When a team such as Hull City can turn up at a stadium in the most expensive district in London and set into motion the sacking of a World Cup-winning coach at a club who have invested almost £600 million in winning trophies, then you just know there is nothing too much wrong with the elite division of English football. It has just been another restatement of the Premier League's standing as the league in which anyone can beat anyone. Or in this case, draw with anyone.
Of course, there is much more to Chelsea having had their fill of Big Phil than the stalemate against Mid-size Phil's belligerent band of ego-busters. But still, it is a curious world in which Luiz Felipe Scolari, of Palmeiras, of Brazil, of Portugal, can square up with Phil Brown, of Hartlepool, of Halifax, of Derby, and find himself floored with what has proven to be a fatal blow. Yes, it is curious and it is delicious, and it is what clearly makes the Premier League the most enthralling of all the footballing soap operas.
Roman Abramovich is often centralto its finest plots, although some will always claim the storylines are depressing as well as, in the long term, destructive. It was inevitable in the hours after Scolari's ruthless dismissal that the billionaire would be held up as a know-nothing puppeteer attempting to get his plaything to dance to a beat that, on this particular stage, is impossible to follow.
Roman wants it all: pretty football, exciting football, winning football. They tell him that is not possible. But then he looks at Manchester United and wonders, why not? We would have been daft to expect anything else from our anti-hero. Abramovich was certainly never going to be one of those owners who threw in his roubles,walked to one side and allowed the professionals to do what they do. The man just does not do business like that and believe it, as his businesses begin to creak under the welter of the creditcrisis, his supposed toy is gaining an increasingly important role in his empire. Even more so than before, it is all wrapped up in personal pride, in reputation and even in profit and loss.
With the global economy as it is, there is probably not much he can do about the downturn in some of his investments. But Chelsea are different; he can exert control at Stamford Bridge, some notable control as well. This is one part of his portfolio that can provide an immediate and visible return. And how easily silverware always converts into those currencies of gratification and glorification.
That is how Abramovich will view it, anyway, and Chelsea fans should probably be relieved that he does. The best chance this club have of a lasting future within the Big Four, within the Premier League even, is Abramovich treating them less and less like a fancy and more and more like something central to his standing. To lose £12bn in one day – as Abramovich apparentlydid on the Russian Stock Exchange in October – is no doubt a tad embarrassing, although he will appreciate that, to the common man, failing in football, having put so much into it, would be an altogether bigger red-facer. Chelsea are turning into a desperate cause for Abramovich, and just how desperate can surely be seen with Guus Hiddink's appointment.
Abramovich knew there would be a Russian backlash, despite him having paid the Dutchman's wages to run the national side these past few years. And he will be aware that it will be something of a double-edged sickle should Hiddink's contribution these next few months demand a permanent deal. Old beliefs die hard in Moscow, and they would not take kindly to the good of Mother Russia being deemed inferior to what will always be held up as personal extravagance.
Indeed, the Blues-strike-the-Reds controversy could blow up in Abramovich's face as soon as next month should Hiddink's other team not beat Azerbaijan in a World Cup qualifier. Unlikely? Go and ask Hull about unlikely.
World will cave in if Wales sell soul to Sky
Word reaches The Independent On Sunday that the Welsh Rugby Union are considering selling the rights for Wales's autumn internationals to Sky Sports. If they do, then expect outrage that may border on revolution on the west side of the Severn.
Of course, the Rugby Football Union long ago opted for the myopic option of extra finance with fewer viewers, but Wales is a different kettle of laver bread, and the outcry would rumble from Caernarfon to Chepstow. Never mind the "crown jewels" of British sport; to the red-shirted masses, Wales internationals hold a status closer to that of the Shroud of Turin.
The WRU would be wise to bear this in mind, and let us pray that Roger Lewis, the WRU chief executive, is simply playing a game in attempting to secure a better deal with the BBC. Lewis is a former managing director of ITV Wales and knows his way around a television negotiating table better than most. But any faith in the WRU seeing long-term benefit over short-term relief is tempered by the organisation having already caved in to the demands of TV. And French TV at that.
If the advent of Sunday kick-offs were a kick in the teeth to travelling fans, who have helped make these internationals much more than sporting occasions, the "historic" Friday-night encounter between France and Wales in two weeks' time will be a Doc Marten straight into the larynx. The inconvenience and expense caused do not require comment and nor, for that matter, do the dangers of taking for granted the fans who make the atmosphere and set the unique tone for the competition. Without them, the spectacle would be irrevocably impaired.
Perhaps the Welsh fans should boycott the match. Yes, they should hold a collective two fingers up to the Six Nations committee and tell them exactly where to shove their new kick-off time. Somewhere where the sun don't shine. A bit like 9pm on a Friday. It might also make the WRU hesitate as they dare to finger the Sky shilling.Reuse content