Don't expect it to be fun at the Tsar's new Chelsea

Jeff Powell

Last updated at 00:00 07 July 2003


FOR a man who has just been handed the keys to Aladdin's cave, Claudio Ranieri looks rather less than ecstatic.

The furrows between the eyebrows run even deeper than usual and the biting of the lower lip is all the more nervous.

He wears the haunted expression to be seen on the faces of the Russian proletariat when the Tsars come riding into the village - once on horseback, now in bullet-proof limousines - demanding an explanation for failure.

It is Chelsea Village which is under interrogation now, that hamlet in SW6 which huddles around one of England's noblest football clubs.

Signor Ranieri knows better than any of the inhabitants that there are bound to be casualties. Some of them fatal.

Roman Arkadyevich Abramovich would like to know what small token he might expect in return for his most generous patronage.

Come now, our good friend Ranieri, surely the Champions League is not too much to ask?

This coming season, if you please.

Or else the winter will be long, cold, dark and hungry.

The stakes in our national game have been raised, all right. Some of them for the burning.

Woe betide Ranieri if he points out that claiming dominance over European football is not as simple as Roman Arkadyevich walking into the GUM department store - Moscow's answer to Harrods - and plonking down the roubles for another large diamond bauble for his blonde and lovely Irina.

Money did not buy Real Madrid the Champions League in the season just ended.

Nor is it likely to do so in the season starting shortly.

Not judging by the way they are spending their comparative pittance, effectively a mere Pounds 17million on David Beckham now and something of similar order on Ronaldinho later. Madrid need defenders, not forwards. But sound, sensible team building is not the way of football's commercial new order.

Star Wars is the name of the game and now that Chelsea have the Monopoly money to play, the talk is of every big name from Henry to Rooney being flown into Stamford Bridge.

The problem is that no matter how many millions you have at your disposal, there is a limit to the number of players you can buy. The squad system does mean that more than 11 goes into a Premiership team, but any footballer worth his Pounds 100,000 a week wants to appear on the pitch, not on the bench or in the stands.

So the real trick is the same as it ever was - the building of a wellbalanced, highly motivated, mutually supportive unit. Eleven balljugglers - 20 or 30 even - don't make a circus. The human pyramid stands or falls by strong men at its base, just as the daredevils of the flying trapeze rely on their catchers.

BUT is it not purely for the fun of it that we are told Roman Arkadyevich is buying every seat in the house?

Maybe, except that one man's fun can be another man's ill-fortune. It is unlikely to be too amusing for some of those involved if failure descends on this particular village.

Not too much is known about Abramovich as yet, except that he is one of the grossly rich Russian oligarchy which has risen from the rubble of Communism's fall.

Tony Banks, professional Chelsea fan, and Richard Caborn, New Labour nitwit, are calling for an investigation into how Roman Arkadyevich acquired his wealth.

Their dismal track records as Sports Ministers past and present are hardly likely to send this mogul and his bodyguards running for cover.

The one danger for Abramovich is that, by raising his head above the roof of The Shed, this hitherto secretive figure has brought into the full glare of Western scrutiny the gross scale of grace and favouritism in the new Russia.

Compared with Putin's pals, Tony's cronies are fiddling around with little more than the office tea kitty. The President may not be amused, especially as the disclosures multiply.

Of one thing we can be certain already. Men like this do not make billions without being ruthless.

For confirmation of that, you only have to ask the first wife he left behind to fend for herself and feed her daughter in a one-room flat in a dingy quarter of Moscow.

Meanwhile, he has slipped Ken Bates Pounds 17m. Not that Chelsea's chairman is an undeserving beneficiary in a culture of the corporate fat-cats who get paid off in millions for wrecking businesses.

While that element of the City could use a lesson in the meaning of failure in Russian, Bates has made it his later life's hard work to keep Chelsea afloat and then bring them to the Promised Land known as the Champions League.

Ranieri has played his part, too.

That is unlikely to save either if the promise is not fulfilled, sharpish.

The nasty attack of envy from which even Manchester United, Arsenal, Madrid and Milan are suffering as Chelsea prepare to embark on an orgy of spending intended to seize power in English Stubble trouble: Abramovich is prepared to be ruthless Picture: AP and European football will give way to a sense of relief among their managers if Ranieri is unable to deliver.

Sven Goran Eriksson ( has England reputation, will travel after Euro 2004) is said to be next in line. That offers a potential escape route for the hard-up FA from their manager's expensive contract.

Sir Alex Ferguson can see the dangers. He is staying put at Old Trafford.

While United are the richest club in the country, Ferguson is living proof that it takes more than money to buy success.

WINNING teams need their hod-carriers as well as their headline grabbers.

Bringing in droves of celebrities by helicopter gunship is not just nouveau riche but crazy money.

It is understandable that Chelsea supporters will approach the new Premiership and European campaigns in a state of fevered excitement and heightened ambition.

My worry is what happens if the glory still proves elusive and Roman Arkadyevich Abramovich, finding it less fun than he was led to expect, takes his billions elsewhere.

Then, my dear friends, you will toil in the village field until you can pay your quota.

In wheat, chaff and tears if necessary.

j.powell@dailymail.co.uk

No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now