Chelsea chairman not sorry for manager storm

Al Jazeera's Lee Wellings talks to Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck about past managers and looking for a future one.


    A violent thunderstorm rages while we talk in Singapore, but Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck is a man used to dealing with turbulence.

    Including the furore over the club's ruthless attitude to sacking managers.

    "I know we have fired what most people would say are a lot of managers - terminated their relationship is a better way to describe it - but we've always thought long and hard when we've done it. We certainly believe in stability in managers but it has to be with the right manager and every time our relationship with a manager is terminated we think it's for good reason," Buck says.

    The American who has supported the club since the late 1980s and been their mover and shaker in the Abramovich decade is bullish about their policy.

    "It's generally worked out well when we've brought in a new manager and I guess the proof is in the pudding in that over the last 10 years we've pretty much had a trophy every single year."

    I ask him if any of the managers or all of them deserve sympathy for going so soon.

    "Well this is the career they selected and they know the pitfalls this job has so in that sense NO but of course it's always sad when a relationship is terminated."

    Privately are there one or two that the club think perhaps we shouldn't have got rid of them?

    "We don't look back," says Buck.

    "We always look forward to figure out how we're going and how we're going to get there."

    Looking forward now means the search for a new manager. The 'interim one' Rafa Benitez is definitely going in the summer. But who will be the 11th man to serve under Abramovich?

    "We really haven't started that yet, we all have some ideas, and certainly Roman Abramovich is thinking about it, but at the moment we're concentrating on the end of the season."

    "We're really trying to get top three or top four place in the Premier League so we get in the Champions League next year. That's really important for us and of course we're still in two big competitions - UEFA cup and FA cup - so I think the real search for a new manager will begin once the season ends in the middle of May."

    Is anyone ruled out, I press, are you completely open minded... you know I'm leaning towards Mourinho...

    "I am completely open minded about it," says Buck willing me to move on.

    Past managers?

    "I am completely open minded about it," he says with a smile.

    With his no-nonsense approach and dry humour, the Chelsea chairman - a big hitter in the legal profession - had made a positive impression on the guests at the Business of Sport Summit in Singapore, pushing the club in south east Asia as the club continue to widen their fan base.

    A tour of Bangkok, Kuala Mumpar and Jakarta this summer will be their sixth to Asia in the last decade. Plus they play Manchester City twice in America as the English season ends. One in St Louis and one at Yankees stadium in New York. Buck told me he admires the Yankees and their iconic brand.

    "Fans don't like it when we call Chelsea a brand and I understand that they prefer Chelsea to be viewed as a club and it IS a club but that's why we have to do everything at home to make sure our local fan base is satisfied."

    "These tours are very important to Chelsea. We come from a relatively small country of 70 million people and run a very expensive sport so we have to look elsewhere for our revenues and it's a very delicate balance between satisfying our fans at home and giving them the best possible experience at home but also trying to bring in fans from abroad."

    With young Chelsea fans in Asia only used to success - a far cry from when Buck watched and I reported on Chelsea at the end of the 80s - the club know they need to keep pushing in this area.

    "It's long term investment and I guess they are young supporters to begin with. And that's fine with us because if we can get their support now they will be with us for a long time. The best way to garner their support is with success on the pitch and that's what we're trying to do."

    Buck says the fans who have disagreed with the club's owner on the dismissal of Champions League winning manager Roberto Di Matteo are respectful when they approach him, just as he respected the 'cherished' tradition of the club. The appointment of unpopular Rafa Benitez has pushed the relationship to breaking point but Buck insists that while he's avoiding the spotlight, Abramovich has the club's best interests at heart. As much as he did when he arrived 10 years ago.

    "He's always talking about football, he knows an awful lot about football and I guess the easiest thing to convey to you is that in the dressing room after the Munich victory Mr Abramovich gave a little speech to the players... and he said this is just the beginning."

    Having won some more hearts and minds in Singapore - not a figure of speech, many people told me at the conference how they admired his manner - the Chelsea chairman headed back to London for some important business. Thursday's Premier League meeting where the club will vote in favour of a salary cap.

    Big money, big spending Chelsea voting for a salary cap? That might surprise some people I say to Buck.

    "We're in favour of financial stability."

    Stability. The calm after the storm. Now that would be a surprise at Chelsea Football Club. But if anyone is used to dealing with the unpredictable in an unflappable manner... it's Bruce Buck.

    Click here to see Lee's interview with the Chelsea chairman.



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