Roberto di Matteo is the ninth coach to be appointed Chelsea manager under Abramovich’s reign. That got me thinking about a similar situation I came across in the Lord of the Rings saga.
I speak here of the nine Black Riders. Also known as the Nazgul, the ringwraiths carried out the will of their dreadlord Sauron, Lord of Mordor and the creator of the One Ring. Armies trembled when the wail of their steeds were heard, and these nine men spread fear and terror as they rode across Middle-Earth to execute Sauron’s orders. Hooded and clad from head to toe in black, few could withstand the horror they spread like contagion wherever they went.
Claudio Ranieri was in charge of Chelsea when Roman Abramovich bought the Club in 2003. He was replaced by Jose Mourinho in 2004, who in turn was replaced by Avram Grant in 2007.
Less then a year later, the Israeli was swapped for Luis Felipe Scolari, who himself was ousted after just seven months in the Chelsea hotseat. Ray Wilkins temporarily took charge of the Club for one game, before Guus Hiddink took over until the end of the season. Carlo Ancelotti was recruited in the summer, and stayed for two years, before the ill-fated reign of Andre Villas-Boas began. After the 34-year-old Portuguese was sacked this March, Roberto di Matteo was given interim charge of the Club.
The Swiss-Italian tactician was awarded a two-year contract for finally winning Abramovich his holy grail: the UEFA Champions League.
LOTR author J.R.R Tolkien incorporates in his book a chilling poem, which describes the One Ring perfectly:
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
The One Ring was made of solid gold, pure but deadly, mesmerising but fateful. A perfect circle, it would serve one person and one person only: Sauron the Terrible.
The Ring of Gold has attracted many a manager to Chelsea: Andre Villas-Boas was provided a compensation of nine million Pounds Sterling when he was relieved of his duties at the Bridge.
Not only did it bring all of these managers to Chelsea, it left them in the dark when it came to transfers. Abramovich thinks of Chelsea as his personal chess set, and sees fit to purloin the best pieces for his prize collection. Michael Ballack and Andriy Shevchenko were brought to Chelsea to reinforce the forces at Stamford Bridge.
Ballack often found himself on the sidelines. Not because Lampard was top dog in midfield, but because he was frequently injured. He ultimately lost his place in the German squad because he didn’t play as often as Joachim Loew needed him to.
Great things were predicted for Chelsea when Ukrainian striker Andriy Shevchenko joined the Blue cohorts at Stamford Bridge from AC Milan. The man was a sensation in Italian football. Surely a Drogba-Sheva combination would work wonders?
Turns out it didn’t. Shevchenko was brought to play in place of Drogba, not alongside him. He started off well enough, chipping in with goals at the start of the season, but replacing Drogba was never going to be easy, as he was Chelsea’s talisman. Their go-to guy in times of trouble. His form soon deserted him, and he found himself out of matchday squads under Scolari, which meant he was loaned back to his spiritual home in Milan. His lack of form continued to haunt him at the San Siro, as he scored just two goals in 26 appearances, none of which were in the league.
There were others, like Tal Ben Haim, who was anonymous at Chelsea. Florent Malouda may have been termed a success by some, but he’s failed to live up to his billing.
It is quite clear that Abramovich answers to no one at the Bridge. He wields absolute power, and those who cross him are shown no mercy. He is lord and master in West London, and will want to bring about the change he envisions for Chelsea, no matter the costs. Tolkien says of Sauron:
“Though the only real good in, or rational motive for, all this ordering and planning and organisation was the good of all inhabitants (even admitting Sauron’s right to be their supreme lord), his ‘plans’, the idea coming from his own isolated mind, became the sole object of his will, and an end, the End, in itself.
“His capability of corrupting other minds, and even engaging their service, was a residue from the fact that his original desire for ‘order’ had really envisaged the good estate (especially physical well-being) of his ‘subjects’.
Sauron’s army was vast and terrible, fierce and powerful. Abramovich’s millions brought him some of the finest warriors in all the land. In came Glen Johnson, Geremi, Wayne Bridge, Damien Duff, Joe Cole, Juan Veron, Adrian Mutu, Hernan Crespo, Claude Makelele and Scott Parker in Abramovich’s first full season as overlord.
Sauron’s arm was growing long, and in the subsequent years, as his army grew in size and strength, he waged war against the realm of Men. To the West lay Gondor, and Sauron reconquered lands that Gondor had seized during their Golden Age: Arsene Wenger found out that this was an enemy the likes of which he had not encountered before.
How does one combat an enemy with seemingly endless resources?
Rohan were also under threat from Abramovich, as Manchester United found out that a new power was rising in London. As Chelsea added Arjen Robben, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Michael Essien to their ranks, they conquered all before them, despite the Kingdoms of the West fighting them tooth and nail every step of the way.
While Chelsea have won three Premier League titles, four F.A. Cup titles, two League Cups, two Community Shields and last season’s UEFA Champions League since the takeover of Abramovich, Manchester United matched them blow for blow, winning four Premier League titles, one F.A. Cup, five Community Shields, three league Cups, one Club World Cup and one UEFA Champions League.
To a much lesser extent, Chelsea also had to get past Arsenal on the march to their many victories. They beat the Gunners in the 2007 League Cup final and the 2008 F.A. Cup semi-final.
Abramovich’s arrival had completely changed the landscape of English football, but it did someone no one could envision. A mutual respect grew between Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson. Rohan and Gondor had united against Mordor.
Sauron showed no pardon towards his generals, and failure was punished by execution. Abramovich does not broker failure. The managers who’ve served Chelsea earned accolades before they came to Stamford Bridge. Yet Claudio Ranieri, Carlo Ancelotti, Luis Felipe Scolari, even Jose Mourinho were all dismissed without a second thought.
Sauron wielded terrible influence over his commanders, and it is a similar situation with Abramovich. Look at Andre Villas-Boas’ tenure. Such was the pressure on the young manager that he lost the trust of his squad, his coaching staff and ultimately, Abramovich himself. Villas-Boas left Chelsea in tears, isolated from the squad.
Hours before Chelsea were to face Manchester United at Stamford Bridge, Abramovich met Villas-Boas, asking him what tactics he intended to use. Despite Chelsea taking a 3-1 lead, they threw it away as Manchester United scored second-half goals. Rohan would not be bested.
Neither would Gondor. Led by Robin van Persie, despite Chelsea taking the lead, Arsenal slaughtered the Orcs of Mordor as they triumphed 5-3.
Yes, Abramovich’s legacy dwarfs anything accomplished by Chelsea FC before he came in, but the soldiers of his army retain their minds, despite the dominion he holds over their commanders. Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, John Terry and Ashley Cole are the natural leaders of this side. Drogba has since embarked on an adventure in the Orient.
Sauron had an ally of sorts in Saruman, who wanted the Ring for himself. Manchester City now seem to be the Isengard of the Barclays Premier League.
Despite all that Abramovich has accomplished, his rule at the Bridge cannot go on forever. Wasn’t the One Ring destroyed by one of the smallest characters in the Lord of the Rings saga? Eden Hazard and Marko Marin may have come now, but who will come when Sauron is no longer present at Barad-Dur?
Surely the Eye of Sauron must close one day.
Disclaimer: There is no willful attempt to slander any Club/individual here.