On Buying Without A Manager

Michael Emenalo can handle the transfers. I shall handle the ice cream.

One of the more common complaints I've been seeing about Chelsea's recent hilarious spending spree (we're up to £78M once Hulk and Hazard have been finalised, which I'd expect to happen in the next few days) is that Chelsea are dropping huge figures this summer without actually having a manager put in place for the upcoming season. That's a legitimate concern, so I thought I'd explore it here.

Basically, the root cause of this is that Chelsea operate on a continental system that most observers aren't particularly familiar with, splitting up the duties of a traditional 'manager' into two roles - the director of football (DoF) and the first team coach (I'm going to refer to this position as 'manager' just to be as confusing as possible). The DoF is essentially responsible for the entire organisation, top to bottom, while the manager simply makes sure that the first team squad can perform on the pitch. If you're familiar with the way that US sports operate, this is essentially identical to the general manager / manager split.

At Chelsea, the DoF is Michael Emenalo. Obviously, we don't have a full-time manager at the moment, but one isn't required to execute Chelsea's overall transfer policy. Emenalo is the one responsible for building the youth team, bringing in players and setting overall team policy, and although a manager's input is helpful when getting new players in (so that they can better integrate with his idea of how the squad works), it's not actually necessary. Roman Abramovich isn't just buying players willy-nilly.

We've seen this gap cause problems in the past, however. Andre Villas-Boas was clearly not on the same page as Emenalo at times last year, mentioning publicly that the January signing of Kevin de Bruyne was basically nothing to do with him, and it's not entirely out of the question (although this is speculation) that part of the reason Romelu Lukaku struggled to get into the pitch was because he was brought in over Villas-Boas' head.

But in general, I'd expect those problems to apply mostly to smaller signings. There is not a manager in the world who would not want Eden Hazard or Hulk on their team, so acquiring them isn't a huge concern. Chelsea obviously needed an injection of attacking talent, and they're getting one. I mean, can you imagine this scene?

Stamford Bridge

Ron Gourlay: So, Robbie. We've brought in Eden Hazard and Hulk this summer. How would you use them in your side?

Roberto di Matteo: Well actually I think they're both pants. Can you send them back for a refund?

For marquee signings at positions of obvious need, this isn't going to be a problem. The manager will simply join a team with the two players added to the existing squad, and he'd be expected to find a way to play them (and I'd assume that the candidates have at least been asked about how they feel about both). It's for the depth signings like Marko Marin where this would be more of an issue. Once a new manager is brought in - or retained, in di Matteo's case - I'd then expect them to have their say on what type of player they might need and weigh in on specific targets.

The DoF / Manager split does have its issues. It can be frustrating to see transfer policy disjointed from the squad on the pitch, no doubt. But in Chelsea's case, where we switch managers every 45 minutes, having a director of football (especially one so seemingly competent as Emenalo) is incredibly useful, and has allowed us to get a head start on the summer window.

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