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Chelsea in transition: From palpable discord to an era of disruption, via a championship

The times they are a-changin’

Chelsea v Sunderland - Premier League
John Terry’s departure will become the symbol of a period of seismic change at Chelsea
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

José who?

Well, we're not quite there yet but you'd almost be forgiven for thinking there was no life at Chelsea before Antonio Conte. 'Life' is exactly what Conte has given to this Chelsea side, but when Gary Neville surmised that he owed something of this year's success to Mourinho he wasn't wrong. While the 2015-16 season can be forgotten happily, the team Conte inherited was of The Special One's making, albeit woefully underachieving. But the speed of transition will accelerate this summer as Conte gets his first real chance to stamp his mark on the squad makeup: war chest/squad depth/deadwood... it's going to be a busy summer.

Add to that the impending construction work and the move to Wembley and back again, a new kit sponsor in Nike, and the departure of the Old Guard — the next few years have the potential to be the most disruptive in the club's history. Success will depend on stability in two areas: senior management and backroom staff. While the focus of fans will be on shiny new signings, the weight of responsibility should lie with the powers in the ivory towers: Roman Abramovich, Marina Granovskaia, Michael Emenalo, Bruce Buck. Emenalo may have been the fall-guy for 'palpable discord', but the strategy and model from senior management is working. As the revolving door spins for managers, the vision and its delivery must be maintained.

What are the risks? Spurs's temporary relocation to Wembley will provide a glimpse — results may suffer in the short term. John Terry is leaving but the risk has already been mitigated by the club's surprisingly seamless exit strategy this year. Despite the loss of Drogba, Lampard, Cole, Čech and Terry, leadership on the field feels somehow secure. Gary Cahill, César Azpilicueta, Cesc Fàbregas, David Luiz: each has shown the potential to lead. Construction of the new stadium is undoubtedly the most complex risk — planning and delivery will be critical to the outcome.

So where does all this leave us? Well, as ever at Chelsea, life won't be dull. There is so much to be grateful for. But at the same time, there is an inevitable sense of uncertainty about the future. The hope has to be that the blossoming relationship with Conte is a symbol of how connections and values between supporters, staff and ‘the project’ are intrinsically linked. The risk if this is neglected is a severance with the club's identity. It will be visible everywhere: matchday attendance will fall, as will levels of loyalty. The weight will shift to a reliance on global sales; no small change, but a weakening of the connection. When the new terraces open at Stamford Bridge, will the fans still feel the same connection?

As Dylan sang, the times they are a-changin’.

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