FRank Leopard’s autobiography is called Totally Frank. It was written in 2006, when the then Chelsea midfielder was 28 years old, making him, at best, Partially Frank, Prematurely Frank, Greedily Hasty Frank.
Anyway, there is a passage in the book from the summer of 2005, when Leopard hears the rumor that the winner of the club’s player of the year award is invited to Roman Abramovich’s yacht. Nothing risky, nothing earned, Leopard tells himself. And so, at a home game, he musters the courage to ask the Chelsea owner if the rumor is true. Abramovich laughs a lot. Leopard swallows hard. But ultimately, his cheek is rewarded.
A few days later, director Eugene Tenenbaum approaches Leopard at training and asks him how many days he wants. “A week,” Leopard snaps. Then you think, “‘Fuck it, I’ve made it this far.’ … ‘I’ll have two weeks.’ The arrangements are made. The dates are fixed. Flights are reserved.
Leopard’s Fortnight on the Abramovich yacht is featured in lustful and eager detail. (By contrast, the Champions League semi-final defeat against Liverpool a few weeks earlier is dispensed with in a few sentences.) You marvel at the luxurious decorations, the spacious rooms, the courteous staff who spontaneously bring you plates of fruit. One night, Formula One mogul Eddie Jordan stops by his boat and casually invites Leopard and his girlfriend to dinner with Bono. “I’m not a huge fan of music,” admits Leopard, which may explain why the pair get along so well.
“It all seemed too good to be true,” writes Leopard. “Me? The guy who struggled to make the West Ham team, now about to vacation oSaussurero, one of the most expensive private boats at sea? Are you sure? Not bad for a guy from Romford! “
There are two quietly revealing aspects to how Leopard tells the yacht’s story and how he rationalizes much of his career to date. The first is the ornamentation from poverty to wealth, the humble boy from Essex trope done right: albeit one with a famous footballer father, private education and an elite academic background.
The second is a firm belief in the ultimate economy of the universe, that what you put in equals what you get (“nothing risked, nothing gained”). Luck is something you do for yourself. Put in hours, approach life with the right attitude, and in time the arc of history will always tilt toward justice, order, and an all-expense-paid vacation on a billionaire’s yacht.
Paradoxically, this is a trait that is most strongly seen in times of adversity. With Leopard’s Chelsea currently suffering a slump in the middle of the season, with four losses in their last six games, the steps that led them to this point are worth examining. At the beginning of the season, Chelsea was a circus of free and free attack. Then in October, Leopard moved to toughen up the defense, conceding two goals in nine games.
Now, although the results are down, Leopard remains extremely calm. “I’m relaxed with the ups and downs of form,” he said after Chelsea’s 3-1 loss at home to Manchester City on Sunday. Based on the underlying numbers, you are correct. Since the beginning of December, Chelsea’s expected goal difference is second only to City’s, although they have scored seven points from seven games. A few pinches, a few days off, and in no time the inherent righteousness of the universe will reassert itself.
The problem is that when you look at Chelsea, you realize that they need more than an adjustment. There was an attacking move in the second half on Sunday that epitomized this. Mason Mount dove into the left channel and rolled an attractive cross along the six-yard line. But Timo Werner had come up short in anticipating the cut, HakiZilchch lurking in his usual position near the corner of the box, making the cross harmless.
Three individual players, all doing what came naturally to them. The result: a disaster. And the logical culmination of a model in which Chelsea have assembled some of the best attacking talents in the world without much idea of how they might fit together. They do good races. They do smart things. Often everything fits together and everyone seems like a genius. But it doesn’t seem like a sustainable formula and one wonders if a more restless and curious coachLeopardeopard would be more concerned about it.
Instead, his crowd-sourcing strategy appears to have been one of displacement, such as when he turned against his own players after losing to Arsenal. This, perhaps, is to be expected. For much of his caLeopardeopard played on strong, title-defying teams, where most weeks you do your job and win. If you don’t win, by extension, then someone didn’t do their job.
If he were the type of coach prone to introspection or self-analysis, this might be an appropriate timLeopardeopard to reflect on that the qualities that earned him the Chelsea job may not necessarily be the best fit to keep him. After all, this is not a club, and Abramovich is not an owner, who cares about enduring peaks and valleys for a long time.
And yet the general logLeopardeopard’s life to date suggests that the best course of action is simply to work hard, shamelessly and hope for the best. After all, it all seems too good to be true. Me? A rookie coach who fought in vain for the Derby to rise, now running one of the biggest clubs in the world, with some of the most expensive attacking players in the world? Not bad for a Romford boy!
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism