Pressure surrounding Sunday’s clash between Manchester City and Chelsea originates not only in the fact that both clubs hold fantastically talented squads, but also in the nature of how those squads came to be. Both clubs have reasonably similar historical ideologies. In short: get bought by an incredibly wealthy oligarch; get pumped full to the brim of capital; get results as fast as possible, as often as possible. And try to make the whole process look reasonably moral along the way.
But in the last few years, the clubs have differed in their attitudes to their managers. Since September 2008 when the Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG) investment company bought Manchester City, they have hired just one manager, Roberto Mancini, who replaced Mark Hughes in December 2009. While Roman Ambramovich has owned Chelsea for longer, since June 2003, he has hired, including caretakers, nine managers. For clubs with such similar aspirations, the board at Chelsea don’t seem anywhere near as keen to give their managers time to develop and build their own club as Manchester City do.
There are several possible reasons for this, all with distinct critique. The first is that the general aims of the clubs are actually different, and that this is reflected in not only patience with, but also choice of, the manager. The second is the difference between the clubs’ results on the pitch and their relative expectations. The third is the impact of historical materialism on the nature of the financial brains of the owners of both clubs, and how that mind-set manifests itself in club policy. These points are to be analysed, along with recent footballing achievement. It will be interesting also to consider the position of both Benitez and Mancini at the end of the current season, given the policies of the boards at both City and Chelsea, and the speculation surrounding the availability of perhaps the most sought-after manager in world football, Jose Mourinho.
General Club Aims
Some would argue that, even if officially they are the same, Manchester City and Chelsea’s general aims fundamentally differ; or at least, the owners have very different views on how to achieve those aims. This difference could well be a reason why Abramovich has not shown patience with his managers, where, so far, ADUG have. The most obvious example concerning general aims is attitude towards youth development. Logically, a club with long-term success in mind will try to balance investment between short-term spending on mature players and the building of a comprehensive and respectable youth academy. Likewise, a club with short-term success in mind will happily throw its resources at the best talent in the game at any particular moment. Of course, no club is one or the other, but it does give an indicator towards mentality of an owner. For instance, Frank Lampard in recent years has been critical of Chelsea’s inability to bring through regular home-grown talent, in the way that Manchester City have, or are beginning to. Lampard is right; investment into youth schemes has differed. Informal talks are beginning at Stamford Bridge to reform the academy, several years behind City, whose £100m redeveloped school is almost finished. Whether or not this slight (though not that slight, given the relatively short periods that both owners have been in charge) difference reveals the owners’ true goals is hard to say. But perhaps Abramovich is more interested in short term returns than ADUG are, or at least than ADUG care to admit.
Another reason for Abramovich’s impatience with managers in comparison to ADUG and Mancini could be more directly related to their employees’ success rather than their overall ideology. Has Mancini hit his expectations at Manchester City, where the string of Chelsea managers have not? An FA cup in 2011 and the Premier League in 2012 is a great start; Mancini himself has come out recently proclaiming himself as the best manager in England in the last 15 months. Perhaps ADUG are satisfied. However, this is unlikely, as, in two seasons, City have looked out of their depth in the Champions League, and have never looked completely dominant in the domestic sphere either. The current state of the Premier League is testament to that. In terms of the media, Mancini is an expert at manipulating public perception of himself and his team, although it would be foolish (but not necessarily too foolish) to suggest that ADUG judge their manager based on the back pages of the tabloids. At Chelsea, success has been abundant also, especially in light of the Champions League victory last season. Mourinho brought home five major titles, Ancelotti and Di Matteo two each, and Hiddink just the one (not including the Charity Shield, won twice by Chelsea and once by City in the periods of ownership by the business barons). However, there was always the niggle of the lack of dominant success at Chelsea with such a strong side. Perhaps this is what, in the end, cost Mourinho his job, although he left by ‘mutual consent’ after a series of disagreements. Abramovich obviously coveted the Champions League, a title he was denied until Di Matteo pushed through to take it in 2012. But even then the dismissal of Di Matteo will puzzle some Chelsea fanatics, leading to the conclusion that Abramovich’s hiring and firing policy is beyond the understanding of any sane man. At least in the context of on-the-pitch success.
Oil and Capital
Finally, the difference in behaviour between the two boards could be down to how their central figures act as businessmen. After all, to any business analyst, the investments made by both Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour (or Khaldoon Al Mubarak, it’s rather difficult to tell exactly who is in charge of the money) are just financial decisions. Both figures own numerous shares in various companies across the world, rightfully or wrongly, and their trends in behaviour should be taken into account. ADUG’s history is reasonably typical of a gulf investment company. Its partners and associates have investments in many fields, growing steadily but surely, as they have been doing since the oil boom in the latter half of the twentieth century. In comparison, the story behind Roman Abramovich’s rise to financial power is as jumpy and inconsistent as his managerial recruitment policy. Occasionally, dodgy stories will pop up about his past, but it seems quite clear that in the marketization rush in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union, Abramovich was quick to claim, invest in, and then sell government assets such as oil and military hardware to propel himself and his company, Millhouse LLC, to a fortune worth over £8bn. During the 1990s, he regularly jumped from industry to industry and from company to company, in the same way as he places his footballing trust in a different manager every 18 months at Chelsea. Not to over politicise a sporting discussion, but the Russian’s mentality as a businessman, in comparison to the steadier ADUG, must have an impact on how he runs his football club.
All in all, this summer will be decisive in determining the true aims of both Manchester City and Chelsea. Benitez is only at Stamford Bridge temporarily, presumably because Jose Mourinho is available, or because Abramovich wants to tempt another prestigious manager to SW6. In City’s case, it will be a true test of ADUG’s temperament as to whether they keep Mancini if City, as they almost certainly wont do, don’t win the Premier League. Whether Mourinho really can influence figures worth so much money is uncertain. Either way, it is clear neither Chelsea nor Manchester City have managed to find a structure that truly works, probably for the combined reasons of club objectives, on-the-field success and historical accumulation.