James Lawton: Chelsea must learn that managers create great teams

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The Independent Online

If it should happen that Chelsea win the European Cup - and if their chances receded somewhat at Stamford Bridge this week, they have far from disappeared - the canonisation of Claudio Ranieri, warrior and martyr, will surely be formalised.

If it should happen that Chelsea win the European Cup - and if their chances receded somewhat at Stamford Bridge this week, they have far from disappeared - the canonisation of Claudio Ranieri, warrior and martyr, will surely be formalised.

But with the sainthood or even, in the event of failure, the commendation that no football man has ever behaved with more grace under so much disgraceful and unnecessary pressure, a terrible indictment of his boss, Roman Abramovich, and his hireling, the chief executive, Peter Kenyon, is due.

It will state that, after his original gift of vast financial resources, Abramovich has done everything wrong. He has fallen at the first classic hurdle, the one that insists that great football teams have never been built - at least in the British football culture - without proper respect, and power, for the designated football man.

It is a remarkable tribute to Ranieri's enduring nature, and generosity of spirit, that he has plainly retained the affection and respect of key members of the Chelsea team despite the fact that short of being ordered to dress up in a clown's outfit, he could scarcely have been more humiliated by those whose best interests would be served by having a strong manager.

In this context it was stomach-churning to hear Kenyon's exhortations to the media that they should lift some of the pressure on Ranieri. This was from the man whose opening statement at Stamford Bridge was that a trophy had to be won in Ranieri's first season of handling the riches of Abramovich, despite the fact that he has been so heavily undermined by the owner. This is also the man who was talking romantic twaddle about the desire of everyone at Chelsea to be celebrating the final goal in routine 5-0 victories. He said this on the approach of Champions' League combat with Arsenal, which on Wednesday took the predictable form of a brilliant opening phase of a war of attrition.

If Abramovich really wants to go down as a major figure in football, if he wants to emulate the achievements of Silvio Berlusconi at Milan, and even the late Louis Edwards at Old Trafford, whose most famous public contribution to Manchester United's unforgettable drive to the European Cup 10 years after the Munich air crash was to say, "Get the champers in, Matt [Busby]", he surely has to follow a few basic ground rules. He has to tell Kenyon that his job is to maximise in the commercial area of the game - the only one for which he is qualified - the work of a properly supported football man.

He has to appoint that football man and - whether he is right or wrong in his judgement - accept that the new manager is in sole charge of matters affecting the team, and he must dispense with crony advisors. It is impossible to imagine that any of the great managers from Stan Cullis at Wolves in the 1950s to Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger today would have tolerated for more than a moment some of the cruel absurdities that have been placed on Ranieri's broad shoulders.

Abramovich has to cease, forthwith, his alarming habit of attending meetings after Chelsea training sessions with a translator, one for whom the nuances of footballspeak, anyway, would be lost in any language from pidgin English to Serbo-Croat. He has to stop referring to "shit games" as casually as a compatriot might say, "pass the samovar". He has to understand that there is a difference between a vulgar show of wealth and an intelligent investment in a game which, for all the recent development of the plc profit motive, still retains mysteries and competitive imperatives quite unknown in any other kind of counting house.

Most of all, he has to understand why it is that Manchester United and Arsenal have stood for so long quite apart from the rest of English football. There are reasons that reach far beyond mere wealth. Both Ferguson and Wenger, strong men in themselves, have been given a platform to develop their team, and a set of solid values. Recently Wenger was talking about the spirit of his dressing-room, how it was in part something beyond his own work. At a time of short contracts and the ever opportunistic agents, Arsenal have a palpable sense of team, and while Wenger says this has grown within the dressing-room, there is no doubt about who it was who had the judgement to set in place the right conditions.

In all his circumstances, the fact that Ranieri has been able to produce some of that motivation which so fires Arsenal is quite remarkable. But it doesn't touch the basic fact that the kind of unity which Wenger's team displayed under severe pressure as they fell behind this week, the implicit self-confidence, will always be elusive at a club where the manager has been stripped of all long-term potential for the growth of understanding between himself and his players.

Ranieri can only be thankful for the kind of spirit displayed most notably by John Terry, Frank Lampard and Wayne Bridge when Arsenal, out of necessity, moved into their top gear. His affection for his troops is plainly only rivalled by his contempt for the money-soaked organisation that is currently posing as a proper football club.

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