Team/Player of the Week: 2/5

By Kiran Balan and Joe Ballard

It was another terrific weekend of soccer in the EPL, and while our team of the week was a simple choice, there were so many great individual performances we couldn’t limit the award to just one player. So have a look at DB20’s first ever player(s) of the week as well as a team who “gunned” down their opponents this weekend. Read more of this post

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Something More: Why Chelsea Won’t Win the Champions League

The Champions League trophy: The ultimate achievement in club football. Jose Mourinho believes it is tougher to win this competition than the World Cup. Precious few teams ever get the chance to compete in the competition, let alone have a chance at winning it. For one Roman Abramovich, billionaire owner of English powerhouse Chelsea, it is his obsession to win this trophy. He has dispensed with several top-class managers (plus Avram Grant) for failing to deliver his dream.  Abramovich has brought in world class players, some of the best managers, and delivered the most successful period in Chelsea’s history. But the Champions League, his ultimate goal, continues to elude him. There are many reasons for this, and they are the reasons why no amount of money will make his dream come true.

Let’s look at last year’s winners, Barcelona. Constantly the favorites to win the Champions League (along with everything else), it was no surprise when they raced to last year’s final and then demonstrated their superiority with a dominant performance over Manchester United. Quite simply, longevity is the key to their success. Look at the players who are either homegrown or have been at the club for a lengthy period of time- Pique, Valdes, Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Puyol, Busquets, Bojan. And many of these players (plus David Villa) play together in the Spanish national team, who recently won the World Cup. Little wonder they’re on the same wavelength.

Lesson 1: You don’t always need to buy foreign to be successful.

Chelsea, by contrast, have always been interrupted by changes in personnel, usually engineered by Abramovich. Striker Andriy Shevchenko, brought in for 30 million pounds in 2006, was a known friend of Abramovich and was an “owner’s signing” rather than a signing of then-manager Jose Mourinho. Past his prime and low on confidence (and reported tensions with Mourinho), he only managed 22 goals in 77 appearances for Chelsea. Not only did this episode demonstrate that owners should leave transfer targets to the manager, it showed an utter lack of respect for the manager. Mourinho eventually fell out with Abramovich and moved on to win, yep, the Champions League with Inter Milan.

This undermining of managers continued with Italian Carlo Ancelotti.  Brought in by Abramovich to make Chelsea the kings of Europe, he was incredibly sacked one year after winning the Premier League and F.A. Cup double. In the midst of his reign, Chelsea signed one Fernando Torres for a staggering 50 million pounds. Ancelotti was clear: this was an Abramovich signing, not an Ancelotti signing. Torres has so far managed just 1 goal in 23 appearances for the Blues, looking a complete shadow of the striker who scored the winning goal for Spain in the Euro 2008 final. Now Ancelotti is gone and Abramovich’s wallet is quite a bit lighter (with his money going toward bringing Liverpool back up to Chelsea’s level!).

Lesson 2: Learn to trust your manager. There’s a reason you hired him.

These “star signings” and the revolving door of managers (Mourinho, Grant, Guus Hiddink, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Ancelotti) are also hindering a very important aspect of every club: the development of young players. With the managers under so much pressure, they are reluctant to take a risk on youngsters. And it is telling: aside from the extremely promising Josh McEachran, who will have trouble getting in the team with all the senior midfielders in the squad, what homegrown players have turned out to be successful for Chelsea recently? A top club such as the Blues must have some promising young players in their academy, but they will get frustrated and continue their development with a club who can guarantee playing time. It will be Chelsea’s loss.

A prime example of this is Scott Sinclair. Formerly a promising talent for the Blues, he became irritated with a lack of playing time and was unsettled by the constantly changing managers.  After being loaned out to six different clubs, he had enough and departed for Swansea City, where last season he scored 27 goals, including a hat-trick in the Championship playoff final to help the club win promotion to the EPL. As the young man himself recently said, “It’s Chelsea’s loss.”

Lesson 3: Patience is a virtue. Give your managers the time they need to properly develop young players.

With Abramovich clearly not being a man who learns his lessons in football, you have to fear for the current manager, 33-year-old Andre Villas-Boas. With the reported amount of “player power” that goes on at Chelsea (demonstrated by Ashley Cole bringing a rifle into training one day), along with the task of bringing the best out of Torres, the words “mission impossible” come to mind. Blues fans can only pray that this manager is given time to implement his own style as well as the encouragement to bring up some young players such as McEachran.

Roman’s millions are capable of bringing in domestic trophies, but it takes something more to conquer Europe. A certain Sir Alex Ferguson has shown what can be achieved when owners give an under-pressure manager time to make his mark. Barcelona and Manchester United, with their excellent combinations of homegrown and bought players, are the benchmark. Until Abramovich realizes how little he truly understands, he will never claim the prize he wants above all others.

As for that John Terry slip, we’ll put that one down to karma for sacking Mourinho.