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The Abramovich years - Three unwanted managers, three European finals

Chelsea are into the Europa League final under the guidance of Rafa Benitez. What does he have in common with the other two men to complete such a feat?

Chelsea produced a scintillating second-half display last night in order to dispose of their Swiss rivals FC Basel; reaching their third major European final in six years with a 3-1 win at Stamford Bridge completing a 5-2 aggregate win.

When Mohamed Salah put Basel 1-0 up on the stroke of half-time it left the Chelsea faithful with an anxious wait before the teams re-emerged. However by the time David Luiz had sealed things with a rasping left-foot curler from range that was end-game and Chelsea could finally relax into the thought of a Europa League date with Benfica in Amsterdam.

But what immediately grabbed my attention about the victory was the manager who had led them there.

Rafa Benitez, the interim gaffer; unloved by the fans underappreciated by the club. This summer he will walk with Jose Mourinho widely expected to return to the club where he is ‘loved’.

Now however he stands on the verge of bringing European silverware to the club for the second year in succession; even if it is ‘just the Europa League’.

Once again the Roman Abramovich era; which has so intrinsically demanded success on the continent has seen a manager, largely unwanted by the fans and seemingly by the club itself, take them to the biggest stage.

Last year it was Roberto Di Matteo. After Andre Villas Boas was not given the time to break down the foundations of the dressing room and rebuild RDM came in and did the opposite. He galvanised the older members of the squad and led them to a not very pretty but nonetheless historic Champions League victory.

But the former West Brom man was clearly never intended as more than a stop-gap. Even on the steps of the Allianz Arena the Russian owner looked nonplussed with the Italian who had brought him the moment we were led to believe he dreamt of.

At the first sign of trouble this season Abramovich kicked him to the kerb.

Then there is 2008; Avram Grant. The Israeli manager, who was asked to step in when the Mourinho-Abramovich dynamic went sour, was a close personal friend of Abramovich but the saying mixing business with pleasure immediately springs to mind.

Despite a generally successful season, which included a title run-in, League Cup Final and of course Champions League Final, in May 2008 just three days after John Terry hit the post in Moscow he was asked to rescind his position as manager and go back to a director of football role; which he politely declined.

For all of the big names they have acquired in recent years such as Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Luiz Felipe Scolari or Andre Villas Boas in the end it has been three emergency plasters, papering over the cracks, who have taken Chelsea to major European finals.

Next year; could a certain Jose Mourinho bring that run to an end?

image: © Julian Mason

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