The problems at Chelsea FC on the pitch, in and around the autumn period ever since Mourinho left the Chelsea dugout for the last time has become something we have come to expect as Chelsea supporters.
The pattern is always the same: A new manager comes in at the beginning of each season with fresh ideas and fresh impetus. The team has a new set up which is initially highly successful. Chelsea frequently have a goal glut in this period forcing the media to hail “The New Chelsea” before the inevitable demise when other managers in the league begin to figure out the weaknesses in the system and the incumbent Chelsea manager persists in playing his preferred tactics long after every team in the league has figured out a way to beat them. By the time they do in fact try a new tactical approach, a negative momentum has been gathered and the perception is one of desperation or of bowing to player power. Either way they are perceived to have lost the dressing room and thus the board like clockwork pull the ripcord, announcing that the manager’s position has become ‘untenable’.
We all know this. We all have vivid recollections of this happening. Sometimes the board’s answer is to fling money at players in January in the hope of fresh impetus and frequently this has worked (aside from one very high profile example who shall remain nameless). Always, though, there is a new manager tasked with a salvage job and frequently this too has worked better than anyone expected, none more so than last season.
And now I (finally) come to my point. The media decided long ago that Abramovich was a trigger happy owner. The firings of, first, Ranieri and then Mourinho were enough to convince the press that this owner had the patience of a twelve year old only child with ADHD. Subsequently the alarming regularity of managerial firings has added fuel to this fire – you can barely watch coverage of a Champion’s League tie in England without Clive ‘Tedious’ Tyldsley (or similar) mentioning the ‘7 managers in 9 seasons’ statistic. And this is my point, aside from the obvious cases of Mourinho and Ancelotti, I would be hard pressed to think of any of those managers who, deep down, I wasn’t glad to see the back of. In my humble opinion, the decision to fire the rest of these individuals was utterly rational. The problem is this – the perception of Chelsea as a club that fires its managers means that any new manager is instantly in the spotlight in this way. Any false step is seized upon and the media immediately barrage anyone who will talk to them with questions about the manager. This in itself serves to irreparably undermine said manager’s authority to the point where their position becomes ‘untenable’. The fourth estate get their way and then the following day lead with articles about the disgraceful way in which Chelsea FC treat their managers. And thus this self-serving, self-fulfilling prophecy comes to pass.
Perhaps the best example of this was the firing of Ancelotti. At the time, this dismissal made little sense to me and in retrospect it makes no sense at all but when you consider the atmosphere created by the press at the time you begin to see the whole picture. There is no doubt Ancelotti was ill-treated by Chelsea FC. The unceremonious dismissal of Ray Wilkins, several high profile injuries, Drogba being stricken with malaria and the club's acquisition of a misfiring £50M traffic cone midway through a recovery period all contributed to an underwhelming season. But he finished with a solid league position which has since become the current benchmark for any new Chelsea manager. in the weeks around his sacking there was a buzz in the British press that was undermining the Italian to the point where he would have begun the following season as something of a lame duck. A ticking managerial time-bomb. The media played a huge part in setting up seemingly credible arguments for his dismissal. Thus it came to pass, and CFC were duly heavily criticized for it, and still are. This all served to ratchet up the pressure on AVB before his Chelsea side had even kicked a ball in anger and so the merry-go-round begins again in earnest.
This is a salient point at the minute because the perceived pressure which Di-Matteo is under right now, at this stage is entirely a creation of the media. We have had no quotes from anyone above him at the club to suggest he is under pressure from the board, but the press are fast creating an atmosphere where, sooner rather than later, this will become an inevitability. The conspicuous availability of Pep Guardiola* is a talking point favoured by many but in an era of Financial Fair Play it is surely now time for the Chelsea hierarchy to tread very carefully in how they proceed. What they do next could define the future of this football club for seasons to come.
(*For my money, there’s only one man worth this kind of risk financially and his name sounds a lot like like Jose Mourinho.)