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Pssst! Let's have a Pep talk

The funny thing about Roman Abramovich is that he wasn't always like this.

Logic of Benitez's appointment is hard to pin down Photograph: AFP/Getty
Logic of Benitez's appointment is hard to pin down Photograph: AFP/Getty

Go back to his early years at Chelsea and you see a rather different guy. Claudio Ranieri, who was in charge when the Russian magnate acquired the club back in 2003, never complained about any interference from above or unsolicited "gifts" in the transfer market. He was shown the door at the end of the 2003-04 season but, with hindsight, accepts that Abramovich and his new chief executive, Peter Kenyon, wanted to put their own stamp on the club.

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His replacement, Jose Mourinho, has a knack for rewriting history. But even he would concede that in his first two seasons in charge, when Chelsea twice won the title, there was meddling from upstairs. In the summer of 2006, Andriy Shevchenko and Michael Ballack landed on his lap, largely umprompted.

If there was a sea change in Abramovich's attitude, maybe that's when it happened – 2006. Which, and it may well be a coincidence, is also when his first marriage started to break apart. Whatever the case, Abramovich's personal involvement has increased markedly since then.

He's always been surrounded by whispering advisers, hangers-on, court jesters and bootlickers, many of them motivated by grabbing a slice of his money and his approval. The difference in recent years is that, rather than listening to just one set of people, he seems to listen to all of them and act accordingly.

So not only is he getting bad advice, he goes from one set of bad decisions to the next. When Carlo Ancelotti was appointed manager in 2009, he was sold as the guy who could manage the veterans, play attractive football and deliver results on a budget, which the club needed to do given that Financial Fair Play was on its way.

He won the double in his first season, scoring a Premier League record number of goals and keeping the spending contained. He was told Chelsea would have to continue on a shoestring ... instead Abramovich personally signed Fernando Torres for £50 million in January 2011 and added David Luiz to boot. And that's when things started getting really screwy. Torres wasn't the instant hit Abramovich expected and Ancelotti got the blame. And, even though they had figured out by early April that they were going to change managers, it wasn't until late June that they appointed Andre Villas-Boas.

Which, of course, meant Villas-Boas had signed a new deal with a £12 million get-out clause in the interim. This pricey delay wasn't about Abramovich being foolish, it was about him getting – not for the first time – rotten advice about who would be available and how much it would cost.

Villas-Boas's demise, of course, was partly his own doing. But he wasn't helped by a bizarre transfer campaign, which saw the club accumulate strikers (seven, going into the season) including guys who would never get to play (like Romelu Lukaku, who they nevertheless bought for £20m and did not loan out). This ill-assorted squad was, as ever, the result of muddled thinking from the top, caused by listening to different people, each of whom offered conflicting advice. Which brings us to the present, the sacking of Roberto di Matteo and the appointment of Rafa Benitez. Another textbook case of warring agendas. Abramovich had been told Pep Guardiola is a very realistic target and so Di Matteo was kept around to keep his seat warm.

But after defeat to West Brom last weekend, Abramovich became convinced Di Matteo had to go (a conclusion he probably did not reach on his own). And when Chelsea then stumbled away to Juventus, it was the final nail in the coffin.

Why Benitez? Again, because someone got to Abramovich at the right time and convinced him Rafa could "save the season" and be ideally placed to prepare the team for the advent of the messiah, Guardiola.

Logical? Of course not. Chelsea are third in the table, and unless Benitez can travel back in time, he won't remedy their Champions League campaign. What's more, apart from the fact he and Guardiola are both Spanish (though the latter might bristle at that, preferring to self-identify as Catalan) they have little in common in terms of football philosophy. Throw in Benitez's long track record of clashing with officials at his own club, speaking out of turn and getting sucked into needless wars of words with other managers (anyone remember the Sir Alex "Fact!" fiasco?) and, again, it's difficult to decipher Abramovich's thinking.

Unless, of course, you conclude that there's nothing to decipher and he simply changes his mind based on the last guy he spoke to.

Nobody wants to be cynical here, but surely it's an incredible coincidence that Harry Redknapp gets linked with a highly lucrative faraway job – national team manager of Ukraine – makes sure everyone in the media knows about it and talks about it incessantly and, hey presto, Mark Hughes is out on his backside and Harry gets the Queens Park Rangers gig.

QPR had a horrid start to the season and their transfer dealings ranged from the questionable to the ridiculous (none more so than Stephane Mbia thinking he was signing for Glasgow Rangers ... presumably he was unaware of events last summer). But you can't help but feel Tony Fernandes is more decisive and competent when it comes to running his other businesses than QPR. At least based on what he's shown thus far.

One good thing to come out of the Mark Clattenburg racism row, which apparently was all one big misunderstanding? The PGMOL, the body that looks after referees in the Premier League and Football League, will now record conversations between officials during the match.

Clattenburg is fortunate that the FA found no grounds to open formal proceedings – when you're relying on witness statements, anything can happen – but hopefully now we won't even get this far. A quick listen through the tape and everything will be knocked on the head (or not, as the case may be) straight away.

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