Chelsea: The high price of hire-and-fire
Football is supposed to be the beautiful game; and it is, for the most part. When players aren't rolling around on the grass desperately searching for penalties, and when they're not bemoaning their inflated wages, few things can capture the heart and imagination quite like a good contest of football.
For those who coach and manage the clubs that grace the top flight in English football, though, the expectancy is staggering. And for Roberto Di Matteo, who guided Chelsea to Champions League glory just six months ago, things came to an abrupt end on Wednesday when he became the eighth manager to fall victim to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich's axe.
It wasn't entirely surprising. The carousel in top flight football spins ruthlessly, and owners of clubs demand results immediately. The influx of foreign playboys has cultivated a culture of instant gratification in England's top flight, and unless the FA steps in, it's unlikely to stop.
Chelsea hasn't had the best start to the season, and their 3-0 defeat to Juventus on Tuesday left them on the brink of Champions League exit. For Abramovich, this is unacceptable.
"The team's recent performances and results have not been good enough, and the owner and board felt a change was necessary now to keep the club moving in the right direction as we head into a vitally important part of the season," the club said on its website.
Chelsea has won just two of its last eight matches in all competitions, and added that the club "faces a difficult task ahead in qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League as well as maintaining a strong challenge for the top of the Premier League while competing in three other cup competitions."
To make sure that they don't sound completely ungrateful, the club thanked the sacked coach for everything he did for the club and acknowledged the historic feats he accomplished at Stamford Bridge, adding that he has helped mould their history and that he would always be welcome at The Bridge.
Yet their actions are completely contradictory. Abramovich has a history of hiring and firing instantly, and Di Matteo is one of the longest-lasting coaches, having been in his post for 262 days - longer than his predecessor, Andre Vilas-Boas, who was in charge for 256 days. The Chelsea owner, who bought the club in 2003, has fired managers who won the Premier League, FA Cup, Community Shield and the League Cup; and now a manager who took the London club to victory in the Champions League final.
As if anybody needed reminding, it's just more evidence of what modern football has become and the lack of patience of billionaires who treat football clubs as toys instead of a pillar of the community. Football is business - there is no disputing that - but the revolving doors for bosses and the lack of understanding from those higher up in the ranks at clubs is severely impacting the traditions of the game.
While the romance, the intrigue and the serious love for a club still exists and flows strongly in lower league football, it's almost become extinct in the top flights. And while football clubs were once supported, they have now become brands which are bought.
Things are unlikely to change in the near future. A select few clubs have stuck with their managers through thick and thin, but this is the exception rather than the rule. The amount of money wasted on payouts for overpaid prima donnas and fired managers - the latter adding up to almost £86 million for Cheslea since 2004 - is a disgrace.
However deeply embedded the current culture seems to be, though, it cannot last. The wheel of economics always turns. Just as the door has shut for so many Premier League managers, it will slam hard in the face of those who show such blatant disrespect for an ancient tradition.
This column appeared in The Daily Maverick.
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