Only few have enjoyed the confidence of Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich, like Michael Emenalo. He was his ears, and to a large extent, his eyes. Anytime Emenalo and Abramovich visit Chelsea’s training ground, the coach develops cold feet. Last Sunday, however, Emenalo shocked the football world by announcing his resignation as the Blues Technical Director, leaving more questions than answers, Kunle Adewale reports
Last Sunday, after Chelsea1-0 win over arch-rival, Manchester United, Michael Emenalo shocked the football world with his resignation as the team’s technical director, and ever since, analysts have been wondering what might have led to the unceremonious resignation of the former Nigerian international.
Before Sunday’s game at Stamford Bridge, only the future of Chelsea’s Brazilian defender, David Luiz, was in doubt after a dismal performance in mid-week UEFA Champions League leading to Chelsea 3-0 drubbing by Roma and Antonio Conte justifiably dropped him from last Sunday’s game. But as it turned out, the focus should have been on the man in the blue Chelsea coat and smart suit (Emenalo) instead.
Emenalo has been a key in the Chelsea machine under Roman Abramovich but has seen his role increasingly under pressure in an internal power struggle between Marina Granovskaia, a key Abramovich confidante, and Conte.
Conte’s future beyond this season is by no means secure but the manager himself is not thought to be a reason for the Nigerian’s departure.
Senior Blues sources said it was no surprise to them that Emenalo stood down as the former Notts County defender had made it clear to Chelsea as far back as the summer that he was considering his future and he is understood to want to spend some time with his family before making any decision over his next challenge.
“This has been a very difficult decision to make, but one I believe is right for myself, my family and the club. I have had the privilege to work alongside some of the most talented people in the world of sport over the past 10 years, and I will depart incredibly proud of the achievements we have made. I wish Chelsea every success and look forward to following the club’s future triumphs from afar,” Emenalo said upon announcing the move.
Conte remarked: “I am very sorry to see Michael leave Chelsea, and I would like to thank him for all his help and support since I arrived at this club. I have enjoyed working with him very much, we celebrated a Premier League title together in May, and I wish him the very best for the future.”
Granovskaia said Emenalo would help Chelsea assess their future management structure.
Granovskaia added: “We will now be reviewing our management structure, and Michael will be a part of that process as we look ahead.”
Some have argued that Emenalo was used as a scapegoat at Chelsea, especially in the transfer dealings, even though the negotiations were left with Marina Granovskaia. Some signings didn’t work out but more often than not they did, and he was only recognised for his errors.
Emenalo scouted players like Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois, but also was accused of allowing players like Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku to leave the club. They are now flourishing at Manchester City and Manchester United respectively.
Emenalo’s importance to Chelsea hasn’t been noticed by supporters of the club. Many of them just want the Nigerian out of the club but board members and specifically owner, Abramovich, thought very highly of him.
It was an exit which will satisfy the ‘Emenalo Out’ brigade but one which will hit Abramovich hard. The Russian was an ally. It can take some doing to earn the trust of Abramovich but Emenalo had done that over the last decade.
The two saw eye to eye and he was the only member of Chelsea’s executive team with previous playing experience and it remains to be seen whether a replacement will be brought in. Sources say an internal promotion is more likely, though these are big shoes to fill.
With him working behind the scenes, the Blues were crowned Premier League champions three times. They won the FA Cup, the League Cup, the Europa League and the Champions League.
He was also known to be frustrated at the sale of Romelu Lukaku to Everton in 2014 and Emenalo wanted to make up for it in the summer by bringing him back. Chelsea lost out on Lukaku to Manchester United, just as they missed out on John Stones to Manchester City.
Now, the club has lost their own key player and Ligue 1 Monaco are set to snap him up. The Emenalo era is over.
Should Emenalo wish to return to work anytime soon then Monaco are interested in his services as they look to solidify their place among France’s elite and as a perennial Champions League team. The sharp increase in Ligue 1 television revenue has allowed them to further invest in a club that raked in enormous transfer income last summer.
Emenalo is one of a number of candidates that the principality club is looking at to strengthen and oversee their sporting infrastructure and that includes scouting and identifying talented youth players and channeling them into the first-team – something Emenalo has had immense success doing in west London.
The lack of pathway from academy to first team at Stamford Bridge has been a significant issue for Abramovich, but Monaco are keen on young talent and are looking to create a similar sort of money-spinning model employed by FC Porto and Benfica where they develop and make profits on the continent’s best young players.
It would be recalled that in 2013, Emenalo formally requested that his contract be terminated to facilitate the return of Jose Mourinho but his request for termination was denied.
Followers of Nigerian football in the 1980’s will always remember Emenalo. He was part of the young Enugu Rangers side that narrowly lost the league in 1985 to the defunct Leventis United, parading players such as Okechukwu Ofeje, Kingsley Onye, Bennedict Ugwu and Amechi Otti, among others.
In his quest for greener pastures, Emenalo moved to the United States, and played for Boston University from 1986 to 1989. From there, he played for Molenbeen in Belgium, Eintracht Trier in Germany, and Notts County FC in England before returning to the United States to be part of the original allocated players for Major League Soccer, where he spent two seasons with San Jose Clash. After that, he played with Lleida in Spain and Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel.
Nigerian soccer followers also remember Emenalo for his part in the country’s first stint at the FIFA World Cup in US ’94.
His sojourn in football management started 10 years ago when former manager, Avram Grant was in charge of Chelsea in 2007 and brought him in as the chief scout. Three years later, he was promoted from chief scout to assistant first team coach and in 2011, Chelsea appointed Emenalo as Technical Director of the club. His responsibilities included heading the scouting and academy programmes.
It remains to be seen where Emenalo’s next port of call would be, but with his achievement at Stamford Bridge, he would not be short of suitors.
What they Say
Emenalo had “contributed to a period of unprecedented success for the first team and academy”.
Chairman Bruce Buck
“We are sorry to see him go but understand his desire to move on and explore new challenges,”
“I am very sorry to see Michael leave Chelsea, and I would like to thank him for all his help and support since I arrived at this club. I have enjoyed working with him very much, we celebrated a Premier League title together in May, and I wish him the very best for the future.”