There is never a boring day at Chelsea Football Club. Whether you’ve supported for a year, a decade, or as long as you can possibly remember, you will know this to be true. Sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes not so much. Winning trophies, setting records, making history, sacking managers, fighting media battles, wading through transfer rumors — it’s all fair game, sometimes all at the same time. It may be amusing, infuriating, or anything in-between, but it’s never boring.
This constant chaos has somehow translated into tremendous successes on the pitch, including two recent league titles (sandwiching the worst finish for two decades), two European titles (one each of Champions and Europa branding), and various other silverware. In the 15th year of Abramovich, Chelsea have almost a trophy per year to celebrate, and a compensation check per year to write.
So this season is nothing new, right? More drama, more uncertainty, another crucial summer of change and business that needs to be done.
But this time it feels a bit different, and not just because Spurs won at Stamford Bridge for the first time in almost three decades. This summer feels more crucial than others in recent times. And it’s all down to the man posed as a scapegoat for much of his time at Chelsea, yet who turns out to have been a most important voice behind the scenes. I’m talking about Michael Emenalo of course who suddenly packed his bags for Monaco in the fall and has left a gaping hole, both corporally and ideologically among the powers that be at the club.
He’s not yet been replaced — Marina Granovskaia (who may or may not have been keen to do so all along) has taken over most of Emenalo’s former responsibilities as Director of Football, adding to her already taxing workload on the financial side of things. Emenalo cited family reason for leaving but was back in a job less than a month later, lending plenty of credence to possible disagreements regarding the direction, emphasis, and methodologies of the club.
Those decisions have to be made this summer. But those decisions cannot be made by “suits” alone.
It has been five months since Emenalo left the club, and we have yet to find his replacement. This is a problem. In fact, this may be the biggest problem Chelsea face this summer.
As it stands Chelsea have five people on the “Chelsea FC Board”, all of whom have unquestionably great backgrounds in their area of expertise. Buck, Tenenbaum, and Granovskaia (who officially only joined in 2013 but was influential well before then) have been with Abramovich since day one; club secretary David Barnard is the longest serving Board member; new CEO Guy Laurence is the newest but has an impressive CV.
None of them, however, have contact with football beyond its business side.
Given our handling of first-team coaches — no longer “managers” as is the case at most top level teams in football these days — the pressure is on the higher ranks to create both the business and the football plans (not the nitty-gritty tactical or coaching work, but the overarching philosophy and goals), especially as Chelsea no longer wield the fattest chequebook in all the land. Sponsorship contracts are important, but so are player development methods and transfer strategies in an increasingly competitive Premier League.
Sure, most of the Board may have acquired relevant experience over the years. Emenalo himself didn’t start out as a Director of Football, though he also didn’t come from a business background but rather from a playing and coaching background. That sort of relevant experience is needed to balance out the rest, and Emenalo leaned heavily on his to facilitate the scouting, development, and loanee networks. Hands-on experience, so to speak, is not the only thing that’s needed, but its absence would surely be felt in the long term.
Chelsea need to bring in a proper football director, like Emenalo, or even better, and someone who will have a voice, and not just be another puppet or yes-man, of which there are surely more than enough in Roman’s shadow.
Whoever comes in and however Chelsea address the current vacuum of football knowledge at the decision-making level, their first order of business will be to set a long-term plan, and most importantly, stick to it. This isn’t a new or radical idea, but one that bear’s repeating. Friend of the blog Joe Tweedie over at Plains of Almeria does that better than most and his lengthy treatise is well worth a few minutes of your time.
To their credit, in a similar situation back in 2011, Chelsea tried this once already. André Villas-Boas’s appointment as head coach and Michael Emenalo’s promotion to technical director, along with the purchase of young players for what was at the time significant fees, may have actually been the only major instance in which Chelsea tried to stick to a football philosophy.
But the AVB Project faltered, Mourinho returned, and with him the old ways of Chelsea as well. Buying proven veterans, playing pragmatic football, hiring the manager with the highest reputation available as his replacement constituted a drastic 180 from the long-term thinking of the AVB Era. No wonder Emenalo tried to resign when Mourinho came back; he knew his “project” was at risk of being dismantled (and he was right, with Courtois and Christensen the only survivors amid the Lukaku, De Bruyne, Salah, etc carnage).
In fairness, Mourinho did bring results, and brushes with greatness and talks of dynasties. But short-term thinking and solutions only lead to short-term success.
Head coaches and managers, by definition, will always be short-term thinkers. They sit on a revolving door of expectations, luck, and results, and they must place emphasis on the here and now. That’s why the direction and the strategy must come from higher above, from a place with greater stability, and, theoretically, greater oversight and clarity of what needs to happen. But that cannot happen if there is no balance among the voices making the calls.
To set the strategy, a footballing mind is needed. One (or many) that will have a voice and will not have to worry over playing politics to keep their job afloat.
There is already a good foundation to be built upon at Chelsea thanks to the work of the club in the last few years with regards to youth development, along with the “loan army” producing financial and footballing results (at long last!). There is also the new stadium on the horizon, something which will upgrade the club’s stature and elevate our match-day revenue to the level of our rivals.
So the strategy would have to encompass business and sporting factors. In the former we are already set with a strong core of people on the board well capable of advising and getting this sort of thing on motion. But we are certainly lacking in the latter, and this unbalance is what could leave us eating dust as the rest of England’s top clubs pass us by.
There have been calls for Chelsea to add legends such as Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard to take this place as director of football/Roman’s advisor for on-the-pitch affairs. But it is likely that their lack of experience in such a task will have them become a headpiece instead of someone with real power to drive anything within the club.
Instead the task should be taken by someone who will carry enough experience in the sport to balance out the weight of the businessmen on the directors’ chairs. Names such as Guus Hiddink or Carlo Ancelotti, who unite the experience and have a proper link with the club would be great for such a job.
We could also go around and pick up names from another clubs. City, who started their own “Barcelona in England” project one year later than Chelsea and have wielded more success than we ever did, brought Barça names in Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano to take director of football and CEO spots, respectively, to help the club shape up to their long-term objective. A work than wrapped up by appointing Pep Guardiola, the man who lead the show at Camp Nou, as manager.
Chelsea’s project does not need to be the same as City. The Roman Era at Chelsea is known for a core of great players being the literal spine of the club on the pitch and we can very well recover that going forward while still making smart purchases and reaching good rates with the help of Granovskaia’s skills. But this should be based on a proper plan instead of the havoc stated since the beginning of alternating great summer deals with tragic ones.
Looking at the present, Chelsea should get ready to cushion the impact of missing out on Champions League football. The major effect will not be on the ability to retain or bring new names, as those can be done if we are to show them we have a plan to take us back to our usual standards, as proven by the aftermath of the 2015-16 season. Financially though it will carry some damage, not just from money taken out of UEFA and TV pockets but also sponsorship deals, which is one of Chelsea’s ways to bring themselves near the revenue of juggernauts such as the Manchester clubs.
So top priority for the club should be getting back to Premier League’s top four, which should be an easy task with our current group upgraded by some key additions, and using minor competitions to give fringe players some first-team playing time. All of this done with the long-term strategy in mind.
For that to happen, we should bring in a coach who aligns with this plan. It can be Leonardo Jardim, or Massimiliano Allegri or whoever. What matters is having a coach who will be comfortable working under our demands and budget instead of breaking promises with people known for their antics when things do not go their way.
So, two massive tasks for Chelsea this summer, in addition to all the usual transfer shenanigans. We need to decide if we need a new coach, and most importantly, we need to replace Michael Emenalo. It’s time for a new project, with new voices (and new ideas?) to help all those we’ve become familiar with over the past decade and a half. Success may not be instant and may not be guaranteed, but without a coherent plan in these times when brute financial force is no longer on our side, Chelsea are in danger of fading away from the absolute European elite.