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Why Aren't Chelsea A 'Big Club'?

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LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 29:  Andre Villas-Boas talks to the media after being unveiled as the new Chelsea manager during a press conference at Stamford Bridge on June 29, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 29: Andre Villas-Boas talks to the media after being unveiled as the new Chelsea manager during a press conference at Stamford Bridge on June 29, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Chelsea (and by extension, their fans, even fairly mild-mannered ones) have often found themselves on the wrong end of accusations of not being a 'big club' - and therefore implicitly undeserving of trophies, success and being the beneficiaries of player transfers. It's a phrase that would never be used in association with, say, Manchester United or Arsenal. In terms of the major powers in English football, the failure to attain big club status is a very Chelsea phenomenon

As a fan of the club, I'm naturally inclined to defend it against statements like... "In football, when you talk about European giants, the measure is not Chelsea. It’s Real Madrid, Barcelona or Manchester United." or "Chelsea aren't a bigger club than Tottenham Hotspur", but the point isn't really to attack Pinto da Costa or Spurs fans for venting their frustrations on the team I support. No matter how well I argue either point, it'll do nobody any good.

But what about the very nature of big-clubness and how it applies to the Blues? There, I think, we might some common ground. Without starting any fights. Maybe.

When people say 'big club', the most obvious association that comes to mind is a team's brand power. Are Club A more recognisable than Club B around the world? If so, they're bigger. Else, they're smaller. Simple. The most important aspect of this idea is ensuring that the bigness of a team is an actual number (admittedly, it's one we can't really calculate), and that means that we're not just throwing around subjective arguments all over the place. Proceed down that path, with certain assumptions, and eventually, we'll come to conclusions.

There are a variety of factors you could examine when defining a club's brand power. Many of them are entirely quantitative. You might look a a team's overall worth, or a team's clout in the transfer market. Footballing capability is up in the air in terms of exactly how to judge it, but it clearly matters, as do both short and long term trophy success.

It all depends on how one weights them, of course, but by those standards it'd be hard to see the Blues as anything but well within the top four of the most highly regarded league in the world - and therefore probably a big club, assuming one has reasonable standards. But this, you may have noticed, isn't a compelling argument at all. The attempt to measure (even in the abstract) big-clubbiness has led us towards a completely unsatisfactory conclusion.

Why is that? Well, it's mostly because I was using the wrong definition to start with. Whenever anyone talks about the size of a club, they're not running through some sort of mathematical checklist. Instead, they're asking themselves a simple question: "Do I respect this football team or not?"

For Chelsea, the answer is, generally, a simple "No". But now that the question has been identified, the explanation is far easier. Fans of other teams often feel that the team has no right to be as good as it is. For the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal people are used to them being powerhouses - they're not upsetting some natural balance by having very good teams. The Blues are a different story. They shouldn't be where they are.

Ultimately, I'm not really that interested in whether or not fans of other teams think that Chelsea are 'big', or whether they believe that the club has been diminished by events in the Abramovich era*. Fans of one team tend not to like fans of another, and that's totally cool. But all this does make you wonder if things will ever be different. Will the Blues settle in as an established power at any point soon?

*Although I do find it interesting on a sort of academic level. Hence the post.

I'd say probably not. In ten years (we hope), Chelsea will have been a European force for more than the length of most players' careers. We're already seeing young talents emerge for whom Chelsea have always been one of the best in the world - it's starting to show with some of the comments we hear regarding transfers - and the same goes for young fans as well.

It's tempting to think that growing up with Chelsea as one of the best teams around will ease the antipathy towards them (at least, the type reserved for those who put on airs). However, the environment said fans will grow up in is very different to that of generations past. Ideas travel much quicker these days than they used to, and they're far more pervasive. Time might dull the edge of the current hatred a little, but making it go away entirely when it's so easy to propagate seems like wishful thinking. Thanks, intenet!

A more hopeful route lies in the eventual rise of more Manchester Cities (FFP aside, of course). The current version doesn't really help Chelsea at all, due to the relatively close time period between our emergence and thiers, but as more and more clubs start doing their utmost to pour money into the game, one would suspect that we'll see less negativity associated with Chelsea. When new bullies emerge on the playground, the old ones are remembered a little more fondly, even though they're still just as capable of beating you up for your lunch money.

Hopefully we never get too much respect, though. I'd hate to have to change the name of the blog.