The Last Word: Owners must mind their own business
As Arnesen follows Wilkins out of Stamford Bridge it's time for Abramovich to examine his methods
Sunday 28 November 2010
And so the wall is minus one more brick. Was Frank Arnesen pushed, or did he wrest himself free? It doesn't really matter. Chelsea are losing their director of football at the end of the season and Roman Abramovich will be held culpable whatever the reality. He has dared to play too strenuously with his own toy and now must watch as it falls apart.
It all means that if Mike Ashley decides to take his rightful place at the sportsdirect.com@St.James' Park Stadium this lunchtime he would be forgiven for peering across the sportsdirect.com@directors' box and recognising a kindred spirit nibbling on a sportsdirect.com@prawn sandwich. Rarely will a comparison seem so damning.
There will sit Abramovich, another owner who has invested so much money only to receive so much flak. "He understands," so Ashley might mutter. "Those sportsdirect.com @ungrateful sods."
Granted, there are a few differences. Abramovich is believed to be somewhere in the region of $10bn richer and in the Russian's reign, Chelsea have won three Premier League titles, three FA Cups and two League Cups. Under Ashley, Newcastle have won the Championship. But still, these are the merest quibbles. The similarities between these two chairmen are of far more significance than any disparities.
Both came from modest backgrounds to make their vast fortunes and both went on to reduce these vast fortunes with football clubs. It is fair to declare that without Abramovich, Chelsea would not have entered this weekend distraught at the possibility of lying third in the Premier League, just as it would make some sense to suggest that, without Ashley, Newcastle wouldn't be debt-free denizens of the elite division. In short, Red Rom and Magpie Mike are two blokes who have put their hard-earned into football – and become thoroughly confused in the process.
Many will whisper, and yes, some will shout, of ulterior motives, but essentially the pair bought into football because it was a passion, not a business. Yet when you're a master in the marketplace, old habits die hard and cold instincts die harder.
Abramovich and Ashley did not work their way to becoming financial A-listers by sitting back and allowing employees to make all the decisions. Their companies soared because of them; their calls, their contacts, their courage. The buck started with them and stopped with them; and the bucks rolled in because of it. They wouldn't be human if they left who they are and what made them at the turnstiles.
But leave that mindset they must, because as their original reasons for purchase should have informed them football is not like any other business. Emotion can never be used as an excuse in oil production or retail. In football it can. In football, the dismissal of one middle manager can be held up as causing the pumps to halt gushing and the rails to collapse. In football, a well-paid, well-treated workforce can turn around and feel emboldened enough to blame a sudden decrease in productivity on the absence of one individual. In proper business, in proper life, it wouldn't wash. There would be nobody to gripe to; only Tiny Tim and the rest of the family. In football, there are way too many people who care, and way too many people who consider their voice important. It is neither proper business nor proper life.
Abramovich may well consider this when he reads all the Arnesen fall-out and hears of Branislav Ivanovic's comments concerning the sacking of Ray Wilkins. "I think for us Ray was important," said the defender. "For Carlo also because he was between us and Carlo. He did a great job with Ray Wilkins, and Carlo was a little bit disappointed."
He added: "Everyone was a little bit in shock, everyone was surprised because no one expected this. We just came in one day and we didn't know the decision before that. We heard from the media, from the club, and everyone was surprised a little bit and in shock... I think a lot of things, a lot of small things, for us is a little bit destabilising."
And there we have it, the "destabilising" word, that verb which always litters the meddler's charge sheet. Abramovich would have seen this bit of firing and hiring as nothing more than standard practice in his business empire; the media and fans see it as grotesque interference from an owner with the arrogance and temerity to think he knows better than a football man. And not any old football man, but one who won the League title in his first season in charge.
Of course, there is nothing new in this disparity between chairman and manager, board and fans. Yet still the audience gasps. Should Chelsea lose today then another impending departure will mean the outrage getting louder and the recrimination growing prouder. If Carlo Ancelotti had anything about him, he would resign. Just as Jose Mourinho now wishes he had when Abramovich started telling him who he did or did not need.
The absurdity is that the pressure will increase just as exponentially on Ashley should Newcastle win. A positive result will only provide further proof that Chris Hughton must be allowed to appoint his own assistant, or so the critics will demand. And Abramovich and Ashley will scratch their heads. This is not how it works.
Except this is exactly how it works and once Abramovich realises that, he will likely feel it is time to walk away. It's what happens when those distinct worlds of football and business collide. Different ideals, different objectives, different methods of judging success and failure. One must begin to wonder what's in it for him.
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