Grand drama unfolding at Chelsea

Chelsea's Portuguese manager Andre Villas-Boas (C) is seen on the pitch as Arsenal players...

Chelsea's Portuguese manager Andre Villas-Boas (C) is seen on the pitch as Arsenal players celebrate their 5-3 win last month against Arsenal at Stamford Bridge in London. (AFP photo)

JAMES LAWTON, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:29 PM ET

 

Sometimes the dramas of professional sport can be somewhat dwarfed by the meaning of not totally unrelated events in that rather bigger arena known as the real world.

Certainly if anyone happened to be looking for an example of this he would this last week have found no better place than the bare London courtroom where a couple of warring Russian oligarchs slugged it out over the vexatious issue — at least to millions upon millions of impoverished Russian citizens — of who took what, and how legally, from the ransacked mineral rights of their country.

The argument, over roughly $6 billion, is between Roman Abramovich and Boris Berezovsky, who claims that he was obliged to sell his shares in the giant fuel company Sibneft at an unfair price after he fell out with the then Russian president Vladimir Putin. This left Berezovsky wondering where he might raise his next billion — and Abramovich with at least as much in small change to devote to Chelsea Football Club, not to mention a fleet super-yachts and aircraft and some of the finest pieces of modern art.

This brings us to the huge chasm between the significance of the courtroom battle over issues which according to one respected economist may well prove to “constitute the biggest heist in corporate history” and the burning question of the sports page: will Abramovich fire his fifth Chelsea manager in eight years?

The latest in the firing line is 34-year-old coaching prodigy Andre Villas-Boas, whose brilliant work at Portuguese club Porto, despite a background denuded of any experience as a professional player, persuaded Abramovich to pay out around $20 million in compensation when he signed him earlier this year.

Such a commitment led to the assumption that for once the oligarch would display a little patience when the Chelsea results were less than awe-inspiring. Having fired men of the reputation of Jose Mourinho, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Carolo Ancelotti, Abramovich, the theory went, was finally prepared to give a new coach the chance to thoroughly renovate an ageing team.

As the pressure has mounted steadily, Villas-Boas embraces this belief rather as a drowning man reaches out for a piece of passing flotsam. You do not invest, he explained patiently, all that money in a young coach and then throw it away at the first sign of adversity. Villas-Boas, especially if he has had time to follow any of the court action, may now have a sharper understanding of the priorities of his boss.

They tend to include an insatiable need to move on from any situation which is not promising immediately uplifting possibilities.

The one created by Villas-Boas is unfortunately a long way from that status. It was bad enough that the mid-week Champions League defeat in Germany by Bayer Leverkusen imperilled Chelsea’s chances of reaching the knock-out phase of the tournament which Abramovich has been pining to win for eight years now.

Even worse was the damning verdict of former Chelsea star Michael Ballack, who at 35 is concluding his brilliant career on home soil. Ballack didn’t quite write Villas-Boas’ sentence but he delivered a devastating verdict to the English media. While allowing that the young coach had inherited a “difficult moment” in Chelsea’s history, he went on to say that he was shocked by the poor level of Chelsea performance and commitment. He said that despite the presence of such old hands as John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba, Chelsea looked stripped of confidence and any real sense of what they were supposed to do.

Back in London, Villas-Boas sniffed that Ballack had always been “opinionated” and insisted that he still commanded the faith of his employer. He also dismissed suggestions that Guus Hiddink — the veteran Dutch coach who led Chelsea to the 2009 FA Cup and saw a brilliant Champions League campaign wrecked by atrocious refereeing in a semifinal against eventual champions Barcelona — was about to take office, possibly as director of football.

For some Villas-Boas’ official line was excessively sanguine, especially when they remembered Abramovich begged Hiddink to stay after his brief but extremely impressive fire-fighting stint at Chelsea.

Unquestionably, it is all shaping up as a seriously weighty drama. However, everything is relative, as you are reminded quickly enough when you switch across town to the one so relentlessly unfolding among the learned gentlemen of the legal profession. Every defeat, after all, is a matter of degree. Chelsea have lost a few football matches, Russia a huge slice of its mineral wealth. Sooner rather than later, Andre Villas-Boas might not be too distraught if he has to take his money and run.

 

 

 

 

 

New Story assignment 'SPO-TORSOC-LAWTON27' sent by 'dfuller' at Nov 26, 2011 2:17:00 PM pub. date, due on Nov 26, 2011 2:17:00 PM Instructions: lawton weekly colun Length: 0

 

JAMES LAWTON

Sometimes the dramas of professional sport can be somewhat dwarfed by the meaning of not totally unrelated events in that rather bigger arena known as the real world.

Certainly if anyone happened to be looking for an example of this he would this last week have found no better place than the bare London courtroom where a couple of warring Russian oligarchs slugged it out over the vexatious issue — at least to millions upon millions of impoverished Russian citizens — of who took what, and how legally, from the ransacked mineral rights of their country.

The argument, over roughly $6 billion, is between Roman Abramovich and Boris Berezovsky, who claims that he was obliged to sell his shares in the giant fuel company Sibneft at an unfair price after he fell out with the then Russian president Vladimir Putin. This left Berezovsky wondering where he might raise his next billion — and Abramovich with at least as much in small change to devote to Chelsea Football Club, not to mention a fleet super-yachts and aircraft and some of the finest pieces of modern art.

This brings us to the huge chasm between the significance of the courtroom battle over issues which according to one respected economist may well prove to “constitute the biggest heist in corporate history” and the burning question of the sports page: will Abramovich fire his fifth Chelsea manager in eight years?

The latest in the firing line is 34-year-old coaching prodigy Andre Villas-Boas, whose brilliant work at Portuguese club Porto, despite a background denuded of any experience as a professional player, persuaded Abramovich to pay out around $20 million in compensation when he signed him earlier this year.

Such a commitment led to the assumption that for once the oligarch would display a little patience when the Chelsea results were less than awe-inspiring. Having fired men of the reputation of Jose Mourinho, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Carolo Ancelotti, Abramovich, the theory went, was finally prepared to give a new coach the chance to thoroughly renovate an ageing team.

As the pressure has mounted steadily, Villas-Boas embraces this belief rather as a drowning man reaches out for a piece of passing flotsam. You do not invest, he explained patiently, all that money in a young coach and then throw it away at the first sign of adversity. Villas-Boas, especially if he has had time to follow any of the court action, may now have a sharper understanding of the priorities of his boss.

They tend to include an insatiable need to move on from any situation which is not promising immediately uplifting possibilities.

The one created by Villas-Boas is unfortunately a long way from that status. It was bad enough that the mid-week Champions League defeat in Germany by Bayer Leverkusen imperilled Chelsea’s chances of reaching the knock-out phase of the tournament which Abramovich has been pining to win for eight years now.

Even worse was the damning verdict of former Chelsea star Michael Ballack, who at 35 is concluding his brilliant career on home soil. Ballack didn’t quite write Villas-Boas’ sentence but he delivered a devastating verdict to the English media. While allowing that the young coach had inherited a “difficult moment” in Chelsea’s history, he went on to say that he was shocked by the poor level of Chelsea performance and commitment. He said that despite the presence of such old hands as John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba, Chelsea looked stripped of confidence and any real sense of what they were supposed to do.

Back in London, Villas-Boas sniffed that Ballack had always been “opinionated” and insisted that he still commanded the faith of his employer. He also dismissed suggestions that Guus Hiddink — the veteran Dutch coach who led Chelsea to the 2009 FA Cup and saw a brilliant Champions League campaign wrecked by atrocious refereeing in a semifinal against eventual champions Barcelona — was about to take office, possibly as director of football.

For some Villas-Boas’ official line was excessively sanguine, especially when they remembered Abramovich begged Hiddink to stay after his brief but extremely impressive fire-fighting stint at Chelsea.

Unquestionably, it is all shaping up as a seriously weighty drama. However, everything is relative, as you are reminded quickly enough when you switch across town to the one so relentlessly unfolding among the learned gentlemen of the legal profession. Every defeat, after all, is a matter of degree. Chelsea have lost a few football matches, Russia a huge slice of its mineral wealth. Sooner rather than later, Andre Villas-Boas might not be too distraught if he has to take his money and run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Videos

Photos