Villas-Boas returns to Stamford Bridge
The flesh wound from Luis Suarez' gnashers may still be fresh, but Chelsea will be desperate to avoid a different sort of bite-back next Wednesday.
April 30th, 2013
There could be no more costly a time for the Blues’ managerial disarray to snap back at them, than the first return of the man with whom the Stamford Bridge circus first switched from comedy to melodrama.
Many are divided on just where the deepness of the rot started: be it the dismissal or the appointment of Luís André de Pina Cabral e Villas-Boas. But he’s back on 8th May: for a game that already has all the hallmarks of the great visit of Liverpool – ten years almost to the day beforehand.
On that day Chelsea achieved, through goals from Marcel Desailly and Jesper Gronkjaer, the key to all that followed in the next decade: the Champions League viability for Roman Abramovic to invest what would become, give or take, £1bn.
Back-to-back champions, the FA Cup and Premier League double, the Champions League itself – it all stems from that win by Claudio Ranieri’s side.
Defeat would have meant a very different future: with £80m of loans about to default. Yes, there may have been a different rescue package: there are suggestions a Formula 1-backed bail-out may have been around the corner.
But, once that one finally realised its footballing aspirations, it hardly set the world alight. (At the last look, QPR were still waiting for their first European Cup).
There are strong parallels between that precipice, and where Chelsea now stand. While nobody expects another season of Europa League action to bring the repo man to the gates of Stamford Bridge, it would undoubtedly rein in the immediate aspirations of the club.
While some cite qualification for the competition as capable of providing a £30m bonus, the reality is a far more significant sum than that. One very well-placed Chelsea source said last summer that a failure to get into the group stages of the competition, via Didier Drogba’s penalty as it happened, would potentially have cost Chelsea ‘hundreds of millions’.
That’s TV money, sponsorship and merchandising – in the immediate time frame. But going forward, it’s also having decisions about potential managers, players, the ‘brand’ as a whole (despised as a word though that is among supporters) taken out of the club’s hands. A complete change of direction in where the club pitches its future.
Failure brings more of the same: poor teams become poorer because of an inability to attract greatness. Players leave to get Champions League football elsewhere.
Look at Valencia. Look, if you dare, at Leeds.
Added to the mix next Wednesday is a man with a lot to prove. It will be interesting to see how Villas-Boas is greeted at Stamford Bridge: unlikely to garner too much affection; but, with the passing of time, possibly seen as preferable to the man in the ‘interim’ hot seat.
And all the other things too: a recently crowned double player of the year; a rivalry, or perhaps hatred, as strong as any Chelsea fans sustain.
8th May will be a day to remember, or to forget, for Chelsea for quite some time. There’s a good chance in ten years time we could be talking about it as yet another one of those pivotal moments in the history of Chelsea FC.