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The Ethical Conundrum Behind The Chelsea Managerial Merry-Go-Round

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Chelsea FC have been notoriously fickle with their managers of late. Since Gianluca Vialli was relieved of his duties in September 2000, there have been no less than six full-time managers in Roman Abramovich's employ, and the turnover rate increases massively after Jose Mourinho's departure in 2007. It's widely assumed that Carlo Ancelotti - a well-loved and thoroughly likeable human being, by all accounts, is set to be added to the casualty list at the end of the season as punishment for the Blues being, by their standards, pretty bloody awful this season.

Much is being made of the fact that Chelsea seem hell-bent on discarding managers when they don't win things. Ancelotti, of course, won the league and FA Cup double last year, and looks on course to guide the club to second place behind Manchester United this time around. Sure, there's been a bit of a poor spell in Europe, but frankly being beaten by Inter Milan last season and United this should never be considered an embarrassment, no matter in which round one has to play them. If Abramovich is blaming Ancelotti for the whims of the Champions League draw, more fool him.

But, somehow, I really doubt that he is.

If Carlo Ancelotti is out in the summer, it's because Chelsea's management believes that there's someone better suited to run the club. And they might have a point, too. We've been over the plusses and minuses of Ancelotti more than a few times on this blog, and while he might be a very good manager, he is not the perfect manager. At the end of the day, my feeling is that the rapid rate of turnover is because Chelsea are looking to hire the man they consider best suited for the job.

That shouldn't be controversial, but it somehow is. And I'm not really sure why. Chelsea's managerial merry-go-round is portrayed as inherently wrong, unethical, indicative of an evil running through the club. Which would be fair enough, one supposes, if that wasn't presupposed in every single drop of digital ink spilled by the hordes of journalists on the subject. But it is. An a priori belief that Chelsea are doing wrong leads to a conclusion that Chelsea are doing wrong and that's really really really goddamn boring.

Especially because I can't actually seem to work out an argument against managerial turnover anyway, despite nominally being in favour of Ancelotti staying. Let's cast an eye over the obvious candidates.

  • Loyalty. Really? We're going to go with this one? Football is a business, and clubs are always trying to get better. If Barcelona offered Chelsea Xavi Hernandez for Frank Lampard in a one-for-one swap (NB: Only slightly crazier than Samuel Eto'o and 40M for Zlatan Ibrahomivic, really), you'd have to hope loyalty falls by the wayside in return for making the club better.

    Which isn't to say that it doesn't matter at all, of course - loyalty to players and managers is one of the things that connects us to a club. But one of the interesting things about managerial turnover is that nobody's around long enough for the fans to become really loyal to them anyway.

  • Success. Chelsea were double winners in Ancelotti's first season, of course, and they played extremely entertaining football to boot. This year, first month aside, not so much. Yes, they're more likely than not going to finish in second place, but they have been incredibly disappointing for much of the season, and their maximum possible points tally of 76(!) this year would be the lowest since the 2002/03 season, where the Blues finished in fourth place.

    As a point of reference, the miserable season that saw Luiz Felipe Scolari fired in February saw Chelsea finish on 83 points, which would be enough to win the league this year. Don't let the brief flirtation with the title fool you - this has been an absolutely miserable season for Chelsea; second place is a mirage. And yes, this year could have been a 'blip'. So could 2009/10.

  • Stability. Not really a morality question per se but many will insist that Stamford Bridge's rotating door is hurting the club, citing the success of Manchester United and Arsenal (amusingly) as reasons not to go around hiring and firing people all willy-nilly. I will now make the opposite argument based on anecdote:

    Arsenal should clearly move away from having one long-term manager towards the 'Chelsea model' of going through coaches like famed ninja turtle Michaelangelo went through pizza. Chelsea's success compared to Arsenal in the past few seasons shows that their model is obviously superior.

    See? It's stupid. Don't make that argument.

Chelsea are trying to become a better side. To remove a manager who has presided over the worst season the club has endured in the Abramovich era is not really wrong in any way (although I'd love to hear Ancelotti's post-year review). Nobody likes so see a good man lose his job, but should Carlo be given the boot he'll a) be paid very handsomely for not managing Chelsea and b) very probably be paid handsomely again for managing Roma. Call me insane but that doesn't actually sound like the worst deal in the world.

Don't get me wrong - the rapacious hunger for success isn't exactly something that endears neutrals to Chelsea or Chelsea fans, I realise. But as a Chelsea fan, I want me team to win now and win in the future. If the club is trying to do that, it's to be applauded, not condemned.

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