Since Frank Arnesen was appointed Chelsea's talent scout-in-chief, three managers have left the club while the man charged with bringing the brightest and the best young players in the world to Stamford Bridge has hung on. It begs the question that no one at Chelsea seems prepared to answer: what does Arnesen have to do to get the sack?
It is a subject worth returning to today because last week it emerged that Arnesen had been given a place on Chelsea's football club board, not quite the club's plc board but still quite an endorsement. Not bad work for a man whose contribution to the current first team squad of Chelsea thus far has been Franco Di Santo and Miroslav Stoch (18 substitutes' appearances between them) despite a budget to recruit over the last four years that is pretty much unsurpassed in the history of youth development.
We are back to an old chestnut of modern football: the director of football. A figure who operates in a netherworld of blurred responsibility and ill-defined remit, a figure who – unlike the manager – does not have to confront the cold reality of the league table every morning. Arnesen, the chief scout and director of youth development, is the closest that Chelsea have to that kind of operator: long on influence but apparently short on accountability. Certainly a lot less accountable than Jose Mourinho, Avram Grant and Luiz Felipe Scolari found themselves.
The first Arnesen generation of players is coming of age now and there are precious few candidates for Guus Hiddink's first team. It is no cause for celebration when teenage footballers find themselves falling short of the grade at a big club, especially when those players have been bought for a lot of money amid high expectation. The point here is not to make light of their struggles; the point is to ask if Arnesen is spending Roman Abramovich's money wisely.
For Arnesen's first generation of Chelsea players such as Stoch, Ricardo Fernandes, Sergio Tejera, Michael Woods, Tom Taiwo, Patrick Van Aanholt, Fabio Ferreira and Morten Nielsen it is reaching the point whereby their careers need to take flight at Chelsea. They have been recruited since Arnesen's arrival from the likes of Sporting Lisbon, Espanyol and Leeds United; they are now all around the ages of 18 and 19. It is now or never and, sadly, the answer would appear to be never.
Picking the best young footballers and deciding who will make it is not an exact science. It requires fine judgement and a great deal of good fortune. In the past Chelsea relied upon scouts such as Gwyn Williams, an ex-schoolteacher, and Bobby Orsborn. Without Abramovich's fortune those two delivered Jody Morris, then the best teenage footballer in England; John Terry, who was courted closely by Manchester United and later, Lassana Diarra. As a teenage apprentice at Chelsea, Terry even lodged with Orsborn.
Arnesen, however, must be judged by higher standards than the traditional scout because he is paid £2m a year and sits on the Chelsea board. When he signed Woods and Taiwo from Leeds United in 2006 it precipitated a major row between the two clubs and the payout by Chelsea of a compensation fee of around £5m for a deal which eventually included a third player, Ben Gordon. Sadly for Woods and Taiwo, it would appear that the row with Ken Bates is likely to be what Chelsea fans remember them for.
When he arrived Arnesen had a remit to make Chelsea's youth development scheme comparable with that of Arsenal and Manchester United. In order to do so he took the easy route: he bought everyone else's best young players. On wages of £2m a year, Chelsea might have hoped for a more sophisticated answer to the question. Woods and Taiwo happened to be the best 15-year-olds available at the time, key players in that England age group. However, it does not always follow that the best at 15 will automatically be the best at 20.
Of those younger players Arnesen has bought those thought to have the best chance are Jeffrey Bruma (Dutch, from Feyenoord); Gael Kakuta (French, from Lens) and Jacob Mellis (English, from Sheffield United). Also highly-rated, and slightly older, is Michael Mancienne who pre-dates Arnesen at the club and came through the usual route. Ryan Bertrand was signed from Gillingham and may get a chance to show he can be Ashley Cole's understudy at left-back when he returns from loan at Norwich this week.
But how many successes are enough for Arnesen? At what point does Abramovich decide that he has a fair return on the investment in that gleaming new academy at the Cobham training ground and the transfer fees he has paid out on unproven teenagers? Finding the next brilliant players is such a lottery that it is a bold man who claims he has cracked the formula for doing it. In the old days, Chelsea – like most clubs – relied upon the nous of local scouts and hoped for a bit of luck. Under Arnesen they have thrown money at it yet the results do not appear to be drastically different.
When he arrives this summer the new Chelsea manager will naturally be suspicious of a chief scout who wields such influence but is subject to so little scrutiny. Mourinho won four trophies at Chelsea which was not enough to keep him in a job but at least we knew where he had succeeded and where he had failed. With Arnesen the lines are not nearly so clear.
Tugay, a model pro in any language
The brilliant Tugay, 39 in August, is retiring at the end of the season after eight years at Blackburn Rovers. To say he shuns the spotlight would be an understatement, but his contribution to English football should not be underestimated.
Tugay was part of the Turkey team that clashed with England players during the Euro 2004 qualifying campaign yet he never got involved with the daft nationalism that was prevalent on both sides. I interviewed him in a Cheshire hotel before the game in Istanbul in 2003 and was surprised that, despite having been in Britain with Rangers since 2000, he insisted on speaking in Turkish with his agent Simon Munir translating.
Afterwards, I joked with Simon if he knew a decent Turkish restaurant in Manchester. "Café Istanbul, down the side of Kendals department store," said Tugay from across the room, in perfect English.
What price do you put on glory as light fades at dusk of career?
The parallels between Michael Owen and Jonny Wilkinson, once famous No 10s for England, seem to hold true even in the dusk of their careers. Both plagued by injuries, both desperate to get out of Newcastle, both feeling the dimming of their talent before their time. Wilkinson's offer of £1m-a-year to play for Toulon is the kind of money that Owen would not have got out of bed for once upon a time. Times have changed, and Owen will have to revise down his expectations when his Newcastle deal expires this summer. He will have amassed a far bigger fortune than Wilkinson. But then Wilkinson has the World Cup winners' medal.
Burnt out stars illuminate football folly
The great folly of Real Madrid's galacticos experiment was laid bare again on Saturday night. By trying to buy everyone else's best players, they have ended up with a team that would have been brilliant four years ago. I'm thinking of the likes of Arjen Robben, Fabio Cannavaro, Rafael van der Vaart and Gabriel Heinze. Newcastle are the same. Michael Owen, Nicky Butt, Alan Smith and Mark Viduka are a Premier League All-Stars team, circa 2002.Reuse content