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Christmas Blues Abramovich's festive record puts Lampard's job in danger

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Buying time: Frank Lampard made a plea for patience after the defeat to Manchester City on Sunday. Photo: PA

Buying time: Frank Lampard made a plea for patience after the defeat to Manchester City on Sunday. Photo: PA

PA

Buying time: Frank Lampard made a plea for patience after the defeat to Manchester City on Sunday. Photo: PA

As usual, Roman Abramovich spent New Year on the Caribbean island of St Barts where he has a 70-acre estate, originally designed like a Balinese village on land once owned by David Rockefeller.

His 533ft yacht, Eclipse, was moored in the harbour there, along with one he used to own, Le Grand Bleu, which he gave to long-term business partner Eugene Shvidler several years ago and which is worth £150 million (€166m). It was on Le Grand Bleu that Abramovich first hired Jose Mourinho.

Because of Covid, there were not the usual New Year celebrations - Abramovich normally hosts a lavish party and flies in musicians such as Lenny Kravitz - but there would have been plenty of discussion about the state of another of the Russian billionaire's assets: Chelsea.

Worse

The fact is that Frank Lampard, the head coach, could not have picked a worse time of year to be losing matches. It is around Christmas and New Year that Abramovich, his friends, associates and advisers tend to spend more time watching football - and passing their opinions.

One win and four defeats in seven games is bad, even if it followed a 17-match unbeaten sequence. Even not winning the dead rubber of a Champions League tie at the start of the poor run may have caused irritation, given Chelsea drew with FK Krasnodar, owned by another Russian billionaire, Sergey Galitsky.

The only Chelsea game Abramovich has watched live since July 2019 was the group game in Russia between the two clubs, and, because of his UK visa dispute, and despite taking Israeli citizenship, he is unlikely to be seen at Stamford Bridge soon. But he obviously follows the club's fortunes closely.

History suggests Lampard needs to be careful and he, as much as anyone, given his long and illustrious playing career at Chelsea, will be aware of that. Senior figures at the club always insist that Abramovich does not expect trophies to be won but he does expect Chelsea to stay in contention deep into competitions - especially after a big summer spend.

If they continue to fall off the pace in the Premier League, if there is a risk of not qualifying for the Champions League, then the red flags will be everywhere for Lampard.

In the early years of Abramovich's ownership, Stamford Bridge was a "Hamptons of Moscow" and experts in Russian politics would have a field day people-spotting if they caught sight of the boxes around the owner. There would be a European prime minister here, a banker there, a billionaire next to him. When Chelsea played CSKA Moscow in a Champions League tie in 2004, there were oligarchs everywhere.

For years, Abramovich would fly in and spend time watching games live before heading off to the Caribbean around December 27 as Moscow shut down in early January ahead of Russia's own New Year. And just look what happened.

In Mourinho's first stint as manager, things turned sour over Christmas and New Year in 2006-'07 with three successive draws - against Reading and Fulham at home and away to Aston Villa - followed by bickering over January signings. It was the beginning of the end.

With Luiz Felipe Scolari in 2008-'09, Chelsea drew against West Ham at home and Everton and Fulham away and were taken to an FA Cup replay by Southend before losing to Manchester United in the league. The Brazilian was sacked by February 2009, having been lauded the previous October by Abramovich.

With Carlo Ancelotti in 2010-'11, Chelsea drew with Tottenham, lost to Arsenal and drew with Villa before losing to Wolves. He went at the end of that season despite finishing second and having won the league and cup double the year before.

With Andre Villas-Boas in 2011-'12, they drew away to Wigan and Tottenham, and at home to Fulham, before losing to Aston Villa. He was sacked by March 2012.

Re-engaged

In Mourinho's second Chelsea stint, he did not last until Christmas 2015, as he was sacked the week before.

Antonio Conte got through his final Christmas unscathed but drew five matches in January 2018 and was on his way at the end of the campaign, while Maurizio Sarri lost to Leicester and drew with Southampton. By then, Abramovich was not attending games but he was re-engaged.

So, what next? In normal times if the manager was under serious threat, Abramovich took a helicopter to Chelsea's training ground. The sight of him silently observing training, sometimes accompanied by Chelsea director Eugene Tenenbaum, was a clear indication that a change was imminent.

Chelsea are not at that stage with Lampard, who made an impassioned plea for time after the loss to Manchester City. But the timing was terrible and Abramovich will not be short of advice, with some he talks to blaming Lampard, pointing to that £220 million (€245m) spent and expecting more. This was supposed to be a campaign when Chelsea closed the gap on Liverpool and City - and they still can - but they risk missing an opportunity.

Abramovich will make up his own mind. Even those close to him say that while he does listen to advice, he usually remains inscrutable until he has decided what to do. Whether that is to stick or twist. The danger for Lampard, though, is clear. Especially at this time of year.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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