Is it time for Abramovich to give up on Chelsea?
His £50m plaything has flopped, his side is out of Europe again and new rules will curb his spending
As Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich surveys the wreckage of another dismal Champions League exit, and a lacklustre performance from Fernando Torres, he is no doubt preparing the hangman's noose for manager Carlo Ancelotti. But how long will it be before the Russian, who sat stony faced through Manchester United's victory at Old Trafford, starts to ask if it is all worthwhile?
Abramovich has been bankrolling the Blues for eight years now and last week it emerged that his fruitless pursuit of European glory has so far cost him more than three-quaters of a billion pounds. This season the Blues will fail to win a trophy for the first time since 2008.
By the end of last season he had provided Chelsea with interest free loans of £740m, and upped his investment further in January by funding the signings of Torres and David Luiz for a total of £73m.
While he has enjoyed domestic success (three league titles, three FA Cups and two League Cups) the Russian yearns for his side to dominate Europe, but the likelihood of that happening seems as remote as ever. The Blues were a penalty away from winning the trophy in 2008, but John Terry slipped as he took the spot kick and last night's opponents, United, went on to win the shoot out. That was the only time they have made the final, in other seasons they have fallen at the semi- or quarter-final stages.
In January Abramovich upped the ante, handing Ancelotti £50m to buy Spanish striker Fernando Torres, the player he hoped would make the difference in Europe. He most definitley hasn't. Indeed, he may even have hindered the Chelsea cause.
It is apparent that Ancelotti has little faith in the striker in his current form. The dour Italian rarely gets excited, but by even by his own standards he seemed underwhelmed by the arrival of Torres at the club in January.
Before the game against United he intimated that Torres would start on the bench. Could it be that his decision to play him from the start, and leave Didier Drogba among the substitutes, was down to political pressure from above.
If that was the case then his decision to haul off the ineffectual Torres at half time was a slap in the face not just for the player but also Abramovich. And the manager's admission afterwards that it was "mistake" to play Torres could cost Ancelotti his job. But there is little doubt that he was right to substitute him. Drogba was far more lively up front and scored the goal that briefly gave Chelsea a glimmer of hope. Had the big Ivorian played all 90 minutes things could have been very different.
Up in the stands, Abramovich is also running out of time to make his financial clout matter. Soon clubs will be forced to comply with Uefa 'financial fair play' rules meaning that they must break even, and wage bills must not exceed more than 70 per cent of turnover. If they fail to meet the guidelines they could be thrown out of European competition.
At present Chelsea's wage bill stands at 82 per cent, and even after winning the double last season Abramovich had to step in as the club reported a loss.
Under the new regime, the Russian will no longer be able to flash his cash and buy whichever player he likes. But even in the current climate where he can afford to buy whoever he likes his team are still a long way from glory and his latest marquee signing has proved to be an embarrassing flop.
As he prepares to bid farewell to Ancelotti - who is surely about to become the sixth manager to leave the Bridge in eight years - Abramovich could be forgiven for wondering if it is time to call it quits himself. ·
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