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Chelsea continue to present a public image not widely admired

The pursuit of glory has alienated Chelsea.

Chelsea's interim manager Rafa Benitez appears to look for guidance from above after Hazard is sent off for aiming a kick at a ball boy. Picture: PA
Chelsea's interim manager Rafa Benitez appears to look for guidance from above after Hazard is sent off for aiming a kick at a ball boy. Picture: PA

The London club is not alone in being the means by which a benefactor indulges his ambition, and the general response among fans of other teams is to begrudge the riches and the superiority. Yet along with the trophies, and the occasional moments of genuine aplomb, Chelsea have tended to accumulate only scorn under Roman Abramovich. Eden Hazard's clash with a ball boy, which yesterday resulted in a violent conduct charge from the FA, was an individual misdemeanour, but there is seldom any restraint in castigating the club as a whole.

The unpopularity will be irrelevant to Abramovich. He paid no regard, after all, to the feelings of his club's own supporters when he sacked Roberto di Matteo earlier in the season, so widespread disdain will carry little effect. Even so, this has been another season when discontent has been the most prominent achievement and there is little sense of the club being able, or willing, to change its personality.

If the response from within the game to Hazard kicking the ball from underneath Charlie Morgan's body last Wednesday night has mostly been understanding, the public mood has been less accommodating. There is little enthusiasm for portraying the Stamford Bridge club as victims or innocents. Other teams that employ limitless wealth as a strategy will eventually encounter unpopularity, and even though there was an air of redemption to Manchester City's Barclay's Premier League championship win last season, because of the endless years of epic decline, that club, too, will never be universally admired.

There is still a haughtiness about teams that buy their way to sudden prominence, something more withering than the grumpiness towards Manchester United for their contemporary and historical dominance. The attitude towards Chelsea is darker still, though. This was a club that was often favoured with a romantic back-story of humble resources but a certain style and warmth. In truth, many of the club's employees, at the training ground and the stadium, retain a connection with that past, so that it is possible to recognise the difference between the club's public and private persona.

There was, for instance, an air of exasperation to Rafa Benitez in the wake of Hazard's misdemeanour. "I do not know what you expect from me," Chelsea's interim manager said. "Do you think we are not disappointed with the situation, that we do not regret what happened?" Hazard and Morgan apologised to each other in the dressing room last Wednesday night, while John Terry and Frank Lampard acted as club ambassadors. The narrative continues to depict Chelsea as being callous and insensitive, though.

Attitudes have become ingrained. The way that Jose Mourinho used brashness, arrogance and contempt as tactics during his spell in charge of the club set the tone, but there have been plenty of incidents to maintain the reputation. When Ashley Cole shot a work experience student in the backside with an air rifle, it seemed symptomatic of a general indiscipline that the club could not contain. The more recent allegations of racism against John Terry, after a clash with Anton Ferdinand, then the accusations made by Chelsea players that the referee Mark Clattenburg made a racist comment towards John Obi Mikel contributed to the notion of the club and its players being unruly and contemptuous. Clattenburg did not receive an unreserved apology from Chelsea.

The treatment of Lampard, too, has been revealing. The club has a policy about only short-term contracts being offered to players in the 30s, but they ought to have better managed the departure of a club icon. Carlo Ancelotti was sacked in a corridor at Goodison Park, while Andre Villas Boas was dismissed in curt fashion at the training ground. The same fate befell Di Matteo, and it is clear that even if the owner's whims must be obeyed, they are carried out with little class.

Hazard's is just the latest act of misconduct, and the cumulative effect is to limit the esteem of the Stamford Bridge club.

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