NB: the following takes extreme liberties with logic, history and the likely path of events. Just a bit of fun in these troubled times…
In the heady days of 2003, when we were all still allowed to leave the house, Boris Johnson was an occasional bumbling presence on Have I Got News For You and James Beattie was the Premier League’s third top-scorer, the world was a very different place.
It was the year that, so the story goes, Roman Abramovich watched Ronaldo tear Manchester United a new one and decided to buy a football club. There are various stories as to the clubs that made it onto his shortlist, but there was at least one other London club on his radar.
“There was a book out last year called ‘The Club’,” said Duncan Alexander on the Totally Football Show this week, “and it said Abramovich was looking at various clubs he could buy, hired Swiss bank UBS to look and they said Arsenal would be a good choice. David Dein said they would’ve considered it at the time, so I think we can say it was a possibility that it might’ve happened.”
It was also said that Abramovich initially fancied Tottenham, but on a helicopter ride spotted Stamford Bridge and settled on Chelsea instead. Although Rafa Honigstein has a slightly different interpretation of that flight.
“The version of the story I’ve heard is that Abramovich was already sold on buying Chelsea, but as they were flying over he saw Craven Cottage, mistook that for Stamford Bridge and turned to his advisors and said “What, we’re buying that piece of shit?”
Of course, he settled on Chelsea, but what would have happened if he had taken UBS’s advice and purchased Arsenal? Duncan Alexander hopped in the time machine, fed logic into a wood thresher and ran with a theory on how life might have panned out with Abramovich’s Gooners.
“People forget that, although this was the season that Arsenal would go on to be ‘invincible’ and win the league, they weren’t tipped that highly before the season. I think the average prediction was second or third, and the Independent on Sunday thought they would finish fifth.
“Presumably Abramovich would’ve offered Wenger the same opportunity [as Chelsea with the transfer budget], but I suspect, Arsene being Arsene, he would have turned down most of them.
“Of the list of players Chelsea bought, possibly he might have gone for Hernan Crespo, and almost certainly Claude Makelele. So you’d think that Arsenal, with Makelele in the team, he’d improve them and they would still win the league that year, although they wouldn’t have been invincible. That’s such a random event that if we’re going alter history a little bit, that’s one thing that would change.
“I think the big change that season is that Arsenal would get through to the Champions League final, because they wouldn’t have had to play a bolstered, Wayne Bridge-fuelled Chelsea in the quarter-finals.
“But who do they face in the final, but Porto, managed by Jose Mourinho, who SHOCK the Premier League champions, so Mourinho then gets snapped up that summer as Abramovich enrages and disgusts Arsenal fans by sacking Wenger.”
Good lord. But what of Chelsea?
“From there, it all goes in a whole different direction. He remodels their defence, brings in John Terry from a struggling Chelsea because they crashed out of the Champions League, in deep financial trouble and they’re about to get relegated, a la Leeds.
“Ranieri goes at the end of that season, and Sam Allardyce comes in from Bolton, can’t really keep them up in 2005/06 and they fall as low as 18th in League One and never got back to the Premier League. They’re doing well in the Championship, in and around the playoffs – think Nottingham Forest-style.
“Arsenal go on to win the Premier League in their first three seasons under Mourinho: 04/05, 05/06 and 06/07. They become the first team ever to win four English league titles in a row. But Mourinho’s relationship with Abramovich deteriorates, particularly post-2006 when Arsenal move to their new stadium, and he still leaves in 2007 and his timeline picks up real life again.”
And where does Wenger, cast aside by Arsenal, pitch up?
“He disappears for a year, nobody’s really sure where he goes and there are a lot of rumours going around, but he eventually emerges a couple of years later. Alex Ferguson can’t compete with Mourinho’s Arsenal – they’re just too good, with Henry up front and JT at the back – so Wenger eventually replaces Ferguson at Old Trafford.”
Tom Williams liked the tale, but wondered if things might have been a little different for Chelsea.
“I quite like the idea that Abramovich doesn’t go to Chelsea and doesn’t hire Mourinho, they don’t become this intensely dislikable club, and actually become a sort of ‘people’s club’, like an Everton in London. They hold onto players like Gianfranco Zola, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Frank Lampard’s still there, your Mario Stanics: maybe they hang around for a bit longer in the Premier League and become this free-flowing team under Ranieri who’s able to carry on playing his brand of football and become a neutral’s favourite.”
Who knows. It’s all theoretical. But there’s not much else to talk about at the moment and…well, it’s quite good fun, innit.
You can listen to the latest edition of the Totally Football Show here, and even better you can subscribe here. If you wish to reproduce any of the material in this article or from the podcast you are very welcome to, but please credit The Totally Football Show and include this link.