LONDON // Roman Abramovich has been preparing a dramatic overhaul of Chelsea's technical staff that would see Carlo Ancelotti succeeded by Pep Guardiola as manager and Frank Arnesen replaced as director of football.
The Russian billionaire's desire to import Barcelona's intricate, attack-minded football to Stamford Bridge is such that he has left Guardiola an open invite to continue his career at Chelsea and held talks with Txiki Begiristain, the former Barca sporting director, about taking Arnesen's position.
Guardiola is unique among Europe's elite coaches in having less than a year to run on his contract. The Catalan won a treble of Champions League, Primera Liga and Copa del Rey in his first season as Barcelona manager, following that up by becoming the first coach to win all six major trophies in a calendar year, culminating in the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi.
He has had a difficult relationship, however, with Sandro Rosell, the new Barca president, who has declined to extend his contract at Camp Nou.
According to close associates, Guardiola's ambition is to further prove his coaching abilities by repeating his Champions League success at an English club. He regards Chelsea as an appropriate platform to achieve those aims.
Abramovich has been beguiled by Barcelona's football under Guardiola, watching a team which encapsulates his ambition to win the Champions League while playing an attractive, attacking game. He is frustrated that his three-quarter billion pound investment in Chelsea has not been sufficient to deliver similar success, and has calculated that further changes of personnel will.
In recent weeks, Abramovich has undermined Ancelotti by sacking assistant first-team coach Ray Wilkins and promoting Michael Emenalo into the position. Ancelotti was presented with the mid-season change of staff as a fait accompli, being left powerless to retain Wilkins, who he describes as a close friend and a key component of last season's double-winning success, or veto Emenalo's succession.
Emenalo has never previously held a coaching role at a professional football club and does not yet hold the correct qualifications to conduct training sessions.
The former Nigeria international has been employed as Chelsea's opposition scout since being brought to the club by Avram Grant in 2007. His previous position involved coaching a girls' team at a little-known football academy in the United States.
Once a trusted and influential confidant, Arnesen precipitated his removal as Chelsea's director of football by resigning his position yesterday morning. The Dane had fallen out of favour with Abramovich for failing to deliver a regular first-team player from a £50 million-plus (Dh290m) investment in the club's academy.
Arnesen himself cost over £5m to poach from Tottenham Hotspur and came on a £2m-a-year salary in 2005, but was not to be re-employed when his contract expired at the end of this season.
"We are now seeing the fruits of that labour as our stated aim was to get one player from the academy into the first team each year from 2010," Arnesen said. "We have a great crop of young players now coming through, and I feel it's the right time for me to start looking towards a new challenge.
"It is always difficult to take big decisions like this, but it is entirely my decision. I'm looking forward to continuing my work here until such time as the club decides which way they want to move forward. With that in mind I wanted to make the decision now, giving the club plenty of time to make the necessary plans for the end of the season. I will always be grateful to the club and Chelsea will always be in my heart."
Last summer, Abramovich took direct control of the club's transfer activity. Yossi Benayoun and Ramires were presented to the manager as new signings, though Ancelotti had asked for different players. Five senior internationals were sold or allowed to leave the club, some of whom Ancelotti wanted to retain.
At the same time, Abramovich sanctioned a series of meetings with Begiristain about becoming Chelsea's new director of football. Begiristain, who left Barca once Rosell became president, was initially enthusiastic but cooled on the position when it became clear that the Russian wanted to determine first-team transfers.
Chelsea's playing staff have been concerned by the changes at the club.
"I think a lot of things, a lot of small things, is a little bit destabilising us," said Branislav Ivanovic.
Ancelotti has distanced himself from the Wilkins sacking saying it was a club decision that was not explained to him. Chelsea have has made no attempt to extend his own contract, which expires in 2012, and the Italian has told friends he would consider other opportunities in English football.
Chelsea yesterday denied that Ancelotti will be replaced by Guardiola at the end of the season.
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