On March 4, the day after falling 1-0 to West Bromwich Albion and to fifth place in the Premier League table, Chelsea found themselves at the unquestioned low point of the Roman Abramovich Era. Abramovich had just relieved Manager Andres Villas-Boas of his coaching duties, an admission of failure from an owner who had spent over 50 million Euro over the summer luring AVB to Stamford Bridge.
Abramovich, the Russian billionaire who purchased the London club in 2003, has made it clear that he cares about one thing: winning. Not strategy, nor development, not even investment in the club’s future. Villas-Boas’ sacking meant an experimental influx of youth – midfielders Juan Mata and Raul Meireles were brought in over the summer – had spiraled out of control, with the team’s fate both in the Premier League and Champions League in doubt.
New interim manager and former Chelsea player Roberto Di Matteo found himself at a crossroads: continue AVB’s policy of largely ignoring club legends like Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard, or embrace the aging players who had experienced so much success wearing Chelsea blue. Di Matteo opted for one last sip from the fountain of youth, and to say that it has been a revelation could be an understatement. Winning his first three matches as manager, including a 4-1 Champions League victory over Napoli – allowing the Blues to advance 5-4 on aggregate – Di Matteo’s reliance on the old guard of Drogba, Lampard, John Terry, and Ashley Cole has seen Chelsea right the ship mid-capsize.
And of all the key victories secured by Chelsea over the two months, perhaps no victory is more important (in the club’s history, let alone the season) was the team’s 3-2 aggregate victory over Barcelona, again led by Chelsea’s seniors. In the first leg, Lampard’s clean dispossession of Lionel Messi directly led to Drogba’s goal, the only of the game. At Camp Nou, another Lampard tackle led to Ramires’ crucial strike, and while Terry saw red for a thoughtless knee to Alexis Sanchez’s back, it was Cole who spotted a streaking Fernando Torres for the game-icing tally.
The Blues’ season has not been perfect since Di Matteo has taken over. Wednesday’s 2-0 loss at home to Newcastle is indicative of this. Saddled in sixth place in the Premier League, the Blues’ only chance of reaching Champions League Football next season will come by defeating Bayern Munich on May 19. But Chelsea are playing in two May finals – they face Liverpool for the FA Cup today – which is two more than such esteemed clubs like Milan, Manchesters United and City, and Madrid can say. The only silverware Abramovich has failed to win over the last decade has been the European Champions Clubs’ Cup. If the Blues lift the trophy on May 19, surely the season’s ends will justify the tumultuous means.