It says a lot that after only two first legs in the last 16 of the Champions League, it looks likely that for the first time since 1996, there will be no English teams in the quarter-finals of Europe’s top club competition. It says even more that no one is really that surprised.
Chelsea’s task might not be as mountainous as Arsenal’s, but there is a glaring lack of confidence in Andre Villas-Boas’ side. It just doesn’t seem at all feasible that they could, even at Stamford Bridge, beat Napoli convincingly enough to progress. Like Arsenal, their defence has become unreliable and erorr-ridden. The know-how to kill off games from Mourinho’s reign is long gone.
Interestingly, the culture at Chelsea is almost the opposite to that at Arsenal, and yet the end result is the same. While we cry out in difficult times for a change in management, or, at least, more pressure from the board, we’d be wise to look over at our London rivals and see that too much of a move in that direction would see us in largely the same predicament.
Unlike Arsenal, Chelsea have stuck with almost entirely the same core players since the Mourinho era. Cech, Terry, Cole, Lampard, Essien, Malouda and Drogba remain and have remained for many years. Arsenal have chopped and changed the playing staff a lot more in the last couple of seasons alone, but it is at management level that things have gone stale.
Chelsea, on the other hand, have gone through many managerial changes. Even when Carlo Ancelotti won the double in his first season in charge, an early exit from the Champions League cast some doubt over his future. When his side hit a tough spell in the middle of the next campaign, it became all too clear he had no future with the Blues. One trophyless season out of two was all it took for Abramovich to wield the axe.
The Russian oligarch owner is a big part of the problem. He wanted more entertaining football than Mourinho was willing to serve up. In the end he meddled too much, signing an over-the-hill Andriy Shevchenko (looks like great business now when compared with Torres) and forcing Mourinho out after one season of missing out on the league title – despite still winning both domestic cups.
Although Wenger needs to be taken off his pedestal at Arsenal and have more demanded of him from our board, we don’t want Abramovich-level interference. And even if it is Wenger’s time to go, the next manager needs to be given time to rebuild the team. Chelsea’s recent bosses have had to deal with Mourinho’s team, and players who would probably still rather be playing under Jose. It can’t ever get to that situation here: where the players decide which manager they like and which they don’t.
I sympathise with AVB. He had an exceptional season with Porto last year and perhaps felt he was ready for a job as big as this. Perhaps he hadn’t anticipated the media pressure that exists in English football, but it seems like if you wanted your first big job in England Chelsea would be the last place you’d want to go, given Abramovich’s track record.
For the sake of a talented young manager, I hope he is given time. However, as an Arsenal fan, anything that sees Chelsea continue to spiral downward is always welcome.
The lesson here is that continuity is crucial in football. Manchester United stuck with Ferguson during some difficult times, and Fergie realises the importance of keeping old heads around for as long as possible. Whether it’s managers or players, the mistake Arsenal and Chelsea are making is: too much change, too often.