James Lawton: Chelsea need a manager with a sense of destiny

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If Claudio Ranieri regrets, think how the man whose greatest ambition he destroyed, Arsène Wenger, must feel now. The Arsenal manager can only be further inflamed by two haunting facts to be found down among the debris of Chelsea's squandered opportunity at the Stade Louis II.

If Claudio Ranieri regrets, think how the man whose greatest ambition he destroyed, Arsène Wenger, must feel now. The Arsenal manager can only be further inflamed by two haunting facts to be found down among the debris of Chelsea's squandered opportunity at the Stade Louis II.

One was that Ranieri had again let slide the mantle of a genuine hero and replaced it with that of a lovable but irredeemably flawed - and doomed - eccentric. The other was that the match made a travesty of the belief that at this stage of the Champions' League it is reasonable to expect football of the highest quality.

Neither Monaco nor Chelsea, respectively conquerors of Real Madrid and Arsenal, a team who had been hailed, admittedly rather light-headedly, as possibly the greatest club team in the history of English football, began to justify their presence in the semi-finals of a tournament that is supposed to define excellence.

Monaco offered space in and around their defence that on anything like a night of reasonable proficiency would surely have left Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp drooling in anticipation. Chelsea would have looked over-priced at a collective £30m, let alone £130m.

At this point we might also briefly lock into the smouldering rage of Sir Alex Ferguson. This time last year he was appalled that Juventus, having been beaten by United in a pool game, had gone on to dismiss Real Madrid and compete in the final with Milan.

Ferguson traced the form line through his own defeat by Real and concluded that United had missed a superb opportunity to follow up their triumph over Bayern Munich in the 1999 final. Now he must be shuddering all over again over the lost season that, nevertheless, includes a victory and two draws with the failed "super team" but comfortable putative champions Arsenal.

Various messages were sent out from the Stade Louis II and all of them were depressing.

Most bitingly so was the sense that it is, after the often sublime promise of Arsenal, and even more dramatically that of Milan in their ultimately failed quarter-final with Deportivo, not a season to hail a truly distinguished team.

Real, we always knew, carried vulnerability at the back, which made the circus-like performance of the signing of David Beckham all the more bizarre as Claude Makelele, by far their most sound defensive influence and a vital figure in the European Cup triumph of 2002, slipped away to Chelsea.

There was also the probable unravelling of that fantasy of all those sickened by the treatment of Ranieri by Roman Abramovich and his chief executive Peter Kenyon.

It was securely in place right up to the moment of Ranieri's latest rush of blood, when he started to dismantle in a few minutes the side he had had long days to settle on, and when Hernan Crespo so sharply scored the vital away goal the vision seemed to be taking shape. There was Claudio, body language in over-drive, saying a warm farewell to his supporters at Stamford Bridge before taking office on the touchline at Bernabeu, his future secured by the parting gift of the European Cup.

Of course the fantasy is not entirely dead. Maybe Frank Lampard will unearth another epic effort of will in the second leg, driving his team to the necessary 2-0 win, and if this doesn't happen, who knows, Real may still decide that the personable Ranieri would be a more than adequate successor for Carlos Queiroz. The job, after all, was defined well enough when Beckham was added to the list of stars at a time when the defence had never begged more plaintively for significant strengthening. The Real coach, it is plain enough, does not have to be a man of iron will and unswerving, imperious vision. He basically does what he is told, and with whoever is placed in his charge.

It is, of course, a grotesque way to run a football club, and this is something of value that the bruised Abramovich may just take from a trip which started so grandly when his great boat arrived in Monte Carlo harbour. It is that whoever he appoints in succession to Ranieri must have the will, and the mastery of his own destiny, that has always marked the progress of the big football men.

One of the least contentious points made by Ranieri in his disputed interview with a Spanish newspaper, was that Abramovich doesn't know a whole lot about football. It thus makes sense that he will appoint a man like Ferguson or Wenger who is not inclined to jump at his own shadow.

Another requirement is that, unlike the engaging but incurable Ranieri, he knows his own mind for a little longer than the time it takes to scribble out a team-sheet.

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