Emenalo exit celebrated but Chelsea fans concerned about uncertain future
Within minutes of the news that Chelsea technical director Michael Emenalo had quit his post at Stamford Bridge on Monday, Blues supporters far and wide shared a general sense of joy at his unexpected resignation.
For many, it seemed Christmas had come early. Over the course of his 10 years at Chelsea, Emenalo had become a target for the type of vilification normally reserved for notorious criminals. Blamed for everything from an assortment of poor transfer windows to a clutch of managerial sackings, a money-motivated loan system and the ongoing failure of Chelsea's academy to deliver new stars to the first team, the former Notts County and Nigeria defender had been up against it since September 2007, when he was hired as an opposition scout by then-boss Avram Grant.
A close friend of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, Grant had arrived several months previously. Hired as technical director with an underwhelming résumé confined to coaching roles in Israel, Grant's appointment irked Jose Mourinho. The then boss was a Godlike figure with Chelsea supporters and when he was replaced by Grant, there were mass protests. Emenalo -- who played for Grant at Maccabi Tel Aviv -- made a statement which remains as amusing to read now as it did then. "It is a wonderful soccer education for me, like studying for your PhD at Harvard."
As many Chelsea supporters who went on to meet him will testify, Grant was fantastic company. Unfortunately, he lacked the ability to manage at the highest level and his friendship with Abramovich couldn't keep him in a job when results came up short. Despite his limitations, Grant continued to find work, and his finest achievement in the eyes of Blues fans came when he took charge of rivals West Ham and got them relegated from the Premier League.
Back at the Bridge, amid what became regular managerial hirings and firings, Emenalo dug in. His appointment as assistant manager to Carlo Ancelotti following the dismissal of Ray Wilkins in 2010 was scorned by fans, as was his infamous "palpable discord" speech following Mourinho's second departure in 2015.
In Emenalo's defence, it could be argued that during his decade with Chelsea, the club won a shedload of silverware including three Premier League titles, three FA Cups and the Champions League. Conversely, with Abramovich's bottomless pit of money, the scattergun approach to spending suggested that anyone who had the good fortune to find themselves in Emenalo's position might achieve similar results.
Despite all the criticism, there is a better-the-devil-you-know aspect about Emenalo's involvement with Chelsea that leaves a large void in the operational machinations of the club.
His departure has had supporters dreaming big about Abramovich appointing a club legend to the role, with Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard at the forefront of names touted. Enthusiasm for such possibilities is being tempered by the rumours surrounding another of Abramovich's close football friends, fellow Russian Leonid Slutsky. Parallels between Grant and Slutsky are easy to draw. Slutsky enjoyed success at CSKA Moscow, but his tenure as boss of Russia ended in resignation after losing 3-0 to Wales at Euro 2016, a result which saw the country finish bottom of their group.
Toward the end of last season, Slutsky was a familiar figure at Stamford Bridge and at Cobham. He was a guest of Abramovich and described the Chelsea owner as the "best agent in the world," as Abramovich set about helping him find work in England.
While his presence was viewed with a trepidation by some fans mindful of Grant's rapid ascent at their club, Slutsky was widely ignored. Now, though, paranoia is back as thoughts build that the ever-popular Antonio Conte could find Slutsky brought in to replace Emenalo. The Russian has found work in England as manager of Hull City, but the Tigers have struggled under him and are hovering above the Championship relegation zone.
A scenario that sees Slutsky resign from his post at Hull to become Chelsea's technical director is not implausible -- nor is the possibility he could replace Conte should the Italian fall out with Abramovich.
Such an eventuality would inevitably bring fan protests on an unprecedented scale and leave plenty wishing they'd been less harsh on Emenalo.
Mark Worrall is one of ESPN FC's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @gate17marco