Chelsea players told to clean up their act
ENOUGH is enough. Three words from Roman Abramovich that signify he will no longer tolerate the series of sex scandals and sordid revelations that have plagued Chelsea this season.
The owner has looked on helplessly as the private lives of John Terry and Ashley Cole have been laid bare in full public glare, causing deep embarrassment inside Stamford Bridge.
The Russian billionaire could take no more and called a meeting -- held at the club's training ground in Cobham, Surrey, on Wednesday -- at which his message was to be spelt out to the players in no uncertain terms.
In a sign of the seriousness with which the club have viewed the bombardment of negative headlines, Abramovich dispatched Ron Gourlay, the chief executive, to read the riot act. Manager Carlo Ancelotti then added his warning.
During the 10-minute exchange, in which the players were free to respond, they were warned that there would be severe repercussions if any more lurid tales appeared in the media. No one, it was stressed, would be considered "untouchable".
Chelsea have even felt it necessary to warn their non-playing staff that they are not immune from the clampdown. Amid the allegations involving Cole this week, it was said that a woman was escorted to his room in the team hotel by "a track-suited team aide".
Although Cole's alleged indiscretions are understood to have occurred more than a year ago, the players have been told that the club will take a similarly dim view of any future disclosures of "skeletons in the closet", however long in the past.
Ancelotti's main concern is the present. "I spoke to the players and Ron did," the Italian said. "We said that they have to pay attention to their behaviour. The image of the club is very important and we expect good behaviour from everyone. Not only the players, from everyone who works at this club.
"It wasn't my idea, it was the club's idea. I think it was the owner's idea and Ron spoke for the owner. This is a prevention and we have to look, together, at the club in the future.
"I don't read the papers because my language is not so good. But I know very well what happened. I said that I'm not interested in the players' private lives as long as they're not involving their professional lives. Yes, this is a line in the sand."
Chelsea may be top of the Premier League, but with the club becoming a laughing stock and the "brand" sullied, Abramovich decided to act. The tabloid stories surrounding Cole followed on swiftly from Terry's marital affairs being widely publicised, which led to the Chelsea captain losing the England armband.
Terry's errors led to the 2-1 league defeat away to Everton 10 days ago and the defender was subsequently given compassionate leave by Ancelotti, missing the FA Cup victory over Cardiff City on Saturday. He spent the time in Dubai, where he apparently staged a successful reconciliation with his wife, Toni, but will return for the match away to Wolves.
"He didn't do so well (against Everton), I agree," Ancelotti said. "But he trained well this week and I think he will put in a very good performance. I don't think it has affected him."
Ancelotti denied that complacency had crept into Chelsea's play. "No, I don't think so," he said. "We know very well how difficult it is and which difficulties we will meet in the next game. We know well that there are 90 days until the end of the season. Those 90 days will decide our future." (© The Times, London)