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Feverish pursuit of happiness makes it hard to banish Blues


If they could pathologise the thing it is that Roman Abramovich does, then maybe Chelsea could imagine a different future.

If a rehabilitation facility could admit Abramovich and he could acknowledge he had a problem, then maybe things could change.

The release of Steve McQueen's Shame led to a debate about sex addiction. Some argue that it doesn't exist and that it is the manifestation of a need to regulate and impose a morality on natural desires, however extremely expressed.

There is a branch of the addiction industry that claims to offer a cure for unhappiness, in other words, a cure for life.

Abramovich behaves like a man suffering from what they would diagnose as love addiction: he loves the thrill of the chase, he mistakes intensity for intimacy, something that must have confused AVB during their hours on the training ground together, and he has an impossible need to control.

He has rattled through managers in search of the one, always finding fault, always deciding, often with good reason, that it's not him, it's you. Some wondered if Abramovich would treat his other businesses with the same disregard for correct procedure. Abramovich is not a shopkeeper. He is a modern risk-taker in that he takes the profit from the risk but doesn't take the hit.

As a subordinated bondholder in Irish Nationwide, Abramovich was vocal in expressing his displeasure at the suggestion, elementary to those who thought they knew how capitalism worked, that he would be liable for some of the losses, having expected to be liable for some of the profits.

Abramovich saw it differently and it makes it easier to understand what he has done at Chelsea. It's surprising he hasn't been on to the Premier League looking for some points back.

Abramovich could be forgiven for thinking he does understand the traditions of Chelsea or the traditions of Chelsea under Ken Bates. Between 1991 and 2000, Chelsea went through seven managers. In a typically tendentious intervention, Richard Bevan, head of the LMA, warned of the dangers of foreign ownership. Local ownership was a good thing as these men "saw the effect of their actions".

This revisionist view of local ownership forgets that those were the days when fans were crushed on terraces, players were thrown on the scrapheap or chained to their clubs on low wages.

Abramovich can at least say he has brought trophies and money to Chelsea. But he wants more. He claims to want love and beauty and joy but, like a neurotic, he can't see beyond his own immediate needs, his own insatiable urgency for reassurance.

Abramovich dreams of playing like Barcelona like the neurotic obsesses about being happy. 'I just want to be happy' is the clarion call of the impossible to please.

"I am the least difficult of men / All I want is boundless love," Frank O'Hara wrote. All Abramovich wants is everything.

According to the excellent football writer Pete Jenson, representatives of Abramovich approached Marcelo Bielsa a few weeks ago only to be told, "I don't speak to people representing other people".

AVB took much from Bielsa, from watching games on his haunches to sleeping at the training ground, but he could never emulate his ability to disregard all the things that didn't matter, to believe entirely in your point of view.

Bielsa demonstrated it again at Old Trafford, in perhaps the most life-affirming performance of the season and one which might compel Abramovich to visit Bielsa in person.

Bielsa would offer true radicalism at Stamford Bridge but he would also recognise, as he recognised when turning down the Inter job, that megalomaniacs may claim to want radical change but they merely want their next caprice indulged.

Villas-Boas was too eager to please, a fatal flaw when working for a man who wants to be pleased all the time.

And they all want to be like Barcelona. Everyone wants to be like Barcelona.

* * * * *

There was something odd about ITV's coverage of Barcelona's game against Bayer Leverkusen last week.

They took up what maybe they assumed was the natural position with the underdog, hoping that the 'miracle' would happen. It seemed strange that any neutral would want to side against Lionel Messi. I can understand somebody siding against Barcelona with their self-righteous superiority, their 'more than a club' philosophy which doesn't stop them taking money from the Qatar government, but there are times when none of that matters. Most of the time when Barcelona play, none of that matters. Last Wednesday night, it certainly didn't matter.

Studies have shown that 80 per cent of people will side with the underdog when choosing a team to support in a game about which they know nothing. Presumably then, most people would have supported Leverkusen against the European champions.

This is a natural human emotion, to side with the vulnerable. Leverkusen seemed particularly vulnerable with their gangly players, trundling haplessly around Camp Nou, perhaps trying to conceal their acne. They looked like boys at their first disco, trying to pretend they belonged but looking only at their feet when they danced, counting the beats while around them other kids pulled off impossible moves.

The sense of pity I felt didn't make me want them to win.

Malcolm Gladwell always supports the favourite, remarking once that "I'm distressed by the injustice of the team that should win not winning".

Barcelona share that sense of injustice when they lose which can make them irritating, but there is a natural order at work when they win, as there was when Federer or Tiger dominated all around them.

It is also natural to engage in the game of comparisons which Messi's performance provoked last week. There is, however, something joyless in watching Messi play against Leverkusen, and all the time asking, 'Is he better than Maradona?'

I don't know and those who say they do are very, very wise with gifts that border on the supernatural.

Maradona brought, and Messi still brings, impossible joy and happiness. Rich men would do anything for that.


Sunday Indo Sport