Chelsea: Decline of the Roman Empire?

With Chelsea’s 3-2 defeat to Newcastle United on Saturday, pressure increased on the interim manager Rafa Benitez.

The calls for his head were growing even as he held up the shirt on his first day in the post after replacing Roberto Di Matteo, so it was no surprise that on Wednesday night, after Chelsea’s disappointing 2-2 draw to Reading, in which they let a two goal lead slip in the last five minutes, ‘#RafaOut’ was trending in the United Kingdom.

The short termism shown by a large number of Chelsea fans is disappointing, but it is becoming a sad indictment of the attitude that has developed in Fulham Broadway. The most surprising thing so far in this below par season is that Rafa Benitez has not become another casualty in what has become a disastrous season for the League Manager’s Association.

Only one Chelsea manager has survived beyond 54 games in charge since Jose Mourinho was in the hot seat for 185 matches and sacked in 2007, a relatively small amount considering the success which he brought.

It is pretty much a certainty that Benitez will not be staying on as Chelsea beyond the end of the season, so who will Chelsea look to replace him with? Their huge target was Pep Guardiola who has decided to snub the advances of Chelsea and further his managerial career with Bayern Munich, citing the uncertainty and instability at Stamford Bridge as a major reason why he turned the Blues down.

So who will Chelsea turn to? Potential choices include David Moyes, Roberto Mancini or the enigma that is ‘The Special One’, or they could look to an untested manager from Europe. Managers of this ilk include Jupp Heynckes and Unai Emery. So who SHOULD Chelsea go for?

The obvious choice would be Jose Mourinho after the unprecedented success that he brought to the Bridge, but the big question is, does he have his eyes on an even greater prize, the job at Old Trafford? Chelsea would be an enticing option but the lure of such a settled club could prove to be the greater draw.

Mourinho.... linked with sensational return to Stamford Bridge.

Mourinho…. linked with sensational return to Stamford Bridge.

Another big choice would be David Moyes, he has done wonders with Everton, working on a proverbial shoestring but again, has been linked with the job at Manchester United so may choose to sit it out at Goodison and wait for that job to become vacant.

He is building a very strong squad at Everton and he could feel that with a little bit more investment he could be challenging for a top four space and would want to reward the loyalty shown to him by Chairman Bill Kenwright.

There are already rumours circulating that Roberto Mancini could be facing the axe at Manchester City in the summer after two years of poor results in the Champions League, he has shown that he can work with a large budget but his record in Europe, something Abramovich regards as the Holy Grail of the game, leaves a lot to be desired.

The rates at which managers come and go are starting to have serious consequences for the club. Many of the top managers in Europe, which a club of Chelsea’s size should be able to attract, are looking at the job as a poisoned chalice.

Andre Villas-Boas nearly ruined his managerial career and Luis Felipe Scolari did not have a major job since he got removed from his post at Chelsea for four years. This is causing Chelsea to have to look for an up and coming manager, which would be a gamble.

Since Roman Abramovich took control of Chelsea on 22nd August 2003, not much has gone wrong and he has had everything his own way. Even after spending vast sums of money on transfer targets, the team has seemed to go backwards.

The tide is turning, the big question is, can he reverse it or is the European Empire which he fought so hard to create crumbling before his very eyes?

 

Written by Tom Thornton

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Leighton Baines: The Premier League’s Best Left-Back With An Unclear Future

Since his arrival at Merseyside in the summer of 2007, Leighton Baines has been serving as the crucial icon in Everton’s campaign every season. Free-kicks, long range shooting, aerial prowess and putting in valuable crosses are the notable peculiar features of the English international.

Baines has started his senior career with Wigan Athletic in 2002 in the lower division of English football. He played a pivotal role in promoting the Wigan side to the Premier League in 2005. Baines spent further two seasons with Latics before signing for Everton in 2007. Everton paid £6M for the Englishman and considering his performances, the money spent on him is found to be the huge bargain for the Toffees.

Baines is seriously vulnerable to the opponents in Toffees’ attack and capable of taking a role in defense when the emergency cover is very much needed. The return of Steven Pienaar in 2012 has made Baines as a complete player as his partnership with the South African in the left flank is working very well.

The dominance of Ashley Cole in world football for the past 8-10 years has always kept Baines as the second choice left back in England international team. When England FA have appointed Roy Hodgson as their new manager in March 2012, it was expected that Baines would be preferred as first choice left back for Euros.

But, Hodgson too fell under the category of managers who have shown much more faith in Cole. On the other hand, Cole had a very good tournament in Ukraine-Poland, though he missed the penalty in shoot-outs against Italy in the quarter finals.

Baines has been linked with many of the top Premier League sides since last summer, with Manchester United and Chelsea among the suitors. The decline in the abilities of Patrice Evra and more likely the departure of Ashley Cole in the upcoming summer will push forward the Premier League giants to impose interesting bids on Baines in the summer.

The new Manchester United signing, Alexander Buttner has featured only once in the Premier League so far. This shows the lack of trust which Alex Ferguson has on the Dutch left back and indicates that the Red Devils will certainly look for a left back – and Baines will surely be on their radar come this summer.

Ashley Cole’s intention to leave Stamford Bridge a few weeks ago will certainly pull them to look for Baines though they have a ready-made replacement in the form of Ryan Bertrand. Bertrand made his Champions League debut in the final against Munich and put up an impressive performance.

The Chelsea left back had got some sort of backing from the sacked coach, Roberto Di Matteo in the new season. However, the appointment of Rafa Benitez has forced him to spend more time on bench. So, as Baines being afforded the regular playing time which is much more than Bertrand and considering the experience, we can expect a big bid from Roman Abramovich in the summer.

Being just 28, Baines has plenty of successive odd years to come. I reckon he will be a part of English international team till the 2018 World Cup which will be played in Russia. No questions will arise in including Baines in the English squad for the 2014 World cup and 2016 Euros irrespective of the manager in charge.

Though his place in the starting XI in 2014 World Cup is on hold, there is no doubt that he will soon be a permanent fixture at left back in future tournaments and events.

 

Written by Raghuvarman Sampathu

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Mario Balotelli: The Marmite of Football

Mario Balotelli can be described as the ‘Marmite’ of football. You either love him or you hate him. It’s incredible to think that he is still only 22 years old. In a short period of time he has won the Premier league title with Manchester City and was part of Jose Mourinho’s treble winning Inter Milan side.

After a turbulent two years at Manchester City which saw him have countless falling-outs with manager Roberto Mancini and problems off the pitch such as allegedly throwing darts at the Manchester City youth team because ‘he was bored’ and being allergic to grass. Mancini always seemed to have faith in him and was described as being ‘sad’ when this transfer was set in motion.

At the end of the day you have to admire the efforts of Mancini to get Balotelli concentrating on his football. Even the great Jose Mourinho has described Mario as, ‘unmanageable’ during his two years at Inter.

This could be the fresh start Mario Balotelli needs, his transfer from Manchester City to AC Milan could be his last chance to make himself a footballing legend for the right reasons. There is no doubt that AC Milan is one of the most prestigious clubs in the world. They used to produce the best teams in European football which were made up of the icons of attacking football such as; Marco Van Basten, Andriy Shevchenko and Filippo Inzaghi to name a few.

However, this current Milan squad is a long way off the great teams of the past. This season has been particularly bad for the Rosseneri; they were hovering around the relegation area for the first few weeks.

This could be put down to the departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic during the summer. That hole in attack would be difficult for any team to fill. The emergence of Stephan El Shaarawy has made the departure seem less apparent but in the end a team the size of Milan must be challenging for the title with a Champions League spot the bare minimum.

Milan has confirmed the signing of Mario Balotelli for £19.5m on a four year deal. The potential for this attack for both Milan and the Italian national team is exciting, especially with Mario’s performance at the recent European Championships.

Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri now has the task of choosing between five strikers; Stephan El Shaarawy, Bojan, Giampaolo Pazzini, Robinho and now Balotelli. One formation that has been spoken about is a 4-3-3 which is unusual for Milan of late with the three pronged attack of El Shaarawy/Balotelli/Robinho. This obviously has the potential to be the best in Italy.

With Nigel De Jong out for the season and Urby Emanuelson surprisingly sent on loan to Fulham for the rest of the season, Milan, on paper, still have enough fire power to push on this season, with Kevin-Prince Boateng, Ricardo Montolivo and the emergence of M’Baye Niang more than capable of controlling a midfield of three. Milan could even try the ever growing 3-4-3 and 3-5-2 formations that many teams in Italy are incorporating now.

Massimiliano Allegri has had problems in the past with the man management of his players with reported bust ups with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Pippo Inzaghi. If Mario Balotelli doesn’t concentrate on his football and causes problems like he has in the past, the already under fire boss could have his work cut out for him as he has probably never had to manage a player like Balotelli.

I personally hope that Mario Balotelli does make it at Milan. Their team is rebuilding and are definitely boasting the best young talent in Italy at the moment. He has already scored for Milan during their 10-0 mauling of Darfo Boario who sit in the 4th division in Italy.

His return sparked a riot within the Milan Ultra’s so it’s safe to say the Mario Balotelli era at AC Milan has begun.

 

Written by Tom French

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