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Friday, April 29, 2005

PREMIER REPORT

Chelsea deserves credit for achievement, but may not get it


LONDON -- When Arsenal won the Premiership title last year even supporters of Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, the Gunners' two biggest rivals, had to acknowledge -- albeit through gritted teeth -- that it had been a fabulous achievement.

Christopher Davies

Arsenal went through the entire league campaign unbeaten playing champagne football much of the time. Few neutrals had any negatives to say about its success or style.

This is not quite the case with Chelsea which will clinch its first English title in 50 years with victory at Bolton on Saturday.

The jury is still out on how much credit the rest of the country will give to the Blues, the main negatives being the bottomless pit of money owner Roman Abramovich has made available for players, plus the way manager Jose Mourinho and chief executive Peter Kenyon have conducted themselves.

Nice team, shame about the management.

There is a hypocritical whiff surrounding the money argument.

For years Manchester United, particularly, and to a lesser extent Arsenal and Liverpool have always bought big and there was no serious outcry then. Spending money is easy, spending it wisely is harder and the £50 million Chelsea splashed out on Hernan Crespo, Seba Veron and Adrian Mutu is proof that even in football a fool and his money can soon be parted.

Arsene Wenger has brought some of the best players in the world to Arsenal without breaking the bank, his eye for young talent unsurpassed -- Cesc Fabregas (from Barcelona) and Jose Antonio Reyes (Sevilla) are the latest young overseas players to make an impact at Highbury.

Chelsea's new found wealth comes from Abramovich who has invested -- not spent, invested -- £250 million since buying the club in 2003. There is no more secretive person in English football, perhaps even world football, because the Russian billionaire has never been interviewed by the media for reasons that have never really been explained.

A billionaire -- but is he happy?

Everywhere Abramovich goes he is surrounded by a small army of minders, apparently his biggest fear not his life but being kidnapped by the Chechyns.

Even Mrs. Abramovich is (or so word has it) accompanied to the ladies room by a female security officer.

Does Abramovich love Chelsea?

He misses very few games and the players describe their paymaster as "one of the lads" though he is not like the lads this correspondent enjoys an occasional pint with.

Wealth will always attract resentment and jealousy. Chelsea fans are unconcerned exactly how the club's benefactor became the 19th richest man in the world.

As long as their club gets a slice of the action, then no problems.

How long Abramovich, who has shrewdly kept out of Russian politics, retains his interest in Chelsea remains to be seen, but what is indisputable is that without Roman's rubles the Blues would not be on the verge of winning the Premiership and Champions League.

Money may not be able to buy you love but it can buy you a trophy or two.

AS ROMAN Abramovich is football's Greta Garbo we do not know what he thinks of the antics of Jose Mourinho and Peter Kenyon that have seen Chelsea in trouble with the Football Association, Premier League and UEFA -- effectively every football authority, which could charge the club of wrongdoings.

Or his opinion on anything, come to that.

As his staff's indiscretions have been ongoing and not nipped in the bud, one can reasonably assume that Abramovich (a) condones such behavior or (b) does not care.

Maybe when you are a billionaire it is hard to get too upset if your manager is found guilty of misconduct by the F.A.

Imagine the scene: Abramovich is on his luxury yacht in Monte Carlo when the news reaches him Chelsea has been fined $50,000 for stepping out of line.

On reflection (b) seems the more likely emotion.

When Mourinho arrived from Porto last summer we were all seduced by his charisma, charm, good looks and personality.

Nine months on we have seen the Portuguese can also be a bully, rude, disrespectful and ruthless to the point of unacceptability.

Mourinho was reminded recently that at his first press conference he described himself as a "special one."

His response was: "At the time I said that, I had won the Champions League a few days earlier. My ego was that high," (he raised an arm). "Now it's even higher!"

A brilliant coach, every Chelsea player has improved under Mourinho.

Captain John Terry has stepped up from being a good defender to an inspirational leader, his self-belief a reflection of his manager's personality.

Frank Lampard is now a permanent fixture in the England team, while Joe Cole has benefited most of all from the Mourinho magic.

A talented but inconsistent forward, Cole has become a reliable, effective attacker who has scored some crucial goals.

Yet it is still difficult for the non-Chelsea fan to applaud and raise the hat to its success, mostly because of the bad taste the off-field excesses have left in the mouth.

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.


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