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By Charles Walmsley
Yesterday afternoon’s dismissal of André Villas-Boas by Chelsea Football Club brings to a dramatic close the latest edition of popular football soap opera WestEnders.
Almost 25,000 viewers attended the live episode at the Hawthorns on Saturday which saw the beleaguered boss’s team succumb to mid-table West Brom and tumble out of the Champions League places. Avid fans of the show will have seen the Blues win only three of the last twelve games amidst alleged fallings out with players, bizarre team selections and press-conference outbursts. Saturday’s defeat was clearly the last straw for show-runner Roman Abramovich who is now looking for his eighth lead actor in nine seasons.
WestEnders exploded onto our screens in 2003 when Russian oil-tycoon Abramovich pumped his billions into west London outfit Chelsea FC. It was an instant ratings winner – José Mourinho’s side delighted fans with their first league title in fifty years before adding another with an FA Cup and two League Cups. But European glory continued to elude him, and Chelsea’s most decorated gaffer left under a storm cloud in September 2007. His successor Avram Grant lasted less than a year after defeat on penalties in the Champions League final wasn’t deemed good enough.
Amidst all the cast changes, a well-respected programme was fast becoming a farce. The next victim in the Stamford Bridge hot-seat was World Cup winning manager Luis Felipe Scolari. Initially praised for bringing attractive, attacking football back to West London, he was soon relieved of his duties when results deviated from perfection. Today, he described his experience as “hell”. Abramovich introduced a “Special Guest Star” in Guus Hiddink, and although the 2009 season finale saw Chelsea regain the FA Cup in dramatic fashion, a “will he, won’t he” cliff-hanger was resolved with the Dutchman declining the opportunity to become a series regular.
The arrival of Italian Carlo Ancelotti seemed to steady the ship. The series saw a triumphant return to the form of its early seasons with a league and cup double at the end of 2010. The spine of the 04/5 title winning team was firing on all cylinders and the former Milan manager looked to be José’s heir. In true WestEnders fashion, it all went wrong. Firstly, the acquisition of £50m flop Fernando Torres unsettled free-scoring Didier Drogba – a lean second half of the season saw the strikers bag just four goals between them.
One can also pinpoint the shock departure of Ray Wilkins as the beginning WestEnders’ recent dip in form. Ancelotti said of his assistant, “Ray is one of those select few, always present, noble in spirit, a real blue-blood, Chelsea flows in his veins … without him we wouldn’t have won a thing.” “Butch” was clearly a vital link between the squad and the new manager and sure enough in the year of his departure the double-winning team fell nine points short of Manchester United in 2011. Ancelotti was duly Italian was given his marching orders. In an attempt to bring some much-needed stability, Abramovich shelled out £13.3m to release Porto boss AVB from his contract.
It’s not just the managerial merry-go-round which has set Chelsea fans’ heads spinning. In the last few years the Chelsea players have been embroiled in scandal – John Terry the chief culprit for his affair with Wayne Bridge’s missus Vanessa Perroncel and his alleged racist comments towards QPR’s Anton Ferdinand. Ashley Cole’s highly-publicised divorce from the nation’s heart throb Cheryl and a crazy training ground incident with an air rifle added to the off-the-field issues, while a rift between the England left back and team mate Frank Lampard on one side and their manager on the other has caused further problems. Such behaviour befits a soap-opera like WestEnders – it doesn’t belong in the Premier League.
It is baffling that Abramovich still thinks that short-termism will breed success – the League Managers Association has today branded the club an “embarrassment”. Unless the next Chelsea manager is given time to see the club through this transition period, rather like fellow abominations that are Big Brother, The Only Way Is Essex and the X Factor, it is unlikely the axe will fall on WestEnders.