True, appointing Rafa Benitez, however temporarily, in place of poor doomed Roberto Di Matteo seemed a daft thing to do, and has so far proved utterly unrewarding. True Grant was in charge more or less of the Chelsea team which reached the Moscow Final of the European Champions Cup when Manchester United prevailed only on penalties. But the rumour was – strongly denied by Chelsea who insisted on a retraction but strongly asserted by the journalist who reported it – that when the players held a team meeting before that Final, Grant was excluded.
Perhaps Abramovich regards him as the equivalent of a four-leafed clover or a lucky wishbone. Nothing Grant achieved or failed to achieve at West Ham, Portsmouth or Partizan Belgrade, where he lasted little time, suggests he is the manager to guide Chelsea out of trouble. Trouble which was all but guaranteed by Abramovich’s interference after the team had so astonishingly and unexpectedly won the European Cup.
Di Matteo was doomed almost from that moment. Didier Drogba, an essential figure in his cautious but effective breakaway formation, had absurdly been allowed to walk away to Shanghai for nothing. Huge sums of money had been expended on two undoubtedly gifted new attackers in Eden Hazard and Oscar. The indication being beyond doubt that Abramovich wanted attacking, creative, entertaining football. The obverse of that being that in football defence is alas also a salient factor and it was all too clear after Chelsea’s 3-0 defeat in Monaco by a rampant Atletico Madrid in the pre season exhibition match that there was a serious imbalance between attack and defence though it’s true that the essential John Terry was missing that evening.
It was arguably the whole complex, unsavoury Terry affair which prompted Chelsea so recklessly and so unfairly to level charges of racism against the referee Mark Clattenburg, supposed to have called Chelsea’s black midfielder Jon Obi Mikel a monkey. But not only did Mikel not hear the supposed insult, the player who did, the Brazilian Ramirez, has sketchy English at best and in any case might have been hard put to comprehend Clattenburg’s Geordie accent. Poor old Chairman and front man Bruce Buck, an American lawyer, was obliged to give a long, rambling interview to Mihir Bose, an excellent journalist who might have had better uses – and usually does – for his time. But, if one may use the word monkey again but in an inoffensive and metaphorical manner, it’s the organ grinder not the monkey whom the media want to hear and see, and the organ grinder is remote.
Still and all, there is no denying that Abramovich’s fortune has saved Chelsea from bankruptcy, always on the cards when the wealthy Matthew Harding, after whom one stand facing The Shed still is named, died so sadly in a helicopter crash on his way back from watching a Chelsea Cup tie. Flogging an alas dead horse, Abramovich still seems to have an obsession with getting a valid response from Fernando Torres, a £50 million diaster, just as Andrei Shevchenko was a disaster at £30 million, though he now seems almost a bargain at that price.
Abramovich still seemingly dreams on about getting Pep Guardiola to take over at The Bridge, but would he be daft enough to do so? To play like Barcelona – and all huge credit to Di Matteo for having got the best of them last season – you have to school your players almost from adolescence. Chelsea’s so called youth scheme has so far been disappointingly sterile. Youngsters grabbed from Leeds United, for whom large compensation had to be reluctantly paid – lasted no time at all. If Guardiola did come, it could be only for money he hardly needs.