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Roman's Chelsea Empire is burning down, burning down, burning down

'Old Chelsea' is now truly dead and gone.

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

So it was with a whimper rather than a bang that Chelsea's Grand Tour of Europe, 13 years in the making, came to an end.

The flames that had engulfed the competition, a result of a Molotov cocktail thrown into the established hierarchy of footballing competition by Roman Abramovich, Peter Kenyon and Jose Mourinho at the turn of the last century brought with it a legacy burnt into the memories of Blues fans.

Picking over the embers this morning, flashes of historic nights are conjured up, confusion in Monaco, the tectonic plates shifting between Anfield and Stamford Bridge, Merseyside and London in the halcyon early Roman years, the misery of Moscow, the euphoria of the Camp Nou, jubilation in Lisbon.

Chapters written in Naples, Milan, Manchester, Turin, Tel Aviv and of course the barely believable, emotionally levelling night in Munich. More on that later.

This period has been born of an Empire built on Roman's design. Arenas filled with some of the greats to have ever played the game, certainly some of the greatest to ever pull on the blue of Chelsea Football Club.

Zola, Flo, Hasselbaink, Crespo, Terry, Cole, Lampard, Cech, Drogba, Ballack, Ivanovic, Guðjohnsen. Unlikely heroes emerged in Wayne Bridge, Joe Cole, Salmon Kalou, Raul Meireles, Juan Mata, Fernando Torres, Demba Ba and others too numerous to mention.

There were of course seasons of transience in between the defining years, the instability brought upon by a kaleidoscopic changing of the management at the helm of the club. That said the character, ability, mental strength and fortitude of the assembled dressing room carried the club through stormy waters. The collective desire to achieve more than the sum of their parts patched over what could be considered weaker sides in the era.

This was highlighted most of all in the 2012 run culminating in the Allianz Arena in Munich. A flawed side, a patchwork XI but one whose sheer will and resolve to win delivered the highest of prizes.

Since that night, even the most ardent fan cannot ignore that the club has been in slow grinding decline. Retreating into calmer waters financially has lessened the talent pool at the side whilst releasing the core of the club's grizzled warriors under the guise of remodelling the club in a new shape.

The return of Jose Mourinho was heralded as a return to Roman's early pomp and swagger. Armed with Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa the club seemed to have grafted a new spine to an old body and the delivery of a Premier League title seemed to have signalled the dawn of the new empire, but it was an illusory glimmer. The year would bring much more testing waters that the side were incapable of navigating.

This new side's frailties, built behind the mercurial but fragmented talent of Eden Hazard, were exposed in the early months of the season.

The club's stagnation in the transfer market resulted in a failure to adequately strengthen the side that exposed the grafted spine, and the body rejected it.

Matic, Fabregas, Hazard even Costa all fell apart, as did Mourinho.  The reasons behind this will be debated at length but the stark truth of this has been a resounding failure at Senior Management level.

Releasing stellar talents may have balanced the books but it has left a gaping chasm in the dressing room.  Whilst previously filled with those who carried the weight of experience and strength of mind to find answers in difficult moments, the squad was now a fractious group of talented but deficient footballers, unwilling or unable to ask questions of each other.

Against Paris St Germain, a side whose mirror image seems cloned from Roman's early Chelsea blueprint, a side whose ascent has been as swift and measured as the Blues decline, this Chelsea were incapable of matching their level. Diego Costa dragged the side to the brink of another unfathomable upset, another legend to be written. But this was not to be one of those grand nights.

His withdrawal on the hour mark felt significant. Chelsea's retreat into open waters at the same time allowed PSG to capitalise and deservedly take the lead and put the result of the tie beyond all doubt.

The pain of the evening was not in defeat. It lay in watching a Chelsea side play for 30 minutes without purpose, without desire, without heart. There was no leadership from within, no mettle to grind out a performance.

The players looked rudderless, anchored down by the previous seven months of turmoil and, by the end, offered little even resembling resistance as the Parisian club rolled the ball around the turf at Stamford Bridge at leisure. Pedro, Willian and the tireless Kenedy offered up enterprise but there was little quality. The banners that adorn the stands carry the faces and names of those whose legacy was written on European nights such as this.

That the greatest of them, John Terry, has a question mark over his continued presence at the club is another matter for debate but it will have pained him to see his club depart a competition that is so closely fused to his character in such a manner.

Watching from the stands were the architects of this demise.

In 1588 the English navy, at the time a relatively small but tactically astute fleet were at war with the invading Spanish Armada, the largest military force in the world. In order to scatter and panic the Spanish into the open seas, the English filled eight ships with flammable materials that were then set on fire by their own crews.

The Empire that Roman at great cost has assembled is now ablaze, at his own hand. The English won the day, and the war, and ushered in an unprecedented era of expansion and progress.

For Chelsea and Roman to emerge from the ashes of this season's charred remains there must first be an immediate response on Saturday afternoon. A trip to Goodison Park in the FA Cup can provide a needed boost of morale.  A trip to Wembley for the loyal Blues fans can douse, if not quite extinguish the flames of discontent.

In the longer term, that the club will not be making up the numbers of the Champions League next season is not open to debate now. The pathway back to the European elite is unclear, and paved with the floating bodies of ‘Big Clubs' who have failed along the way.

The rebuilding of first the management of the side and then the far-reaching rebuilding of the playing personnel will be painful.  It will be galling but it is essential.

Roman and the board must move on from this most scarring of seasons, set fire to some more ships and in the process rebuild a side with clarity and purpose.

Talk of the ‘Old Chelsea' is now redundant. There can only be a new direction. Quite where this takes the club and what lurks beyond the summer' s horizon remains to be seen.

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