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09 March 2012

Roman’s fallacy

Roman’s fallacy

The sacking of Chelsea’s young manager, André Villas-Boas, on Sunday brought the tally of managers that have been fired and hired by the football club’s Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich to eight in as many years. 

There’s no doubt that the injection of the oligarch’s millions of oil and aluminium roubles turned the London club’s fortunes around. He is said to be the 53rd richest man in the world, at the age of 45. Apparently he is an enthusiastic football fan. One goal only has eluded his ambitions: the European Champions’ League Cup, proof of being the best team in Europe – at least for that year. 

One has the impression of a young man in a hurry and of someone who is accustomed to getting his own way, by hook or by crook. Stories of his early enterprises are hardly edifying. However, he is also a product of his age both in post-perestroika Russia and in the modern commercial world. The former was the world of opportunism, getting rich quick by unscrupulous means. After all, if you didn’t, someone else would.  The latter is the world of rapid results, tending to maximise dividends for shareholders now rather than making long-term investments for the future.  

The odd thing is that this isn’t the world that athletes inhabit. Certainly they possess raw talent; but it’s sustained hard work and practice that produce the results. The further irony is that Villas-Boas was appointed nine months ago to oversee a three-year plan to rejuvenate, literally, the team. Changing-room politics appear to have played a part in his dismissal, but more responsibility lies with the owner’s habitual impatience (and probably some fans’ loss of nerve). I have no idea how good a manager AVB is, apart from his success at Porto, but that’s not my concern here. 

Abramovich’s hastiness is a symptom of a simplistic understanding of reality. The world is not created so that you get everything you desire on a plate when you want it. As St Paul told his young friend, Timothy: “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.” (2 Timothy 2.4-6) Life is not a push-over; success isn’t instant.  Every farmer knows that. Sometimes there will be bad years, lean seasons. In warfare some battles you lose. In some races you’re disappointed. That is the nature of real life. 

The media peddles a gospel of instant gratification. Win a show, make a million, or become a star. It’s a make-believe world. It’s the world of the fairy tale, and sadly for Abramovich, as for all of us, fairy tales aren’t made real by cash.  

The real-world gospel, thankfully, is entirely different. “The Lord is not slow to fulfil His promise as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)  God isn’t looking for instant results, but “if we endure, we will also reign with Him” (2 Timothy 2:12). He’s trusting us to stick to the task and win the supreme goal of all, which is reached not through success but through faithfulness.

Michael Wenham is a writer, blogger and a retired vicar