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Black hole at the heart of Chelsea

Friday, 2 November 2012 - 4:10pm IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph

Owner's silence leaves a vacuum where club's soul should be, and the result is a persecution complex, writes Paul Hayward from London

A colleague who covered the Roman Abramovich-Boris Berezovsky case at the London Commercial Court remembers sitting next to Chelsea's owner in the lobby during a break in proceedings and trying to strike up a conversation.

The minder who sidled over in response to a flick of the eyes from Abramovich told our intrepid reporter: "You don't talk to him."

You don't talk to Roman Abramovich and Roman Abramovich will probably not talk to you, unless he has a very good reason. The diplomatic silence that has characterised his ownership of Europe's champions has created a void that his underlings have struggled to fill.

Of the current cast, Bruce Buck, the amiable Larry David lookalike chairman, tends to maintain a detached civility, while Ron Gourlay, the chief executive, is more assertive. Gourlay fired Carlo Ancelotti in a corridor at Everton straight after the last match of the 2010-2011 season and is believed to have been pivotal in the decision to challenge referee Mark Clattenburg for alleged "inappropriate comments" to two Chelsea players - later reduced to one - in Sunday's Premier League clash with Manchester United.

The assumption has always been that Chelsea's front-of-house staff act on instructions from Abramovich's inner circle. One question yet to be answered is whether Gourlay and the communications staff consulted the Tsar of Stamford Bridge before rushing into a course of action that will expose Chelsea to more vilification if the 'evidence' against Clattenburg collapses.

Unless there is some killer fact in Chelsea's possession, their chances of proving their accusation are not promising. The allegation relating to Spain's Juan Mata was abandoned at the same time that a formal complaint was filed in support of Mikel, who appears not to have known he was referred to as a "monkey" (allegedly) until told so by the Brazilian Ramires, whose command of English is hardly perfect.

Chelsea say they acted only after exhaustive talks with the players involved and followed all the protocols. But the heart surely ruled the head in the haste with which officials broke the news, two hours after the end of the match, and briefed about the precise nature of the allegations.

Once the "racial" element was in the public domain, Chelsea were playing a high-stakes game in which a defeat would shred their reputation.

And while this was erupting, one Chelsea fan thought it a grand idea to perform a monkey act in Wednesday night's Capital One Cup tie with United, back at the Bridge, thus guaranteeing another club investigation and tying up more Metropolitan Police manpower.

The inescapable backdrop to all this is the decision not to strip John Terry of the captaincy for calling Anton Ferdinand a "f------ black c---" at Queens Park Rangers. The less-reflective Chelsea fans are circling the wagons to repel all criticism. Others are quietly appalled that Terry captained the side in Donetsk while suspended at home, and downright livid about the simian antics of the fan whose picture was plastered all over the internet. One possible scenario at the end of all this is that Chelsea end up with a writ from Clattenburg and pariah status.

But the outcome may still be otherwise, if their evidence is as strong as they evidently think it is. Then the clear shift in momentum towards Clattenburg could yet be reversed. If you view this through Chelsea's eyes, though, you might say the club stopped thinking straight when a persecution complex took hold, long before Clattenburg sent off Branislav Ivanovic and Fernando Torres and was let down by the assistant who missed the offside for Javier Hernandez's winning goal.

So when did it start? With Jose Mourinho, with Tom Henning Ovrebo's farcical refereeing against Barcelona, since avenged with Champions League success? It can be traced more recently to the Terry saga and the ensuing mental paralysis. The disastrous policy of supporting Terry's evidence to the Football Association commission (and "evolving" that of Ashley Cole) left Chelsea wallowing in a dangerous mix of resentment and shame that may have caused them to act too fast and too aggressively when Ramires and company made their allegations after Sunday's game.

When this is over we may look back and say that here was a beleaguered club trying to fight their way out of a corner and reclaim some kind of moral impetus. The darkest possibility meanwhile is that they attempted to take revenge on a referee who had cost them three points after believing too readily an accusation that did not originate from the 'victim' (Mikel).

One thing we know of Abramovich is that like Vladimir Putin, his Kremlin ally, he has chosen not to care about image, reputation, transparency. He looks beyond these western preoccupations, to survival, to power. The way he sees it, probably, he has spent too much money on English football to care about its feelings.


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