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Leg 2Aggregate: 2 - 1
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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Sep 25, 2007

Roman Empire built on dangerous foundations

If events over the past week have shown anything, it's that money can't buy happiness. Certainly, £400million may get you a football club, an array of the best players on the planet and a fairly snappy suit, but it does not guarantee success in one of the toughest leagues in the world.

In fact, across London, Arsene Wenger's young Arsenal side have shown that it's not about how much you have, but how you spend it.

With exceptional timing, the Gunners' PR machine announced this week that their turnover has exceeded £200million and their record earnings have propelled them to the top of the Premier League's rich list. Contrast that to the news of Jose Mourinho's departure, a half-full stadium in the Champions League and a new coach that nobody has heard of, and the recent fortunes of two of the league's best teams could not have been more different.

Interestingly, Wenger is the only manager in the league to have made a profit from his transfer activity over the years, while Chelsea have spent nearly £200million on new players alone. Wenger even refused to spend his whole budget over the summer, and as a result has built one of the most cohesive units currently in the league.

Bringing in the likes of Cesc Fabregas for only £500,000, Arsenal have built their foundations around youth, while Chelsea have poured money into big-name players. As Wenger's careful spending has been a shining example of good financial sense; Abramovich has squandered millions on his new toy. Including a £20million pay-off for his former manager and £30million on friend and striking flop Andriy Shevchenko.

The fact is that owners, be they from a football background or not, have very little idea what makes a football side tick. Abramovich is an excellent example of such an owner, and is no doubt in the forefront of the Arsenal board's minds when they rebuff would-be takeover bids from billionaires Stan Kroenke and Alisher Usmanov.

Leaving the football decisions to Wenger, Arsenal will prosper in the long-term and while many (myself included) were quick to write them off at the start of the season, after the departure of Thierry Henry, it is clear that the interests of the club were always in safe hands.

This cannot be said for Chelsea. While Abramovich's initial investment brought a host of trophies, including their first Premier League title in 50 years, their long-term future is less secure. With little-known Israeli Avram Grant now at the helm, it is hard to see the temporary boss as anything but an Abramovich pawn.

Without the required UEFA coaching badges to even take full control of the side beyond Christmas, Grant's appointment has not filled the Chelsea faithful with confidence. Indeed quite the opposite, with a fans' protest at last weekend's game with Manchester United and reports of unrest among some of the club's star players, it would appear Grant is just a short-term answer to a long-term problem.

The signs that money is having more of an effect on football have been there for a while, but it's not just Chelsea who are suffering. In Scotland, the unmistakable Vladimir Romanov has ploughed his cash into Hearts, only to look up at the rest of the league from seventh position, having been hammered 5-0 by defending champions Celtic and been held to a 1-1 draw by newly-promoted Gretna already this season.

Romanov's own brand of dictatorship, with sackings and strife almost a daily occurance at the Scottish club, should serve as a warning to the likes of Abramovich, that tinkering in team affairs is not in the best interests of the club.

If, as speculation has suggested, the Russian has been insisting that £30million Ukrainian striker Andriy Shevchenko command a place in the Blues' starting line-up, then things at the club are even worse than first imagined.

It would prove beyond reasonable doubt that any manager silly enough to accept the 'poisoned chalice' for the long-term would have to conform to the will of someone who knows very little about football.

It would also show that Abramovich is too stubborn to admit that he made a mistake in turning one of the world's best strikers into an insecure, shell of a player, without a turn of pace. And, even worse, that he can't see what Shevchenko has become.

In Europe, Barcelona are testament that it takes time for the team to acclimatise to a new player. Especially one that carries such weight as World Cup winner Thierry Henry, or the Shevchenko of old.

The Blaugranes have struggled at the start of the season and have been held to goalless draws at clubs like Osasuna and Racing Santander. While Henry is not the only face to arrive at the Nou Camp this summer, such huge characters do affect the dynamics of the team. The arrival of Shevchenko has certainly done this for Chelsea and, subsequently, it has affected the Ukrainian's form as well.

Conundrums over team selection are the least of a manager's worries when he has the likes of Henry, Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto'o in the side, but the problem for Chelsea is that Avram Grant has given no indication that he will do anything other than select who Abramovich wants in the team.

With speculation over the future of Ronaldinho, Barca showed themselves to be much stronger than the Blues in this respect, by dropping the Brazilian for their match against Sevilla after reports that he was out partying before a game. Indeed, this may have something to do with the structure and security of their club, and it is hard to imagine Grant doing anything similar at Chelsea.

No billionaire backer. No decisions on team selection from anyone other than the manager, and consequently a positive result. Not something that would appear to be in the future of those at Stamford Bridge.

What Chelsea need is a few strong characters in the club, particularly behind the scenes, who can stand up to the owner on the issues that matter. Then again, they've just got rid of one of the biggest personalities in the club, precisely because he would not kowtow to the man with the money. So it's clear who is calling the shots.

With an excellent example of how to run a club, not 10 miles away in North London, Abramovich should take heed before his obstinate methods drive away players, staff and most notably, the fans. Then again, he may find a new plaything before long. Four years may not be a long time in football, but it is in business.


  • Any comments? Email Jon Carter