In the blue corner, you have the charismatic manager – a strong track record of success, the unwavering loyalty of his top performers and a natural gift for self-publicity. In the red corner, you have the chairman – silent, unanswerable, and richer than Croesus. As far as the outside world is concerned, it’s not even a fair fight.
But the intrigue at Chelsea highlights a familiar corporate governance issue – the dangers of an executive chairman trying to co-exist with a strong chief executive.
Mourinho, not a man burdened by self-doubt, clearly believed that the management of the day-to-day business (team affairs) should be solely his preserve. Given his monumental ego, it’s not surprising that be bristled at any attempt to undermine him. After all, he was the expert, while the chairman clearly wasn’t a football man (when he first came to England, Abramovich looked as though he wasn’t quite sure when to clap).
However, the chairman obviously felt that the huge piles of cash he has poured into the club – unprecedented in football history – entitled him to a slightly more hands-on role. So winning two Premiership titles in Mourinho’s first three seasons (losing just 10 league games in the process) was not enough – Abramovich wanted Champions League trophies and swashbuckling football too.
So he started hedging his bets – key allies were appointed to senior coaching roles, while high-profile transfers were agreed apparently against the manager’s wishes. And when these expensive superstars flopped, the manager was the one left carrying the can.
Mourinho hasn’t exactly made it easy for himself, either. In the last three years, his opinionated (some might say arrogant) style has won him plenty of enemies. He could get away with it as long as the team was winning, but when results started to dip (as they have recently) the snipers started to emerge.
All in all it’s a sorry tale of too many egos in the room – and unfortunately for Chelsea fans, Mourinho was always going to lose the fight. This week’s walk-out was largely inevitable.
Some might wonder who would now want to inherit such a poisoned chalice – but we reckon that Avram Grant, the Abramovich ally who is taking over the reins (for now), will probably find it worth his while. After all, Mourinho was reportedly on about £5m a year - and is apparently seeking £25m to compensate him for the three years left on his contract. With that kind of money on offer, we'd definitely give it a go...