Saturday 23 March 2019

Kevin Palmer: 'A club that appears to appears to curiously thrive amid chaos is about to reach breaking point'

Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA
Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

There has been an unexpected twist in the latest Chelsea crisis being overseen by manager Maurizio Sarri in recent days, but this truce may only last a matter of days.

As Jose Mourinho, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Andre Villas-Boas, Avram Grant and Antonio Conte will painfully testify, support at any levels of Chelsea Football Club has tended to be absent when the knives are sharpened around Roman Abramovich's most recent managerial appointment.

A muted response from the club's hierarchy has tended to be complemented by a harmonious chorus of silence from the Chelsea players when backing for a beleaguered manager has been requested, yet that pattern has been altered since last Sunday's crushing 6-0 defeat against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.

With club officials briefing the media to confirm Sarri retains the club's backing and star players Eden Hazard and David Luiz among those going out of their way to speak to the media and offer backing to their boss, the perception that this dour Italian may not make it to the end of his first season in the Premier League may be misplaced.

Any manager who has locked Chelsea players in a dressing room for up to an hour after matches before questioning their professionalism in press conferences has not lasted much longer in his job, yet Sarri used those tactics in recent weeks and appears to have emerged with his reputation intact from those that matter.

The bookies favourite to be the next manager to lose his job in England's top division appears to be under siege, yet this former banker appears to be using all his negotiating skills to find a way to retain the backing of his players.

"When you lose a match like Manchester City, you have to talk about it and this is what we did at the training ground on Monday," reflects Sarri, whose side bounced back with a less than convincing 2-1 win against Malmo in the Europa League on Thursday night.

"To have honest discussion is not a problem and this time I told the players that it was not their motivation in question. This time we play against a very good team and we didn't react when they scored their first goal.

"Always we have the same problem and this is in the mind. Sometimes we are not focused enough from the start of the match, then other times we have not reacted well to situations in the game.

"What we had to do is be ready for Malmo and then against United in the FA Cup. We cannot fix the Man City game now, or the Tottenham defeat at Wembley or the defeats at Arsenal and Bournemouth.

"These matches are gone and we have to move on, learn from our mistakes. I don't talk about my future, I don't talk about what happens next month or next year. I talk only about the next game against Manchester United."

Read more here:

Short-term planning has been the only options for Chelsea managers in the Abramovich era and while Sarri appears to be riding out a storm that has seen his side lose their last three away games in the Premier League with an aggregate score of 11-0, he must appreciate that his glass chin will not take too many more blows before the towel is thrown in.

Monday night's FA Cup fifth round clash against United at Stamford Bridge and next Sunday's re-match with Manchester City in the Carabao Cup Final will define Sarri and Chelsea's season, with Abramovich's alarmingly diluted interest in the club arguably playing into his manager's hands as he looks to plot a route out of trouble.

Chelsea's Russian owner has not seen his team in action this season and there have been no suggestions that he is actively trying to return to in England since his latest visa renewal application was rejected last May.

That decision followed the UK government's diplomatic row with their counterparts in Moscow after their accused Russian authorities of ordering the poisoning of Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury.

Abramovich, who has long been close to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, has also decided to withdraw funding for Chelsea's proposed new stadium on the site of their current Stamford Bridge home, sparking suggestions that his next move will be a sell an asset he acquired for £140m in the summer of 2003.

However, any sale of Chelsea would be laced with complexity as it would not just be the asking price that would be a point of conjecture for potential buyers.

While Abramovich can be credited with transforming Chelsea from a struggling club laden with debts into serial winners over the last 15 years, the latest financial record confirm that he is owed around £1.17 billion in an interest-free loan - funneled through parent company Fordstam Limited - that would need to be repaid if the club was to change hands.

It is a sum that would force any perspective buyer to spend close to £2billion to buy Chelsea, with that value likely to be affected if the club is playing Europa League football once again next season.

If the owner's future at Chelsea is shrouded in mystery, Sarri's own position will be given some clarity by the close of play next Sunday as he prepares for two matches that could make or break his reign as the ninth Chelsea manager appointed by Abramovich.

A club that appears to appears to curiously thrive amid chaos is about to reach breaking point again and this time, it may not only be the manager who ends up heading for the exit door.

NEXT CHELSEA MANAGER ODDS

Zinedine Zidane (13/8)

Gianfranco Zola (7/2)

Diego Simeone (15/2)

Guus Hiddink (10/1)

Laurent Blanc (12/1)

Brendan Rodgers (14/1)

Jose Mourinho (14/1)

Luis Enrique (20/1)

Online Editors

The Left Wing: Why Irish fans shouldn't lose faith and how Joe Schmidt can turn things around for the World Cup

In association with Aldi

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport