.

It is this gap between ambition and knowledge which yawns open whenever Chelsea lurch into fresh crisis and this season it has perhaps never been so profound.

Another durable suggestion is that, when Villas-Boas was plucked from Porto after Ancelotti's crude dismissal, one senior Chelsea player was asked about the value of the new man's scouting dossiers and videos when he worked as Mourinho's protégé. "I couldn't really say," was the response, "I used to throw them straight into the bin."

If such a division of thinking didn't exist before Villas-Boas returned as the new Mourinho, it certainly did in the anguished final strides towards yesterday's firing. The problem seemed clear enough. Villas-Boas hadn't so much lost the dressing room as failed to occupy even a corner of it.

If Abramovich retains much of an appetite at Chelsea, if he really does want to redeem the years of missed opportunity, what does he do? The most persuasive option screams out. It is to own up to his folly, accept back in Mourinho the man whose work has so consistently mocked the Chelsea operation since moving to Internazionale and Real Madrid.

It will cost the oligarch immense amounts of money – but then few men are more equipped to shrug their shoulders and mutter "big deal" – and considerable pride. Also, of course, he would be required to dismantle the playpen after accepting that it has no place in a serious football club.

This is probably not what he ever had in mind but who knows? When you own so many roubles there is maybe a chance that one of them will finally drop.

Who's next?

Rafa Benitez is 5-4 favourite to become the next permanent Chelsea manager. Other odds:

Jose Mourinho 3-1

Roberto Di Matteo 6-1

Pep Guardiola 7-1

Fabio Capello 8-1

David Moyes 12-1

Gus Poyet 16-1

Didier Deschamps 16-1

Guus Hiddink 16-1 (William Hill)

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