Andriy anonymous, Roman fiddles, Jose burns
Shevchenko's failure stems from collision of billionaire owner and proud manager. Nick Townsend reports
Sunday 21 January 2007
For over 70 minutes the man regarded as the catalyst for the cold war between Roman Abramovich and Jose Mourinho sat, in tracksuit and woolly hat, and waited and waited. Welcome to the surreal world of Chelsea politics, where the £30 million Andriy Schevchenko can't get a game, even with his team looking an insipid apology for the one who turned over Liverpool 4-1 in the corresponding fixture last season.
Finally, almost as a last act of desperation, Mourinho gestured him on. A season or more ago, the introduction of the one of the world's most potent strikers would have provoked anxiety among the hosts, even with the two-goal advantage they held. Yesterday, they scarcely gave him a second thought. They didn't need to do so. Here was Andriy the Anonymous once again.
Which is not further to demonise the Ukrainian who last week claimed he was being made a scapegoat for Chelsea's ills. Rather it exemplifies the London club's problems, which all appear to emanate from the deteriorating relationship between owner and manager, principally over the club's transfer policy - both the recent lack of it and Shevchenko's acquisition last summer - but also concern the role and responsibilities of the club's youth football director, Frank Arnesen.
For the moment, while Roman fiddles, Jose simmers.
There was no Abramovich present to witness Mourinho's first defeat by Rafa Benitez in the Premiership. The Chelsea owner is apparently away on business. From both perspectives that is probably just as well. This would not have made pleasant viewing for the Russian.
Earlier in the week, at the Houses of Parliament, Chelsea unveiled their first corporate social responsibility report. It revealed they gave £4m to charity last year. There was generosity of a different kind from them yesterday. The London side's shortcomings - an appropriate word - were all too apparent from the third minute, when Crouch's presence was about as enjoyable viewing for the visitors as an electricity pylon in an area of outstanding natural beauty. Watching the enforced centre-backs, Michael Essien and Ferreira, attempt to counter him could only induce sympathy. John Terry, Khalid Boulahrouz and Ricardo Carvalho were all absent, and Claude Makelele was suspended. It all confirmed why Mourinho has attempted to sign Bolton's Israeli defender Tal Ben Haim, a move that fell through.
The Chelsea manager emphasised his frustration at being unable to reinforce his squad for the weeks ahead. "I am the manager. I am not the owner or the chief executive. I am not the chairman, just the manager, and I give my opinions to the club," said Mourinho. "The club try, if they want, to give me what I think is good for the team. I am not criticising anybody. At the end of December I gave my opinion as always, and that was that we needed two players. We needed a central defender and a second player because Joe Cole is probably out for the season."
He added: "Arjen Robben is injured a lot of the time and it is never for a small period, so in my view we need two players. But even before the market opened we knew of incredible figures for players. Even if we were desperate we cannot pay what people want in this crazy game."
Though a mere two victories still separate Chelsea and United, they are divided by many more points psychologically. Chelsea are a wounded animal. Yesterday, the heart was torn out by the loss of Terry and Co.
Unsurprisingly, Mourinho doesn't quite see it that way. "We are very, very short of players, but my group is mentally strong," he said. "We are ready for the fight we have to face in all competitions. If Manchester United win [against Arsenal today], nine points is the gap, but it is not finished. If they draw or lose, I'll be very confident we can still do it."
Mourinho continues to present a brave face as fissures appear in Abramovich's football empire. Though the manager recommitted himself to Chelsea this week, it was with the caveat "if the club support me". Neither that nor yesterday's events did anything to allay the suspicion that this season will be his last here.
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