Roman Abramovich felt enough was enough and it was time to regain control. Too many whispers of the Russian’s diminishing interest were circulating around the English Premier League, too many signals of Chelsea’s increasing mortality in a league it once dominated.
So Abramovich, the billionaire Russian owner, again reached for the trigger on Monday and sent another head coach scurrying through the exit door with a giant payoff check in his back pocket.
Yet if the oil magnate believes that the axing of Luiz Felipe Scolari will provide a cure-all remedy for his club’s increasing woes then he is sorely mistaken.
That Scolari, the Brazilian World Cup-winning coach, was unable to add any spark to a team that carried a shield of utter invincibility just three years ago speaks as much of Chelsea’s deep-rooted problems as it does of the South American’s failure to adapt to the EPL.
At the root of the difficulty Chelsea is facing is that Abramovich brings money but not leadership.
His reluctance to be a public figure mattered little when Jose Mourinho’s squad was collecting trophies for fun from 2004 to 2006. When things turned sour though, supporters began to resent the lack of accountability from the man at the top.
Recent reports that Abramovich’s financial involvement in the club is being tightened by necessity may be premature – it will cost him around $22 million to get rid of Scolari.
The biggest problems though, are no longer fixable by throwing vast swathes of cash about. The personality of the club has changed and there is no longer a culture of stability and success.
Under Mourinho, Chelsea was a powerful paradox. Abramovich’s money and Mourinho’s dress sense meant it was the glamour club of the EPL. But they played like paupers, chasing success with a fervent hunger driven by an inexhaustible work rate.
Now it plays as a team that is lazy, confused and severely lacking in confidence.
Some elements of the playing staff have been poisonous. Nicolas Anelka’s sulky nature is more of a factor than his contribution to the score line and without Mourinho around to keep him in check Didier Drogba has acted more like a spoilt child than a world-class striker.
Even Frank Lampard and John Terry, while remaining the spine of the squad, have lacked that extra something in recent times. Petr Cech is no longer a demonic force in goal and Michael Ballack is often invisible.
Scolari could not sort out the defensive unit, which looked like it was conceding goals every time the opposition had a set play near the Chelsea area. The world’s most expensively assembled squad often struggled with the very basics of the game and the unraveling was not pretty.
Chelsea is a mess and it is far from inconceivable that it could miss out on a top four finish if Aston Villa motors on and Arsenal mounts a late-season recovery.
The identity of the new manager – Guus Hiddink and Frank Rijkaard are among the predictable favorites – will be vital.
However, more important still will be the level of license he is given by Abramovich to restructure. Patching up and making do will not cut it any longer.
A thorough revamp of personnel and mentality is needed because Chelsea is a club crumbling under the weight of its own ego.