Michael Emenalo stepped down after six years as Director of Football at Chelsea yesterday, ending a ten-year association with the club that he began as just an opposition scout and ended as one of the most influential members of the organization. His departure leaves a massive void not only in terms of technical direction, but also in terms of depriving Antonio Conte of one of his closest allies up the foodchain.
Conte’s supposed issues and conflicts with the decision-makers at Chelsea has been subject to plenty of sensationalist reporting, but his working relationship with Emenalo has generally been understood to be on good terms. That doesn’t mean they agreed on everything, but it does mean that differences were resolved amicably, lines of communication were open, and decision were made not without the knowledge of each other.
Other than being a lightning rod for the anger of the fickle mob, Emenalo also served as a mediator and as the voice of reason behind the scenes. Chelsea aren’t exactly known for patience, but Emenalo was often the coolest head in times of crisis and outrage, not to mention that person with the most actual footballing knowledge in the upper echelons of the organization — literally, since Emenalo had recently become UEFA Pro Licence certified. That concept, “footballing knowledge” may be a bit overrated, but there is certainly an argument to be made that the club must not be run purely as a business organization.
Despite the club being aware since the summer of Emenalo’s intentions, there is no immediate or obvious replacement lined up. That may not be incompetence; that may be part of a larger plan. According to Simon Johnson of the Evening Standard, Chelsea are contemplating not replacing Emenalo directly.
In the interim, Emenalo’s responsibilities have fallen to Marina Granovskaia. Granovskaia, the “most powerful woman in football” who was already the most powerful person in the organization not named Roman Abramovich. This could be the opportunity for her to gain even more influence.
In her comments after Emenalo’s decision was announced, Granovskaia mentioned that Chelsea will be conducting a “review” of the “management structure”, which could easily be interpreted as reform for the current setup. That could very well mean more power consolidated under her rather than distributed to others like head coaches, academy directors, and other technical positions.
This is of course just one of the options on the table, and the Standard’s report does mention that even if Granovskaia takes over most of Emenalo’s functions permanently, Chelsea could still hire someone in a “lesser position” to handle some of the (sizable) workload ... but probably without most of the same responsibility and influence. Hiring a “middle-man” to facilitate a working relationship between the technical and business side of things would be a smart move regardless.
Without knowing the full scope of his role and all the working relationships behind the scenes, it’s always been easy to either overestimate or underestimate Emenalo’s impact at Chelsea. Now that he’s gone, we might find out just how much he did control. The report does mention that he pushed strongly for Ross Barkley over the summer; will Chelsea now follow through in January as we had been expecting or will we drop that pursuit?
Names such as Frank Lampard or the recently retired Andrea Pirlo have been mentioned as potential replacements, though one suspects more in terms of name recognition than any real hope or actual reason. (Incidentally, Vitesse “Chelsea B” Arnhem’s technical director, Mo Allach left his club on the same day as Emenalo, but he’s since announced that he’ll be joining Maccabi Haifa in Israel.)
We could be in for some very interesting times, as times of great change tend to be.