LONDON – Roman Abramovich would love nothing more than for Chelsea to win the Champions League final.
It has been the Russian’s holy grail since buying the club nine years and eight managers ago.
Chelsea’s 1-0 win over Benfica in Lisbon makes it the favorite to advance to the semifinals, where its opponents will probably be Barcelona. And in the final, Real Madrid.
By that time the Blues, who face Tottenham in the semifinals, could also have won the F.A. Cup.
So far so good for interim manager Roberto di Matteo, who has five wins, one draw and one defeat since taking over from Andre Villas-Boas, but he knows even a memorable cup double is unlikely to be enough for him to remain in charge of Abramovich FC next season.
Few owners would dismiss a manager who leads the club to the Champions League summit. However, few would sack a man who achieved the double in his first season and finished runnerup the next, but it wasn’t enough to save Carlo Ancelotti from the Abramovich bullet.
While di Matteo is exceeding expectations, not least with his tactical nous, it is difficult to believe a manager fired by West Bromwich a year ago, and who apparently was given the interim position only because Rafa Benitez refused a short-term contract, will be offered the job full time.
Abramovich has always favored a big name, and France coach Laurent Blanc seems to be his first choice now, though di Matteo would be handed a position within the coaching set-up.
Abramovich is aware that to attract the cream of Europe’s talent Chelsea must have what Ruud Gullit calls a sexy coach. Blanc falls into that category, di Matteo doesn’t carry the charisma of the Frenchman.
If Chelsea is going to sign Franck Ribery or Neymar this summer, it will need a world name to attract such players. As well as he is doing at the moment, di Matteo does not have managerial stardust.
AS A YOUNG journalist it was drilled into me — always check your facts. When Patrick Vieira, Manchester City’s football development executive, said this week that referees favor Manchester United at Old Trafford, his remarks came after Fulham was denied a nailed-on 87th-minute penalty on Monday.
Yes, United was lucky but this season only West Bromwich (four) has conceded more home penalties than the Premier League Champions (three). Fact.
Ironically, it is more difficult to win a penalty at Fulham than Old Trafford. Since August 2006, United has conceded nine home penalties in 110 games — only one fewer than City over the same period — meaning it has conceded 0.08 penalties per home match.
Fulham has conceded eight over the same time period and number of games, a record of 0.07 penalties per home game.
The most difficult place to be awarded a penalty is Stamford Bridge where Chelsea has conceded just six at a rate of 0.05. Fact.
City’s reaction was to ban the highly respected BBC journalist Dan Roan who did the interview with Vieira, the club claiming he was “misrepresented” — just like Vieira’s allegation that refs favor United at Old Trafford.
LIAM STACEY was wrong, his behavior reprehensible. He was hugely irresponsible to tweet a very poor taste remark about Bolton’s Fabrice Muamba followed by several racist and inflammatory comments.
The Swansea-based student claimed he was drunk after drinking all day, but that is hardly a credible defense. In fact, if someone is so drunk they have no control over their behavior, it renders the situation worse rather than using it as an excuse.
Stacey, 21, was found guilty of a “racially aggravated public order offense” and handed a 56-day jail sentence. It may be an exaggeration to say his life is ruined, but to be sent to jail for eight weeks will mean his post-university career ambitions, whatever he had planned, have been shattered.
The sentence has been a huge talking point with sports and news columnists having their say, the majority doubting whether the punishment fits the crime, as it always should, but too often fails to do so.
Was there any serious risk that Stacey was threatening public order?
Even a foul-mouthed, unacceptable rant on Twitter is not the same as shouting abuse in the street, where there is more likely to be immediate physical consequences, but in law writing such words is deemed the same as saying them.
To be imprisoned for the use of words, even of the foulest type, seems disproportionately harsh.
“We hope this case will serve as a warning to anyone who may think that comments made online are somehow beyond the law” said the prosecutor after Stacey was taken down in handcuffs. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the sentence, if it makes Planet Twitter a less vile place it has served a hugely positive purpose.
NOTHING SUCCEEDS like failure. And Claudio Ranieri is making failure a very lucrative business. The Italian may be the most highly compensated coach in football history.
His dismissal by Inter Milan this week was the fifth time Ranieri has been dismissed, and I estimate he has picked up almost £10 million in compensation.
Chelsea paid Ranieri £1.7 million so they could bring in Jose Mourinho. Since then Valencia, Juventus, Roma and Inter have also handed him various sums after showing him the door.
That, of course, is on top of the millions he earned while employed by the clubs. Nice work if you can get it.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.