Chelsea have quickly established themselves as one of the biggest names in football over the last 14 years. They might not have the glittering and successful history of Manchester United or Liverpool, but they’ve shown they’re capable of making up for lost time, having won more trophies than any other team since the arrival of Roman Abramovich. Not only did being taken over by a Russian billionaire catapult the club up the league table, it also catapulted them into the headlines – and not always for the right reasons.
Ruthless Roman Abramovich
Roman is known for being hands-on and authoritarian at the club, demanding success whatever the cost. He has very little patience with managers, and with Antonio Conte tipped to be leaving the club in the summer (after a very mediocre second season), the club could be poised to get their eighth permanent manager since Roman bought the club in 2003. Even winning the FA cup later in the month might not be enough to save Conte. Let’s not forget, the iconic ex-Chelsea player Roberto Di Matteo was sacked the season after winning the double, including Chelsea’s first Champions League title.
The lack of managerial stability at Chelsea stands in stark contrast to the dynasties created by Sir Alex Ferguson and even Arsene Wenger. The closest Chelsea have come to one is with Jose Mourinho, but that ended like a bitter and acrimonious divorce. They need managers to be given a chance to flourish, without the fear of being sacked looming over them from their second season onwards (if they get that far).
A vicious cycle perpetuates
History frequently repeats itself at Stamford Bridge: A manager arrives and does well in their first season but can’t replicate it the year after. They get sacked. The cycle continues. One wonders whether it will get to a point where there won’t be any quality managers left. Few would return to club the way Mourinho did.
Roman’s ruthless approach has proved successful in some ways – but this overly trigger-happy aspect isn’t one of them. If we look at Conte’s first season, he was doing an outstanding job. This time last year, Chelsea were poised to win the FA cup as well as being crowned Premier League champions. The announcement of Chelsea’s 60,000 seat redevelopment of Stamford Bridge also gave fans much about which to to be cheerful.
The mood quickly soured when Chelsea lost in the final to Arsenal, and it emerged that every additional seat created by the stadium redevelopment would be allocated to corporate spectators. Discord seemed to be rising between the manager and Roman, a story Chelsea fans have seen far too many times before. Conte felt undermined and publicly commented about the lack of control he had over transfers and day-to-day life at the club. It’s understandable that Roman wanted a bigger role, given the amount he has invested, but a bit like an overbearingly pushy parent, he needs to step back and put his trust in the man employed by the club to manage it.
What more can Conte do?
Conte’s tactics have lost the element of surprise, a factor relied upon by the Italian to garner last season’s success. Opposing teams are wise to his game plan, combatting it without much effort – which has undoubtedly lead to this season’s waning form, as he fails to implement a back-up plan. Combine this with increasingly late substitutions, and it shows a stubbornness that has blighted Conte’s second season. A series of perceived ‘flop’ signings (Bakayoko, Morata and others who barely make it off the bench) won’t have done much to endear Conte to the board, despite the fact they have the final say on who the club signs. Underperforming players who seem to have been given up are another big issue.
But sacking Conte won’t help. Scapegoating managers only makes things worse. When players are shielded from criticism because only the manager is apportioned blame, a burgeoning sense of complacency can flourish. This means that even if someone new is brought in to manage the team, the story will play out again, when players realise the power they have and effectively go on strike to oust the manager after a season of bad form. Some fans have turned on Conte, via social media, calling for him to be sacked as early in the season as Christmas. Rarely do the same fans attribute blame on the board or the players who, being realistic, must shoulder some of the blame for a slump in form.
What next for Chelsea?
The best course of action is to give managers a chance and persevere, even if it means one or two bad seasons. This will stabilise the team, give them the chance to root out the deadwood who cause friction and divisions within the dressing room, and build a squad of players who are proud to wear the shirt. The business acumen that allowed Roman to build such wealth is both a blessing and a curse (in this case the latter). If Chelsea are to keep up with big spenders like Man United and Man City, the club must back the manager, and crucially, spend wisely. Even if Conte goes, whoever replaces him must have the freedom to make decisions and not be undermined at every turn
Gone are the days where Chelsea had a back bone of bold, instrumental, and most importantly, loyal players like John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba. There is a huge leadership void and no real sense of players that are proud to wear the shirt. I would prefer Abramovich focuses on rectifying that issue, to give the club some much-needed stability, rather than sacking a manager based on one mediocre season. Chelsea can’t win everything, every season, and it’s time the club accepts it.