Roman Abramovich has been labeled many things. Tyrant, ruthless, well-endowed even. But one thing he’s never been called is soft.
Ruling the streets of West London with an iron fist, threatening to replace any manager who fails to deliver titles, the Russian Oligarch is far from tolerant.
We’ve seen it all too many times as a footballing society. Managers are shown the axe with little to no justification. It’s shape up or ship out at Stamford Bridge.
The same mentality has been utilized in dealing with youth players. Any young player who fails to be a star is either sold or loaned out until no relevant member of the sport remembers their name.
The same goes for fringe players, those that are old enough to play for the team, but lacking the star quality of an Abramovich-backed Chelsea.
The policy has enjoyed mixed results. Fans and pundits alike enjoy making the Russian the bad guy, when the policy fails to produce results or when he ostracizes a fan favorite.
However, no one dares question Roman during a trophy parade. When Chelsea are winning, Chelsea’s owner is a mastermind.
Rather than examining the double standard that most have for the Abramovich, it would be more beneficial to look into the double standard that is applied to their players.
Ruthlessness is relative in West London. For those who are young and unimpressive, the axe falls swiftly. But what about those squad players who no longer have it?
For some reason the unforgiving manner that has come to define the Blues over the last decade, becomes soft.
The perfect example of this is currently still playing for Chelsea, despite having an abysmal season. You guessed it, it’s Branislav Ivanovic.
From a fan’s perspective, I love the player. You don’t come across a foot soldier more dedicated, passionate, and tough than the Serbian.
But from a footballing perspective, saying that he’s past his prime is the understatement of the year.
For whatever reason, Ivanovic’s form has fallen off a cliff in the last year.
The early signs we’re there in the preseason of 2015. The notion was confirmed by the first match against Swansea, when the Serb made Jefferson Montero appear to be Cristiano Ronaldo in disguise.
As the season went on, the Blues persisted with Ivanovic and his form persisted to drop.
Exposing the right side of Chelsea’s defense week in and week out, the Serb was a major reason for the West Londoner’s shortcomings last year.
And how did Abramovich choose to handle the situation? He offered the man a new contract.
For a change of pace, the Russian employed sympathy into his personality. Except he did so at the wrong time.
If Ivanovic’s 2016 preseason form is anything to go off of (we realize he’s been injured for part of it), things aren’t going to get better.
For some reason, young, talented players are being marginalized and loaned, where past stars like Ivanovic are coddled.
The same can be said about John Obi Mikel, a man who has value, but whose included presence in the Chelsea squad is more than a head scratcher.
While its Chelsea who often boasts beating Manchester United to the signing of the Nigerian, it’s United who get to boast about being beaten.
The point here is that Chelsea need to be forgiving when it comes to young, talented, players who are full of potential.
Conversely, they need to be more aggressive when it comes to players who are clearly past it.
Ivanovic’s presence in the squad stands in the way of Ole Aina’s development, Azpilicueta playing on his preferred side of the pitch, and extra motivation to bring in a new full back.
The same goes for Mikel. He had a better than average season in a year where 95% of the Chelsea squad struggled. In 2014-2015, when Nemanja Matic was successfully patrolling Chelsea’s midfield, no one was asking for Mikel.
The Nigerian just doesn’t have the talent or the dimensions that a top Premier League midfielder must have. He does the job of defense well, but he limits Chelsea in all other aspects.
His continued presence means taking time from Matic, Fabregas, Oscar, Kante, and more importantly, stalling the progression of players like Chalobah and Loftus-Cheek. There is no way that Mikel’s inclusion is worth not seeing Chelsea’s starlets reach their full potential.
Where Chelsea are being more harsh with their youngsters, they need to transfer this mentality to their senior players that don’t have it. If it simply isn’t working, move them on. Affection only has room in football, if talent comes along with it. Respect for past performance doesn’t win titles.
Abramovich, the man who is known for being a merciless owner has gone soft in the aspects that count most.
If Chelsea are to dig themselves out of the hole they created last season, there is no room for empathy. Chelsea need to be ruthless in order to claw their way back to the top. And it starts with their owner.