Are Chelsea preparing for the arrival of Frank Rijkaard?

This article is a submission for the Soccerlens Football Writing Competition; to participate, please read the details here.

Written by Franky.

When Roman Abrahamovich months ago already, in May decided that Jose Mourinho had to leave Chelsea F.C, after having missed out on the UCL finale once more, there were only little options. Options as in possible managers for the toy club of the billionaire. Actually there were only two managers worthy enough for Roman’s dreams.

In 2004 the Russian oil tycoon invested around 1% of his estimated worth in a football club and immediately enjoyed the glamour boy status, not only because he made his trips to Stamford Bridge in his private helicopter. There was no doubt about it that Chelsea had become a private prestige project and it would become a fairy tale: Abrahamovich wanted to win the Champions League twice in the next ten years.

Millions of Pounds flew in the club and squad and results followed soon. The tycoon was happy, but not for long. There was something more, something many people oversee nowadays: the Russian, who always is rather closed about his professional activities, already had gathered quite some experience in owning a top football club, as the owner of CSKA Moscow. He knew that in 98% of the time, managers are set to be fired. But not the owner.

That experience in mind, he brought both the German international Michael Ballack and his favourite Andrij Shevcenko to the club in the summer of 2006, adding his personal favourites to Jose’s squad. A power battle between the owner and the Manger, Mourinho, was slumbering. Both knew things wouldn’t last long anymore and every tale has an end.

Mourinho enjoyed an acceptable (for Roman) start of the Season 2006-2007 and he even listed Michael Ballack among his 9 untouchables. But then came the feared English Christmas break. Handicapped by several injuries, Jose’s and Chelsea’s reign came to an end. For the first time the Portugues tactician experienced what that many have done before: 7 games within 3 weeks and most of all, no time for the stars and injured players to recover. The points lost over Christmas 2006 would lead to the first big, bust up between manager and owner. And later to Mourinho’s sack.

The tactician knew those things can happen in football and asked for more money during the January transfer period. The tycoon suddenly had to deal with a non performing manager in his emperium. He listened to the arguments, excuses but went his own way and made a decision based on the experience of managing multi-billions company, rather than doing what the club needed, buying new, high quality defenders. The wallet stayed closed and Mourinho had to finsih his season without extre defensive squad width.

The end of Mourinho was near, but Chelsea fought until the end and the execution was postponed. Until after the Champions League semi finale. The title went to Manchester United and suddenly names started to be mentioned publicly at Stamford Bridge. Managers were seen visiting London… and Chelsea. The most notorious one being Jurgen Klinsmann, who had resigned from his Germany job after he reached the semi finals of the World Championship in 2006.

Among all the rumoured names, Klinsmann actually was the only one who could be considered a worthy candidate. Not because of his managerial experience or his name, top club managers such as Trappatoni and Eriksonn both were available.

Klinsmann was the only one who had a real chance, a chance because of his tactics. A well organised offensive style, maybe someone who could bring the Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger style and pace to Stamford Bridge. But the German denied, returned to his wife and kids in sunny California, and Mourinho finally stayed on board at Chelsea.

The announcement that Mourinho was going to be manager for the Season 2007-2008 followed rather late, early July, and was far from a sign of confidence in the former UCL winner. Mourinho had a contract with the club and would be the manager for the next season. Period. No word more, no word less. Just a contract.

Why did it take that long for Stamford Bridge to confirm Jose’s contract and hadn’t this happened immediately at the end of the season? Because of La Liga, the Spanih football league.

Traditionally La Liga ends 2-3 weeks after the Champions League finals and if there were another worthy candidate, he was still competing for the Spanish title when Jose, SAF and Arsene already enjoyed the sun and probably several bottles of £400 red wine each.

Frank Rijkaard at that time still wasn’t sure about his job at Barcelona when the Premiership ended and with Real Madrid being in pole-position one can surely expect that the Chelsea, Roman lobby was active to lure to Dutchman to Stamford Bridge.

Why Rijkaard? Rijkaard has everything Roman expects from a coach. As a player he has won the Champions League with Ajax Amsterdam and won twice the European Cup with AC Milan.

He made a tremendous managerial debut, as Dutch coach leading them to the semi finals of Euro 2000 and then resigned after having lost the semis. Later he won the UCL with Barcelona in 2005-2006. More important than his managerial record is Rijkaard’s football philosphy.

The Dutchman comes from the Ajax school, and has Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff as examples. He will always play forward, with the team as an offensive unit. Aimed at scoring goals, unlike Jose who’s tactics were built around not conceding goals. Exactly that what Sven and Trappatoni don’t have, that special flair, nose for the goal. Even as a player Rijkaard was dangerous and scored regularly (81 times in 414 games as a professional – FYI he was a central defender converted to a holding midfielder).

The perfect combination for Abramovich: a talented, experienced coach who has won everything already and who wants to entertain the crowd with goals. Just like in a perfect football tale.

Goals and success.

Avram Grant has no chance, he is only ad interim manager at Chelsea. But Kenyon and Co are not allowed to admit this, because it would harm the club, the squad’s performance. Just as it would have if Chelsea would publicly have admitted Jose got the sack. Already now some players were close to rebellion. The likes of Drogba, Essien and Carvalho probably would never have made it on to the biggest stage without Mourinho’s confidence and support. Nor would they want to play for a care taker. Especially not when no suitable high profile manager available is.

And then it happened. Ajax Amsterdam was eliminated from this year’s Champions League and the UEFA Cup. And Ajax’s (former) coach suddenly became available. Henk ten Cate, Frank Rijkaard’s right hand when Barcelona won the Champions League. The person who will assist Grant not only with his coach services, but also with his knowledge of the highest European stage, the Champions League. A coach who was ready to leave his manager job of one of the most famous Dutch clubs, Ajax, to work in the shadow of a nobody.

Finding himself in the same position as Avram Grant some months ago when he became Director of Football at Chelsea: able to control the manager, to put pressure on the squad and undermine the manager’s position. A much needed thing when Rijkaard gets the sack at Barcelona in some weeks (or months).
There’s no doubt either that ten Cate would agree with working as assistant of Rijkaard, like in Barcelona times.

Abrahamovich wants no nobody in control of Chelsea. Friendship doesn’t count in Abrahamovich’s business plan, he’s a multi-billionaire who only wants the best people in his team. Friends get honorary jobs, but not the axe.

If Grant would stay manager, with his little [European] experience on the highest stage he soon would get sacked too. If Abrahamovich wanted an intermediate coach he might as well have asked Steve Bruce, who at least is respected in England, instead of a nobody. But Grant matched the profile to push Mourinho out of Stamford Bridge and maintain the peace in the squad.

Until someone else is available. Until Frank Rijkaard can come to Stamford Bridge.

Franky writes at the OTHER Manchester United blog.

This article is a submission for the Soccerlens Football Writing Competition; to participate, please read the details here.

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