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Roman Abramovich's Lust

Posted: 02/01/2013 22:07

The cult team of the moment: Athletic Bilbao. Managed by a mad, but loveable old school Argentinian coach, Marcelo Bielsa, and inspired by the Basque country's passion and love for anything Basque. Last year they took the continent by storm in the Europa League, beating Manchester United, Schalke 04 and Manchester City's conquerors, Sporting Lisbon, on their way to a demoralising defeat in the final.

A Falcao-inspired Atletico Madrid tore them apart on a step too far for the locals club, and the wheels came off. Bielsa assaulted a construction worker, Javi Martinez got his big money move to Bayern Munich and Fernando Llorente crossed a path from which he shall not return. The famous Iberian ham tastes worse everyday in the Basque country, with the current seasons form drastically down on last years. However, no matter how hard times get the fans have the great knowledge that each and every player is one of them and feels the pain of a loss, just as much as every fan in the stadium.

Athletic Bilbao are a uniquely run football club; they restrict themselves to fielding only Basque nationalised players, creating stability due to large upheavals being non-existent. Along with Barcelona and Real Madrid, Bilbao are the only other team to have played in every La Liga season since its formation in 1929: winning eight titles, with the last in 1983/84 season. Great Spanish players like Julen Guerrero, Andoni Zubizarreta and Zarra played at San Mamés, laying the foundations for future legends Iker Munain, Oscar de Marcos and Ander Herrera to take the club to a higher level.

With the stability they gain through running their club in this manner, it relieves the pressure on players and managers alike. The players get the chance to play due to the ban on foreign imports and the managers are expected to work with what they have. This model should be the target for every club in modern football; to field as many homegrown players as possible, yet instead it is trivial successes that take the limelight.

The goals and ambitions of many top clubs have changed significantly over the past couple of decades, with money becoming more of an objective and thus alienating fans from the club. The money invested in and generated through football has helped increase the global popularity of the sport, but it has distanced the active participants from the fans. As well as this, money has destabilised clubs, creating added pressure for both the players and coaching staff alike: some form of immediate success is now required, be it through a new 'philosophy', trophy, or big money signing.

On a higher scale, but a less restricted model, Manchester United are another great example of stability reaping the seeds it sewed. The trophies Sir Alex Ferguson has won since 1993 are all built on the foundations that were set in a seven-year baron spell for the club after his appointment. The board had faith and believed stability to be key and Sir Alex has shown them to be great decision makers, creating several great title-winning teams after practicing his methods at every level in the club.

These clubs show up the trigger-happy approach taken by some owners at clubs, with every manager they sack and players they sell, creating more pressure for the next in line to deal with. A prime example is Rafael Benitez at Chelsea; a Champions League, UEFA Cup and La Liga winner is under pressure, not because of his failings as a manager, but because of the failings of his new owner. Roberto Di Matteo became the eigth manager of the Abramovich era to lose his job, just six months after leading Chelsea to what everyone perceived to be Abramovich's core goal: The Champions League. It leaves many posing the question, 'What does Abramovich want out of the club?' as the answer gradually drifts away from any logical thinkers.

Abramovich, like many others, has been fooled by the word of the week: 'philosophy.' He wants Guardiola for his perceived talent at building squads, though he had the greatest (discarding SAF) manager around at doing this in Mourinho. There is also the notion that Guardiola inherited a great squad and many of his additions have been deemed to be failures (Sanchez, Ibrahimovic, Adriano). Guardiola was a mediator between the squad, tirelessly working to keep things ticking and sitting on the development on the now historic La Masia football academy. Brendan Rodgers has unwittingly built a reputation on having a 'philosophy', which he openly admits is 'to play like Barcelona', but he was at Swansea for two years, Barcelona have been working on this since Johan Cruyff reigned supreme. Liverpool have installed a manager who copies a teams style of play down to every last detail, forgetting that Barcelona's players built this formation and style of play through continuity and stability at grassroots. Unless Liverpool as a club adopt this philosophy, like Swansea have, then the instability at the club will continue to prosper.

"The player who has passed through La Masia has something different to the rest, it's a plus that only comes from having competed in a Barcelona shirt from the time you were a child"
- former Barcelona coach and player, Pep Guardiola.

La Masia has been running for over 30 years, with graduate numbers increasing over time to hit the current peak of consistent products of the academy playing for the full team. This is Abramovich's problem, he is looking at Guardiola and seeing the creation of something similar in London and when Guardiola finally leaves after laying the foundations for the project, Roman will be back on his own again with only his trigger happy decision making to keep him company.

Though he has the money and no doubt a love for the game like every 'fan', he does not and will never have the patience to have a club made from the roots like Barcelona, everything is in the now for him. Rotation of great managers will win you trophies here and there, but it will never create the legacy of a Manchester United, Barcelona or - less successfully - Athletic Bilbao that Roman lusts after.

With stability key to success and managers increasingly under pressure in the modern environment, the Football Association should work to protect managers. Introducing a 'manager window' where managers can only be dismissed and brought in during this designated period would be a new way to tackle the rising issue. This would relieve pressure and give the managers a chance to look to the short-term future at least, knowing that a certain points haul over this period would be enough to keep them in a job.

"If you look at clubs like Manchester United and Arsenal, Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have shown that stability gives you the best platform to achieve success and that is the model we wish to emulate here"

"We're looking to build on the success we had last season and these new contracts are aimed at keeping the club progressing on and off the pitch, as we have done since returning to the Premier League in 2010" - Derek Llambias, speaking to the BBC.

Though extreme, Mike Ashley, Newcastle United owner, has shown a great deal of faith in his staff by rewarding them all with eight-years contracts to help create a stable atmosphere around the club. Confidence breeds and when confidence is put in a manager to secure the long-term stability of a club, it becomes more than just a job, but a chance to create a legacy that even Abramovich might deem up to standards.

 

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