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Friday 27 April 2018

Chelsea owner has paid a huge price for stamping authority

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich
Under-fire Chelsea manager Antonio Conte

It is no coincidence that Chelsea's current decline is now being pinned on the players and specifically Eden Hazard, just as it was a few years back when Jose Mourinho disintegrated in front of our eyes.

After a dismal defeat by Watford, the volume of criticism aimed at Hazard went up significantly. This is unfair and it was the same in 2016 when many of the same players were accused of being "rats" by the fans.

Let's be honest, Mourinho's behaviour, triggered by the realisation that the guarantees he received that he would be in full control were empty promises, was so bad that I gave all the players a pass.

Nobody would want to play for a man who had clearly lost his grip on reality and who was so tortured by events that he lashed out at everyone, including the players.

Now, with Antonio Conte getting the full Roman Abramovich treatment and playing a high stakes game of poker with his employer, fragile bonds created in the dressing room are beginning to shatter.

This is inevitable and if blame is to be attributed to anyone, it has to be Abramovich and his crazy way of running a football club.

My own belief is that Abramovich fell out with Conte when the Italian reached breaking point with Diego Costa and told him by text to find another club.

Rooted

Everything which has happened since is, to some degree, rooted in the Chelsea owner's ego and I believe, his irritation at Conte's attempt to control his own fate by removing a troublesome player from his squad. I think that the sale of Nemanja Matic to Manchester United was a rap on the knuckles for Conte and an expression of Abramovich's power. It certainly made no sense in football terms.

I'm sure people will read that last paragraph and scoff. How could a club owner be so petty? Why would Abramovich cut off his nose to spite his face and sell an important player to a rival?

Well he's done it before on many, many occasions. In fact, you could say it's his thing. His wilful need to let every manager he hires know who the boss is has become more important than winning trophies.

It has been pointed out to me by some that in the spell he has owned Chelsea since 2003, Abramovich has won 14 trophies, including the ones that matter, the Premier League and Champions League. During his time, Chelsea were the main opposition to Manchester United's dominance and Abramovich picked some brilliant managers along the way. But I'm convinced that if he had given any one of them - Mourinho, Ancelotti, Hiddink and now Conte - the same conditions Ferguson enjoyed at Old Trafford, the history of the last decade would have been written differently.

Respect

I believe Chelsea would have won more trophies and much more respect if Abramovich had reined in his instinctive urge to control football in the way he runs his business empire. I've always accepted that it is his club and he can do whatever he likes but it offends me to see a decent man like Conte reduced to the hollow-faced, picture of stress I saw prowling the touchline at Vicarage Road.

He is toughing it out because he wants Abramovich to pay up his contract and that is the only reason he is still at Stamford Bridge. But I believe the Russian oligarch will move him out at the end of the season, making sure he doesn't manage a Premier League rival and that's why PSG would seem a good fit for Conte to me.

I'll bet Arsenal would love to get him. In fact, I can hardly think of a club that wouldn't be interested.

But I'll say one thing for Abramovich. He is much better at dealing with the aftermath of one of his decisions than he is at holding onto managers and not one of the people he has sacked, including Mourinho, have had a bad word to say about him.

So Conte will take his deal and say the right words before he puts the worst year of his management life behind him and moves on to bigger and better things.

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