It used to be said that the easiest job in football was being a director at Arsenal. ‘Just do what the French lad wants. Meeting adjourned.’
Later, when Arsene Wenger‘s judgments became less reliable, we were able to see how smart Arsenal’s board members were.
And then that mantle passed to Chelsea. Imagine being front of house for Roman Abramovich. Whatever you did, right or wrong, he picked up the bill. Fall out with a manager, and Abramovich paid him off and financed the next one. A costly transfer misstep? Abramovich authorised plan B.
Todd Boehly has assumed the interim role of sporting director in a transformed Chelsea board
Chairman Bruce Buck is one of several previously powerful individuals exiting Stamford Bridge
So, as he prepares to enter the bidding for Raheem Sterling in his interim role as sporting director, Todd Boehly must wonder what all the fuss is about.
This is where the really hard work begins, with Chelsea now owned by a man who wishes to run a business. He may be a little mystified at the horror greeting news of the departures of Bruce Buck and Marina Granovskaia last week.
Petr Cech is the latest to go, standing down from his role as technical and performance adviser on Monday.
Yet, Boehly might ask, what has happened at Chelsea recently that suggests loss? Buck, the chairman, was a shrewd political player during Richard Scudamore’s time at the Premier League, but was left critically damaged by the Super League breakaway and the reputational cost of Abramovich’s links to Vladimir Putin’s regime.
The request to play the Middlesbrough FA Cup tie behind closed doors was disastrous, and a recent attempt to break the ice at a Premier League meeting with a joke about Chelsea’s predicament fell painfully flat.
Marina Granovskai (left) and Petr Cech are also on their way out ahead of the 2022/23 season
One of those present described it as a mortifying experience for the personable Buck to be met with stone-faced silence from his contemporaries, his influence now departed.
As for Granovskaia — Abramovich’s most trusted executive and regularly depicted as the master negotiator — explain that one to Boehly given that he just signed off a paltry £8m loan fee from Inter Milan, for a player the Italians sold to Chelsea for £97.5m last summer.
Boehly has also waved goodbye to his best defender, Antonio Rudiger, on a free to Real Madrid, and may soon be taking significant hits on Kepa Arrizabalaga, Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner, also expensively recruited.
And Chelsea have not won the league since significantly alienating Antonio Conte over the sale of Diego Costa in 2017. For such a smart operator, Granovskaia does seem to have presided over some significant errors.
And while Cech gets the credit for finding Edouard Mendy, what else has he advised on? If Chelsea have remained consistently successful, it is because Abramovich has bankrolled all ventures, astute or not.
Securing Liverpool sporting director Michael Edwards (left) would be significant for Chelsea
If a coach falls short, it does help to be able to get Conte or Maurizio Sarri or Thomas Tuchel to make it right. Boehly might not wish to finance a revolving door policy.
Also, why the surprise that he wishes to run his own show? Why would he pay £4.25billion for Chelsea and leave the previous incumbents in place? Not least as what was required was a clean break from the Abramovich regime and Buck and Granovskaia — even Cech — represented anything but.
Chelsea are now among the clubs interested in Michael Edwards, the man responsible for the assembly of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. Now, that’s an operator. That would be a signing.
Transgender inclusion must not undermine elite sport
Entering the debate around transgender participation in women’s sport, United States footballer Megan Rapinoe favoured inclusion over all.
‘Show me the evidence that trans women are taking everyone’s scholarships, are dominating in every sport, are winning every title,’ she said.
Hugely influential footballer Megan Rapinoe backs inclusion over all — but that involves perils
‘I’m sorry, it’s just not happening. So we need to start from inclusion, period. I think people also need to understand that sport is not the most important thing in life, right?’
Indeed it isn’t. All the more reason, then, not to risk undermining the integrity of women’s competition for such a small number of trans competitors.
So you can be trans, you can be accepted, you can participate at grassroots level where inclusion rightly remains the dominant priority, you just can’t take elite positions at major national and international events. Because sport’s not the most important thing in life, right?
It’s high time we became Team UK
As anyone who has ever worked on the sports desk of a national newspaper knows, if you want to spend the morning answering phones leave the ‘Irish’ part out of the British and Irish Lions. The Irish, a proud rugby nation, feel very passionately about their part in that story and are understandably furious if omitted.
It should be the same with Team GB, indeed with any team representative of these Isles. We are the United Kingdom not just the three countries that comprise the mainland.
Seeing hurdler Megan Marrs, twice gold medallist at the British Indoor Championships and born in Belfast, in a shirt marked Great Britain is not right. Northern Ireland should never be marginalised in this way. Team UK rolls off the tongue as easily as Team GB, too.
Don’t get shirty over Eddie
Why the outcry about Thierry Henry’s magical No 14 shirt going to Eddie Nketiah at Arsenal?
Henry was a wonderful player but all things must pass. And the big difference between Nketiah and Henry, is that the young man at least wants to be Arsenal’s No 14. By the end of his golden years there, Henry did not.
Eddie Nketiah was handed a new deal and the No 14 at Arsenal after a strong end to the season
FA don’t deserve stadium blame
Sometimes it must be hard representing the Football Association. Last week, Baroness Campbell — their head of women’s football — admitted that, yes, England’s women could have been playing at bigger venues in the European Championship.
After opening at Old Trafford, England’s next two matches take them to Brighton’s Amex Stadium and St Mary’s in Southampton. The three games were sold out by April 20.
This was immediately depicted as the FA failing women’s football, again, despite it being a tireless supporter in modern times.
Less widely documented was chief executive Mark Bullingham’s explanation of why smaller venues were used: the FA had to pay clubs to host matches because so few came forward when the initial tender process began.
England will be playing at Old Trafford, the Amex Stadium and Old Trafford during Euro 2022
‘If you think people were knocking our door down, that was not the case,’ he said. It also isn’t what people want to hear. They prefer the narrative where the women’s game is forever restrained by the dark forces of authority.
It isn’t like that. The FA do their best. If you want to take issue, do so with your club; or better still, buy a ticket and go to watch their women’s team. Only then will owners see the value.
Rennie WAS a trailblazer… but it wasn’t racism that held him back
There is a book coming out about the former referee Uriah Rennie. Technically, it is a work of fiction but its subject is very much real and collaborated with many hours of interview material driving the narrative thread.
Naturally, it will provoke debate. Rennie was the first, and only, black referee in the Premier League. Why is that? Why has no one followed? These are legitimate questions and the answers may be uncomfortable for a sport that preaches inclusion.
Official Uriah Rennie (right) made a number of clear mistakes during his Premier League career
Yet, equally, Rennie wasn’t very good. Indeed, a number of managers from his time at the top — 1997 to 2009 — would argue, always in private, that far from suffering discrimination, his status as trailblazer and standard-bearer protected him from demotion. Certainly, reports from the time suggest he was, at best, inconsistent.
So it’s complicated. Without doubt, a black man rising through the ranks of the refereeing hierarchy as Rennie did from 1979 would have experienced discrimination in some form.
Yet the reason he was not propelled further was almost certainly a call made on merit. It is easy to look at Rennie’s story and cry foul — but ask Frank Lampard about his booking for a dive against Fulham. A clearer penalty it is hard to find.
Make no mistake: votes are all Dorries & Co care about
Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary, will speak to British sporting bodies today to discuss their policies on transgender participation. ‘In a choice between inclusivity against fairness, I will always choose fairness,’ she says.
Actually, Dorries will always choose where she thinks the votes are because that’s all this Government has left. It recognises transgender issues as part of its culture wars, so hits them hard.
Nadine Dorries is vocal on football but she is ultimately interested in votes rather than fairness
You will notice that, so far, calls for Government regulation for sport have fallen on deaf ears despite the shocking contents of the Whyte Review. Yet Dorries is very vocal on football.
There are a lot more votes in policing football than in saving little girls doing gymnastics from monsters. But she’s all about the fairness, Nadine.
Raducanu should take heed of McEnroe
Max Eisenbud says that Emma Raducanu’s season would have panned out exactly the same, had she not signed a single commercial contract since winning the 2021 US Open.
Maybe he’s right. A lot of the problems for Raducanu in recent months seem to be to do with the physical demands of the circuit and her lack of experience.
Yet as Eisenbud is Raducanu’s agent, it is fair to say he has more than a vested interest in advancing that view. This is why it is better to listen to John McEnroe. He knows.
La-La Land dream move for frail Bale
Los Angeles FC is the perfect destination for Gareth Bale. It keeps him fit for his true priority — Wales at the World Cup — and the standard is very undemanding for a player of his talent.
Bale looked off the pace in the fiercely competitive Premier League with Tottenham, and had he gone to Cardiff could have met too many uncompromising full backs.
Completely committed, Bale could have propelled Cardiff to the top flight, but he isn’t prepared to give that much to club football these days. LA’s ideal. Even in training mode, he’ll be the best they’ve seen.
Le Tissier cannot play Carragher card
Matt Le Tissier questioned Sky’s decision not to renew his contract, particularly in light of their continued support for Jamie Carragher.
Le Tissier said that he asked whether the decision had anything to do with his social media posts, which have spread Covid conspiracy theories and even, at one stage, doubted the veracity of the war in Ukraine.
Matt Le Tissier has namechecked Jamie Carragher in a row over the response to his comments
‘Their reply was, “Well, we have to take into account the reputation of the company”,’ explained Le Tissier. ‘I said, “Oh, that’s interesting, because at the moment, you are employing somebody who spat at a girl from his car”.’
And, yes, after an initial suspension, Sky did continue with Carragher. Yet there’s a difference, and it is a significant one. Carragher made a mistake. A stupid, appalling mistake for which he immediately apologised and which he continues to regret. He is embarrassed by it. He is mortified. He cringes if it is brought up.
Le Tissier has no such qualms. He has an opinion, stands unapologetically by it — as is his right — and uses his opinion to proselytise his views.
So, yes, what Carragher did came at a cost — but it was to his own reputation, and he did everything in his power to address that.
Le Tissier remains sceptical about an illness that has killed 6.33million people worldwide. Continuing to promote him would land this back at Sky’s door.
Southampton were reaching the same conclusion, which is why he stood down from his ambassadorial role at the club, before it was demanded.
Le Tissier uses his position to promote his world view. Carragher is anything but an advocate for his behaviour that day. It’s not equivalent.
Good enough for Guardiola is good enough for City
Manchester City have an agreement in principle to sign Stefan Ortega of Arminia Bielefeld if reserve goalkeeper Zack Steffen leaves.
What do we know of Ortega? Well, Bielefeld were relegated last season, but that might not be his fault.
Goalkeeper Stefan Ortega was part of a relegated Bielefeld side and is destined for Man City
They only let in 53 goals which was the lowest total of any team in the bottom five, and fewer than Hoffenheim, who finished ninth.
What we can safely presume, knowing Pep Guardiola, is that Ortega will be a footballer.
Whether he will be a goalkeeper capable of filling in for Ederson if misfortune intervenes is another matter. Being adept at everything Guardiola demands has seen off all but one man.