“You don’t know what’s going on at this club,” Jesse Carver used to tell me back in the late 1950s when he coached Roma. “No one does.” He is probably right. Unless one were a fly on the wall, how could he?
So the managerial goings-on at Chelsea are puzzling and obscure. What, for example, is the exact function of the Nigerian Michael Emenalo? He plainly stands high in the hierarchy. As Director of Football he is said to be playing the market. It is many a step up from his original spell at Chelsea; a former professional player, it was reported that the only coaching role he had filled was with a girls’ team in the United States. The Italian manager Carlo Ancelotti was reported to sit beside him on the bench in matches without addressing a word to him.
There is also at Chelsea a formidable Russian lady, close to the billionaire owner Roman Abramovich, who exercises substantial power. It seems to work, even as one manager follows another in such rapid succession out of the door.
Antonio Conte, after that hugely successful first season, was plainly playing with fire when he publicly told the prolific Diego Costa that he would not be wanted in the coming season, thereby as one has noted not only diminishing his eventual transfer fee but probably enlarging that demanded by Everton for the ex-Chelsea striker, Lukaku.
With the remarkable Eden Hazard out for weeks after hurting himself when training with Belgium, and the extra fixtures in midweek in the highly demanding European Champions Cup it remains to be seen whether Chelsea can maintain the momentum they showed last season.
Arsenal? They do things differently there. Wenger has had his way with minimal adjustments chiefly, seemingly at the instigation of Ivan Gazidis, the chief executive, to the extent of appointing a well-known physical specialist.
Backroom staff will be Wenger’s still, transfer policy his too and he will have no director of football to flank him. But unlike Chelsea, the Gunners have a complacent board and they may well in the very near future come to regret their passivity. They seem to doomed to lose Alexis Sanchez who was so prolific for them last season; if they do decide to keep him for another season till his contract expires he will have to leave them with nothing.
Now Oxlade-Chamberlain says he wants to depart; apparently because he wants to operate in central midfield. This baffles me. In England’s two recent and depressing internationals, he came on as a right-wing substitute at Hampden Park and brought pace and invention to the role, having much to do with an England goal. In Paris, alas, when he did figure in central midfield he seemed all at sea and was a weak link.
Meanwhile, Arsenal can surely not fail to bring Jack Wilshere back now his loan to Bournemouth is over, though, alas, he is at present injured yet again.
In Paris, England were lucky to get away with a 3-2 defeat; pitiful when you think they were playing half the game against 10 men. That sending-off looked very dubious to me; one more indication that technology is no panacea. If the referee was in doubt whether to show a red card, as he plainly was or he would not have looked for what you might call help from on high, then he shouldn’t have sent Varane off.
Note that with their sparking young Monaco players up and exuberantly running, France had no need even to call upon Atletico Madrid’s star attacker, Antoine Griezmann.
England are still not home and dry in qualifying for the Russian World Cup though they are unlikely to struggle as they did away in Slovenia when it comes to Wembley. Joe Hart saved them in Slovenia but his vulnerability to those two free-kicks at Hampden placed a very large question mark against him. His time at Torino doesn’t seem to have done him a great deal of good.
Surely Butland would now be a safer choice. That unhappy game against Germany is now far behind him. When badly hurt he gallantly but erroneously went for the ball, didn’t get it and the Germans scored. But he looked the best of he keepers England used in its last two games.
Thank goodness for the breath of fresh air supplied by the juniors, not least by that resilient and well organized Under-20s team which took the world cup at their age level in South Korea. Thoroughly well coached, they have a number of salient players. Lookman, bought by Everton from Charlton, is a winger with pace, control and flair who could well go up into the senior team. One admired him at Charlton; he has easily made the step up to Everton.