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Amidst Roman Abramovich’s empire there exists a collection of irrefutable truths.
A squad that once boasted unparalleled riches, hunger and potential now reeks of decline and complacency. Like a vintage car trying to relive past glories but forever failing to do so without an entire engine overhaul, Chelsea are in need and Abramovich must face up to the investment and patience that’s required.
That Chelsea have delayed the inevitable for so long highlights the tenacity of their squad leaders. Petr Cech, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba have provided the spine of a side that has consistently been among the best in Europe since 2004, but for no longer can they be relied upon in every game: their ageing bodies simply can't carry their undercontributing team-mates.
In 2009 Carlo Ancelotti was appointed as manager for two specific reasons: he had achieved Champions League success with AC Milan, and he had achieved it with an ageing squad. If the Italian could somehow transfer some of the Milanello methodology to Chelsea's Cobham, he could yet fan the dying embers of a once-great side long enough for one final trophy haul.
Exactly that was done, but it was taken for granted that the feat could be prolonged and Chelsea’s squad – now bereft of the constant commitment of Ricardo Carvalho, as well as assistant manager Ray Wilkins – finally fell into the grave that had long been dug and earmarked: it was time to rebuild, to recover.
With Andre Villas-Boas, as with all club-building managers, comes a new policy – one that cannot simply be adopted overnight. He was the man chosen to be the club’s first long-term manager since Jose Mourinho (who himself lasted little over three seasons), and he should be backed to gradually bring success.
The distinct feeling is that if Abramovich cannot bring himself to persevere with Villas-Boas and give him the time to sculpt his own side, no manager ever will.
The decline of the Chelsea first-team was evident last season, but focus was diverted by Fernando Torres’ impotent finishing. In reality, Chelsea had already embarked on a revealing run before Torres joined and the warning signs were there for all to see. That they weren’t acknowledged is damning on the club’s decision makers alone.
Barcelona’s La Masia is an example that is highlighted as often as it is ignored. Patience is rewarded; success will come.
The benefit of signing replacements prematurely and giving them time to develop is a reliable practice and one that Chelsea haven’t adopted early enough. Demanding instant gratification when replacing Michael Ballack with Ramires provides no guarantee of warding off nostalgia and predictably the irresistible drive Chelsea once had has ground to a complete halt.
A team that is still Mourinho’s lacks the leadership of its master, the power of its prime to revisit those heights. Luiz Felipe Scolari was prevented from developing his own vision before it had even begun (signing Robinho may have made a huge difference), while Avram Grant, Guus Hiddink and even Ancelotti were merely temping in the role.
Abramovich – whose interference has yet to prove profitable after removing Wilkins and signing Andriy Shevchenko, Yuri Zhirkov and Torres – is at an unmistakeable crossroads in his club ownership.
Continuing as he has – making self-indulgent decisions on whims, being intolerant to imperfection – may provide brief triumphs, but he has it within his power to bide his time and encourage Chelsea to finally become a working, fluid model, free of the weight he places upon it.
Villas-Boas is a capable manager. His use of Torres, David Luiz – both of whom will improve – Juan Mata and Daniel Sturridge is a clear sign he is creating a side ready to provide the brand of football Abramovich has craved. A team that has known one thing for so long cannot change overnight, a transitional period is inescapable.
In 2005, Chelsea’s title-winning side scored 72 goals, conceded just 15 and accumulated a record 95 points. In a one-off season they were the best team the Premier League has ever known – ruthless, consistent, unstoppable.
The juxtaposition of that Chelsea being a team of the future against the current, ageing collection is as obvious as it is damaging. The fault lies with Abramovich – too much good work has been undone, too much progress hampered.
Abramovich’s wealth has made an undoubted impact at Chelsea, as Sheikh Mansour’s has at Manchester City. The latter is being rewarded for his patience in what hasn’t been a seamless spell as the former continues to look elsewhere, ignoring the obvious truth that registers to others.
Great things were once predicted of Chelsea, Terry, Drogba and Lampard. Their time is near an end, but Villas-Boas has the authority and ability to look beyond winning next week and to mould another side, one to compete for years.
History shows that Abramovich will by now be unnerved, that he’ll revert to type and to what he knows best. Chelsea will continue to lose ground and, as is commonplace for a club bereft of stability, their identity may follow.
Villas-Boas is a manager with a long-term vision, an outstanding work ethic and a desire to learn and improve beyond the norm. Chelsea’s patience in him will be rewarded, while failure to do so brings nothing.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s uncertain start at Manchester United is now as popular a tale as any in football folklore.
For a very different reason, Abramovich’s impatience could yet become another.
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