James Lawton: Conte looking like latest lead man in Roman's extras
An old image of Roman Abramovich has leapt into focus these last few days of Chelsea disarray. As last season's turbulent hero Diego Costa smoulders in limbo, as the conquering coach Antonio Conte wonders what he might have done to have a more persuasive voice, the picture goes back 13 years to the banks of the Tagus in Lisbon.
In his first year as Chelsea owner, Abramovich arrived for the European Championships. He looked down from his super yacht to the fleet of Mercedes he had ordered up to the jetty.
Beside each one a liveried chauffeur waited to hear who was to be the next important football figure ferried into the presence of the oligarch who had decided to make the game his ultimate plaything.
If ever there was a moment when you sensed the world's most popular game, the one of the streets and the people, was changing, utterly, it was maybe this one.
The most significant summons by Abramovich was to Jose Mourinho, who had just won his first Champions League title with Porto. Mourinho, despite winning two successive Premier League titles, would soon learn the folly of his declaration that he was both the director and the star of his own movie.
He wasn't, of course. For all his charisma and talent and results, he was an extra. Roman's extra.
That, all the weight of current evidence suggests, is the kind of shocking sense of personal diminishment Conte takes to Wembley tomorrow afternoon.
He faces a composed and dangerous Tottenham under the shadow of a shocking home defeat to Burnley - and a withering possibility that last season's title-winning brilliance will be seen to be already dying on the vine.
But by whose hand? Conte, the eighth Abramovich appointment since Mourinho's first stint, knows, more keenly than he could ever have imagined in his superb years at Juventus and first inspired crusade at Stamford Bridge, that he is no longer operating year to year, achievement by achievement, but from whim to whim of the owner..
Maybe Abramovich will see the need to spend some late money as the odds-makers make Spurs firm favourites but this is unlikely to appease the spirit of a man who believed he had earned the right to make his own choices, do his own building.
Mourinho had the same conviction after his blazing start at Stamford Bridge but he was disabused of it within a couple of years. The first huge fissure between owner and manager came when Abramovich brought in his Ukrainian chum Andriy Shevchenko, a superb striker for Milan but one who had plainly had the best of his days when he arrived at Chelsea. Mourinho's failed argument was that Shevchenko's arrival would disrupt a winning system, and most particularly the value of Didier Drogba's power and movement across the front of the attack. Mourinho made his case but was it was received with an unyielding nyet.
The manager paid with his job and was succeeded by Abramovich's friend and adviser Avram Grant. A pattern was set that reached its nadir in 2011, when Carlo Ancelotti was fired in a back corridor of Goodison Park after the last match of the season.
It was Ancelotti's reward for finishing second to Manchester United, a year after winning the title and FA Cup double in his first season. Ancelotti shrugged philosophically and collected his £5m pay-off. He was not so surprised. When he was appointed he was Chelsea's fourth manager in 21 months, after Mourinho, Grant and the World Cup-winning Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari.
If Conte thought he had insulated himself against such a fate with his impassioned renovation of the team that fell apart after Mourinho's title win of 2015, he might have perhaps spared himself some of the agony by calling his compatriot Ancelotti.
As it is, Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy has every reason to congratulate himself behind his sphinx-like expression. Notorious for his buy low, sell high policies, and not exactly without blood on his hands after the firing of the popular Harry Redknapp, he has reason to anticipate another season of growing stature for his team.
With just one addition in the summer so far, and with full-back Danny Rose complaining about frugal wages in the wake of his team-mate Kyle Walker's £50m departure to Manchester City, Spurs have rarely looked more comfortable in the upper echelons of the English game and with the Champions League on the horizon.
In Mauricio Pochettino, Levy has a manager he might have fashioned in his most practical dreams.
Tactically astute, a good handler of the more fragile temperaments, his influence on the team, and especially the young players, has been consistently inspired. In the wake of Walker's departure, Pochettino unfurled the player's 20-year old near namesake Kyle Walker-Peters in the opener at Newcastle. The result was a performance of fine control and maturity, one guaranteed to flash pound signs for the future in the eyes of a chairman for whom saleability is the bottom line of any assessment of a young player's potential.
Pochettino, of course, has other priorities and they received plenty of encouragement in the 2-0 win at Newcastle, a performance filled with so much of the assurance that carried Spurs to second place last season - and enabled them to beat the champions at home and lose narrowly and contentiously at Stamford Bridge.
Certainly, they appear to carry a marked edge into tomorrow's game. Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen bring power and creativity and Dele Alli continues to display a competitive hauteur that makes Levy's bracketing of him with Neymar Junior maybe, who knows, only a temporary madness.
In the case of Roman Abramovich the condition seems unlikely to wane. So far it has brought five Premier League titles and a Champions League win. No doubt he wanted more when he sailed down the Tagus, but then that was before he made it clear he would live only by his own rules.