LONDON — Sven-Goran Eriksson quits his job as head coach of England to become manager of Chelsea where he takes over from Claudio Ranieri.
No, it hasn’t happened yet, but there is a growing feeling in English football that it is an appointment waiting to happen, a question of when rather than if.
What has become obvious since Roman Abramovich assumed control at Chelsea on July 1 is that what the Russian wants, the Russian gets.
Money may not buy you love or guarantee success on the field but when you have as much of it as Abramovich does — around £4 billion ($6.5 billion) minus the £350 million he has put into Chelsea — it ensures the new power broker of world football can sign the personnel he wants.
Ron Atkinson, the former Manchester United manager, jokes that Atletico Madrid’s madcap ex-president Jesus Gil once fired a coach because he had a bad preseason photo session.
Ranieri would be advised to keep a permanent smile on his face and not even have a poor practice at Chelsea — the shadow of Eriksson is looming large over Stamford Bridge.
It is a sign of the times, when it is front and back page lead news to report a chief executive has moved clubs.
Previously players and managers only used to demand that type of coverage but now board room switches are given similar publicity and the “transfer” of Peter Kenyon from Manchester United to Chelsea had almost Beckham-style prominence earlier this week. It also saw United’s share price drop by four percent.
One suggestion was that with the transfer window closed, Chelsea cannot buy any new players until Jan. 1 so Abramovich signed a chief executive instead.
More seriously Kenyon’s defection underlined — if there was any need — that Chelsea is now the main players in football’s money market.
Abramovich wants not just the best players, but the best of everything, and having helped United make £400 million over the last three years from commercial deals with the likes of Nike and Vodaphone, Kenyon was a natural target for the Roman revolution.
Kenyon, who is currently on “gardening leave” from United, might have to wait until February to take up his new post for legal reasons. It will be worth the wait as Kenyon has doubled his United salary of £600,000 a year by moving to Chelsea, which also gave him a generous “golden hello” to succeed Trevor Birch.
As Birch will probably receive around £2.5 million in compensation if he chooses to leave rather than take up another post within the Chelsea Village, group sympathy must be put in perspective.
Yet in the year Birch has been at Chelsea, he had won praise for the no-nonsense way he went about the behind-the-scenes business, and was the club’s representative in discussions with players and their agents during the £110 million transfer spree.
Everything, Birch felt, was going well and he had no inkling that the end was near, having overseen the signings of 11 new players.
Birch was said to be “devastated” after he was called into a meeting with Abramovich’s associate Eugene Tenenbaum and lawyer Bruce Buck to be told the news.
The arrival of Kenyon was cloak and dagger stuff — Birch might say more dagger than cloak — but the story behind the move would not be out of place in a John Le Carre book.
EARLIER THIS YEAR, Abramovich told his representatives to find him a big Premiership club he could “invest” in.
When Tottenham was contacted it is understood the north London club did not think the Russian’s offer was serious, so any hope of a possible takeover was scuttled before talks began. A penny for Spurs’ thoughts now would be money well spent.
Kenyon, his ear to the ground on all football matters, invited Abramovich and his “people” to Old Trafford last spring as guests to watch United’s Champions League tie against Real Madrid.
Abramovich enjoyed the occasion and atmosphere so much, that the acquisition of a football club became a priority and 10 weeks ago he bought Chelsea. The friendship with Kenyon had been made and obviously not forgotten.
In the meantime, Kenyon’s relationship with United manager Sir Alex Ferguson had deteriorated in the wake of the failure to sign Ronaldinho — from Paris St. Germain — who opted for Barcelona instead.
Ferguson felt United should have “done more” to secure the Brazilian, a veiled criticism of Kenyon, who last year upset the manager by offering him “only” £100,000 a year to stay on as an ambassador following his planned retirement at the end of 2002-2003.
A furious Ferguson declined this, saying he would sever all ties with the club when he left, which prompted Kenyon to increase the deal to £1 million a year for five years.
Kenyon then set about finding a successor to Ferguson, and despite the denials, Eriksson was lined up for Old Trafford and an agreement in place, when the United manager did an about-turn and decided to “un-retire.”
However, in the Abramovich jigsaw puzzle Kenyon’s piece slotted comfortably next to Eriksson.
The intrigue deepened when, soon after the Russian bought Chelsea, Eriksson was photographed going into his house. The Swede dismissed suggestions there was any agenda to his visit other than a social evening, though subsequent developments have made the incident more significant.
Rumors that Chelsea’s summer transfer targets were in fact Eriksson’s choices seem wide of the mark, though.
Ranieri would not tolerate such interference, but the likable Italian is aware that of all the 20 Premiership managers he is probably under more pressure than anyone.
If England should fail to reach the Euro 2004 finals, Eriksson might feel it is time to quit — Ranieri is probably privately praying his adopted country makes it to Portugal — while the general feeling is, that unless David Beckham holds aloft the European Championship trophy next July, the finals will be the Swede’s swan song.
It would also be no surprise if Eriksson and Beckham were reunited at Chelsea. Money would not be a problem for FC Abramovich, where the spending capacity is almost limitless.
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