When Fernando Torres skilfully scored that hugely belated goal against West Ham, the reaction of his much put upon manager, Carlo Ancelotti, was predictably one of unrestrained joy and relief.
Yet it is arguable that this could be the beginning of new problems for him and his team, just at the moment when they have a notional chance of overhauling Manchester United, whom they have still to play, in the Premiership. For Torres got his goal with Didier Drogba off the field and it has been all too embarrassingly clear that Drogba, far and away the most effective and incisive Chelsea striker, simply doesn’t dovetail with Torres. Yet Torres cost Chelsea and their oligarch owner £50 million and there can be no doubt that whatever Ancelotti thinks, Abramovich wants Torres to play.
The word is that Ancelotti is doomed to go at the end of the season; and there is even talk of Drogba, wanted by several major clubs, will go, too. And then what? There is talk of Guus Hiddink, that highly capable Dutchman, coming back from Moscow to be appointed, perhaps, as general manager, supervising another. In such a case the hope would be that Torres will show his old, inspirational form, but if he doesn’t what then? Abramovich will in all likelihood still support him.
Arsene Wenger, though there is a new man at the helm at Arsenal in the shape of the American mogul Stan Kroenke, seems likely to remain in charge, despite the deep disappointments of this season. He is now clearly in a confessional state, insisting that things are all his fault, but we know that this can never be true of any manager, any more than that he can be wholly responsible for his team’s success. After all it isn’t he who goes out on the field.
Wenger, this season, has hardly been blameless. He made a dog’s dinner of his selection and tactics in Barcelona, he has been far too slow to reinforce his defence at centre back and in goal, but the sea change in his personality has been drastic. Long years in charge, and he has been there since 1996, have surely taken their toll, chipping away at his calm sophistication. Yes, I too remember his fury on the line some years ago at West Ham when Hammers scored what proved to be the winning goal, and their manager Alan Pardew went into histrionic ecstasies. Alex Ferguson of course has run Manchester United for even longer, with consistent success, but Ferguson though perpetually lamenting his club’s supposed misfortunes, is an infinitely rougher, tougher person.
Wenger’s recent tendency with touchline antics, to cry foul when things go wrong, whether it be the unquestionably harsh dismissal of Robin Van Persie in Barcelona or more recently the insistence that Liverpool should not have been given what was palpably an equalising penalty near the end of that 1-1 draw at The Emirates and that eleven rather than eight minutes had been added to the game suggested a growing vulnerability. Something of which for all his constant complaints you could never accuse Ferguson.
A few miles away, Harry Redknapp is certainly in no danger of losing his role at Tottenham though you do wonder what his court case next July when he’s accused of income tax evasion will bring. It does now seem to me though that he is not quite the strong candidate for the England managership which some have suggested.
Using Van Der Vaart the talented Dutchman wide on the right to the exclusion of a natural right-winger like Aaron Lennon – who will also drop back as Van Der Vaart won’t – was, as we saw in the draw against West Bromwich, a tactical error. I admire Harry as an immensely shrewd club manager, not least when it comes to the market, but I feel that the lonely role as England’s manager would be alien to him.
And Avram Grant? It baffled me that West Ham should have appointed him. That he took Chelsea to a European Final they so nearly won seemed to me something achieved in the backwash of Jose Mourinho’s work at the club. At Portsmouth, he undoubtedly did all he could to save a sinking club but again, one never had the impression of dynamism or any great tactical flair.
Will Abramovich take him back to Chelsea? Who can say? But if he does, presumably as technical director or whatever, how much would he contribute? Things may happen during his administration, but would they have happened anyway?