Monday 20 November 2017

Roman's Empire

Roman Abramovich: May soon have an even bigger say in football matters at Stamford Bridge. Photo: Getty Images
Roman Abramovich: May soon have an even bigger say in football matters at Stamford Bridge. Photo: Getty Images

Jason Burt

Roman Abramovich may not look for a replacement for Frank Arnesen, Chelsea's sporting director, in a move that could ultimately mean the Russian billionaire will be more involved in the running of the club.

It is understood that removing, or at least downgrading, the role filled by Arnesen -- who will leave on July 1 next year when his contract expires -- is one of the options being examined by Abramovich.

Reports last month indicated that Arnesen was considering quitting Chelsea and that Txiki Begiristain, the former Barcelona sporting director, wanted to replace him. Arnesen has now confirmed his departure while there are conflicting claims surrounding Begiristain.

Chelsea insist that the Spaniard approached them, after hearing that Arnesen was likely to leave. They say that, although they have spoken to him, it was only through courtesy and to assess his suitability. This is contradicted by sources close to Begiristain, who claim that Chelsea have been pushing for a deal and have contacted the Spaniard three times.

There were renewed claims yesterday that he remains the favourite to take up the post, should Chelsea replace Arnesen, although club insiders maintain he is not being considered at present.

What is not in dispute is that Begiristain attended a recent match at Stamford Bridge and sat in the directors' box, although Chelsea sources insist that he was there at the invitation of agent Pini Zahavi, who has been reinstated as an adviser by Abramovich.

It would therefore appear that Zahavi is lobbying for Begiristain, who left Barcelona in the summer and has also enquired about taking a role at Tottenham. However, he does not have the same skills as Arnesen, who spent five years building up Chelsea's academy and a scouting network before getting involved in first-team affairs.

Network

It may well be that Abramovich now decides that he does not need to replace Arnesen directly as there is a highly competent network of scouts below him, led by Lee Congleton and Hans Gillhaus, while the academy is well staffed. Chelsea could turn to chief executive Ron Gourlay to handle player signings or give more power to director Eugene Tenenbaum and chairman Bruce Buck.

The bigger picture, however, remains the future of manager Carlo Ancelotti. Although he has been fully aware that Arnesen was likely to leave, and enjoys an extremely good relationship with the Dane, his own future has been in some doubt since the abrupt sacking of assistant manager Ray Wilkins.

Chelsea claim that Ancelotti will be fully consulted over plans for Arnesen's replacement. That is interesting because he was not consulted when it came to the departure of Wilkins and because, normally, head coaches are not involved in the search for a director of football.

Indeed it had been feared that Michael Emenalo, who replaced Wilkins, was being groomed to succeed Arnesen, although that is now unlikely given his new role. It is not, according to sources, beyond the bounds of possibility that, should Avram Grant be sacked as West Ham manager, he could return to Stamford Bridge.

Ancelotti was also recruited by Arnesen and, despite protestations from the club to the contrary, he will feel isolated by the impending departure. With one year left on his contract after this season, sources close to the manager are strongly suggesting he may not remain at Chelsea.

It all points to a club in a state of flux, with results collapsing on the pitch as Ancelotti tries to cope with a series of debilitating injuries and a run that has yielded four points from a possible 15.

Stand-in captain Didier Drogba has suggested that the players may hold their own meeting to try to sort out the problems. The Blues are in second place for the first time this season after their 1-1 draw at Newcastle on Sunday.

Salomon Kalou's equaliser meant they at least avoided a third successive league defeat for the first time in 11 years but, with Manchester United having roared back to the top of the table with Saturday's 7-1 demolition of Blackburn, Drogba knows they need to be more ruthless in both penalty areas.

"That's normal, that's football. We had these moments last year and it is up to us to change things, to get back to scoring goals and not concede," the 32-year-old said.

"We had so many clean sheets for a certain time, but now we are conceding in every game, so that's something we have to change if we want to go back to the top of the league."

Chelsea headed for St James' Park desperate to return with all three points after losing to Liverpool, Sunderland and Birmingham either side of a 1-0 victory over Fulham in their previous four league games. Kalou's strike was just their second in that run of fixtures, which has now seen them concede seven, and that imbalance has proved costly.

"Once again, we created a lot of chances and could have scored maybe another goal," Drogba said. "But the problem is we conceded a goal very early in the game and we had to chase, and when you have to chase, you create more space and you create more fatigue as well, so it is difficult to convert the opportunities you have."

Chelsea contributed to their own downfall on Tyneside when Alex guided a back-pass wide of advancing goalkeeper Petr Cech and Andy Carroll took full advantage to claim his ninth goal of the season.

After a slow start, the visitors gradually worked their way into the game, but it took them until first-half injury-time to get back on level terms when Kalou's shot was deflected to the net.

Chelsea largely dominated the second half but, after Ashley Cole had headed a Wayne Routledge volley off the line, Kalou fired into the side-netting when he should have done better and substitute Daniel Sturridge dragged a shot across the face of goal as they failed to make the pressure tell.

To compound matters, the Londoners left St James' Park for Newcastle Airport only to be told the plane on which they were due to fly back had been stranded in Aberdeen by bad weather, meaning a long coach journey home. That will have given Ancelotti and his players plenty of time to reflect upon just where they have gone wrong in recent weeks.

"You expect Chelsea to win every game and people are maybe surprised. But that means we are one of the best in the league, so that's why the expectation is high," Drogba added. "It's a responsibility we have to take and we are trying to do that."

Chelsea's fortunes, however, could take an upturn this week, with skipper John Terry and England team-mate Frank Lampard set to resume full training after injuries, although Alex is heading back to Brazil to undergo knee surgery after delaying his operation in Terry's absence. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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