THE trouble with Chelsea is…Roman Abramovich. Who has also been their economic and financial saviour. Before he bought Bates out for a reported £17 million, some say for even more, the club was sliding into disaster; for all that expensive and expansive building of restaurants and hotel at The Shed end. Under Abramovich it is incontestable that Chelsea have won numerous honours, but managers even The Special One Jose Mourinho have come and gone in frenetic succession and one at least in the Israeli Avram Grant – though he did maintain a certain momentum thanks to the legacy of the sacked Mourinho – seemed the product of friendship rather than ability.
At the home game against Manchester City the Chelsea fans showed their affection for the exiled Roberto Di Matteo and their implacable hostility towards the hastily recruited stopgap Rafa Benitez, detested for his own aversion to Chelsea during his days in charge of Liverpool. If Abramovich in his supreme optimism thought that the arrival of Benitez would resurrect the flagging career of the £50 million failure Fernando Torres, who had flourished under his aegis at Liverpool, there was scant sign of it in the Man City game.
The theory is that Benitez anyway has been brought in as a mere stopgap on a significantly limited contract simply to keep the seat warm for the currently unemployed Pep Guardiola. But why would Guardiola be daft enough to join a club whose uneasy transition from Drogba inspired breakaway football to a notionally more fluent, open kind has inevitably led to Di Matteo’s demise. It cannot be too emphatically repeated that Barca have build up their elaborate, remarkable close passing style over years of nurturing their youthful talent. Chelsea at junior level haven’t even begun to do that; as all too plainly evidenced by the wasteful acquisitions – sometimes paid up to their original clubs under duress – of supposedly burgeoning talents which have faded away into anonymity.
It was at Chelsea that the late and much talented Dave Sexton achieved the triumph of winning the 1970 FA Cup, against Leeds United in that Manchester replay. 65 years after the birth of the club which was ridiculed before the Second World War in a comedian’s recorded song, The Day That Chelsea Went and Won the Cup.
Sexton a man of honesty, modesty and altruism, so nearly won an unexpected Championship with modest Queens Park Rangers – Stan Bowles, Gerry Francis et al. I well remember being at the Norwich game which cost them the title when their usually impeccable big keeper Phil Parkes let in an embarrassing goal and the game was lost 3-2.
“Let the sorrow wash over.” David said to me one day and sorrow alas awaits him when his son committed a shocking suicide. Chelsea were a troublesome team. For obscure reasons, two of their stars Peter Osgood (the main motivator) and Alan Hudson took against him and had to be transferred. I remember the then Chelsea Chairman, Brian Mears, telling me when Dave seemed in a crisis of morale that managers had to be motivated too.
An idealist in a world of pragmatists and cynics, Sexton twice won European titles with the Under-21 team for England, had a brief but positive spell coaching Arsenal, and had his last managerial appointment at Coventry City. Born in Islington, the son of a well known pro-boxer, Archie Sexton, he was himself the least aggressive of men. A competent rather than a remarkable inside forward he played for a series of clubs, but it was probably at West Ham under the progressive coaching of Ron Greenwood that his philosophy of football was formed. After leaving Coventry City he settled not far away at Kenilworth in his latter years. Widely read, he was impressed by the theories of the once fashionable guru. Teilhard de Chardin. Goodness knows what he made of Chelsea today; or how long even he would have lasted there.