Roman has decided this season must be a failure to ensure Chelsea's future. Rafa is his scapegoat.
That is my theory. I think it's a good thing.
The old era ended last May. Being Champions of Europe fulfilled Roman's dream, all of our dreams. This season, the second Drogba's glorious spot kick rippled the net in Munich, became a rebuilding affair for the future. A chance to strip Chelsea to its bones and remake it.
Last season, AVB's well-intentioned "project" failed because the old guard were simply unwilling to accept failure that year to prepare for future glories. They still had a trophy to win before time ran out. This season there was no need to keep it all together for the sake of "one more season, one more shot at glory." We saw some stalwarts willingly depart--Drogba, Kalou--and others reconcile themselves to new, reduced roles--Terry, Lampard. Mourinho forged that unit to win the Champions League, and they did. Mission Accomplished.
The defining moment--when the Stamford Bridge decision makers made clear that they saw this season as a lost cause--came at transfer deadline day. Essien and Meireles were shown the door, leaving us threadbare in the double-pivot. The single most important part of our formation was sacrificed and with it any chance of Robbie's tactics working this season.
Now I don't think they intended to sabotage RDM. Quite the opposite. They were, in my view, perfectly happy for him to deliver a middling season. Knockout rounds of Champions League, Top 4 Premier League finish, no trophies, and an honorable exit at the end of the season amid rapturous applause from the terraces. That was to be Robbie's fate. His reputation and future employment prospects massively enhanced by 18 months in charge.
If this year was always meant to be middling at best, then a few things need to be explained.
What of the millions spent on new players?
- World-class players came in, but they were to a man young and inexperienced. Does anybody really think that a midfield of Lampard, Ballack, and Essien would have failed to cope with the introduction of Diame the way our squad did on Saturday? The failures of adaptation and resolve at Upton Park, Turin, and elsewhere this year are the necessary costs to build the resiliency in our new players that our former ones had in spades. Those are the moments of pain the new boys will reflect on in the future and say "Never Again."
- But looking at where we bought--attacking midfield--is less telling than where we didn't. Striker was a glaring need all summer and central midfield--as noted above--is undoubtedly one now. I believe the senior squad was left short to allow key young players--Sturridge this year; Lukaku, McEachran, and KDB next year--to assume those roles without being blocked off by a high-priced 25 year old acquisition.
Why was Robbie sacked then if mediocrity was the goal?
- The dominant factor was the Champions League. Chelsea simply had to advance out of the group stage. Avram, Guus and RDM showed the powerful effect a mid-season change in manager could have on a squad's performance in that competition (final, semi-final, and victory respectively). And regime change was the only tool available in the boardroom to try to secure advancement.
- Secondarily and much less importantly, I think Chelsea's sprint to the top of the Premier League--when our form flattered to deceive in my view--contributed to the sacking. I think hopes were raised that Chelsea could rebuild and win at the same, much as Man U have repeatedly done under Sir Alex. When those hopes crumbled, I think the hierarchy saw RDM as more easily disposed with than he was in Munich's afterglow.
So what of Torres then in this theory?
- For me, Torres represents the last great hurrah of the old Chelsea mentality. He was bought at his "peak" for too much money in the hopes of winning immediately. A final piece to unlock the Champions League puzzle. He remains today as a vestige of that old era. A man out time and place. His poor form and huge price tag make him unsellable and his long contract makes him unreleasable. He's an asset to be maximized to buy time for a successor to emerge--one of Lukaku, Feruz, or Bamford internally or any number of talents externally.
And so that brings us to Rafa. Where this piece all started. The way I see it, he has three missions.
- Secure advancement in the Champions League and a top 4 Premier League Finish
- Get Torres playing well enough to prevent having to buy a big money, stop-gap striker this January or, even worse, having to recall Lukaku and stunt his development.
- Absorb all the fans' hatred and blame for RDM's sacking and this year's failure to secure a trophy.
While 1 and 2 remain to be seen, he's definitely on track for 3. If Rafa pulls them all off though, it'll leave Chelsea just exactly where Roman and his crew wanted us to be at the start of this year. Chelsea would have a squad whose key new players have settled in and become battle hardened, whose key holes can be filled internally, who are in next year's Champions League, and who could attract the cream of the managerial crop--Pep or (dare I dream) Jose.
If that plan comes off and we end up where I think it's meant to leave us, well then I think that will be a very good thing.
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