This word at this point in time is a centre piece of the Premier League. With Pep Guardiola winning the league title in emphatic fashion, it is claimed to be the start of a legacy in the blue half of Manchester. In London, a legacy comes to an end after 22 long years, as Arsene Wenger calls time on his reign at the Emirates.
At Chelsea, this word gets thrown around a lot as well. José Mourinho was ready for a(nother) legacy after 2015’s title win, but in more general terms, whenever we appoint a new manager, which isn’t infrequently, the question and the hope of building a legacy immediately comes up. Will he stay for the long term, will he be our Wenger or Sir Alex Ferguson?
But then, as it always happens at Chelsea, a string of bad results leads to a relatively (with with one massive exception of 2015-16) bad season, the manager is sacked, the process to appoint a new one begins, and the cycle renews. I used to think that it was only the owner and the Board who were responsible for not giving the manager enough time to work and build a legacy, but now I think we as fans are also responsible.
When Antonio Conte won the league last season, we chanted his name and looked forward to a long stay to build a new empire, a new core, a new identity. The defining words were ‘work’, ‘passion’, ‘commitment’, ‘winning’. Conte created a tactical revolution not just at the club but in the Premier League, and while there were always questions about his relationship with upper management, everyone seemed to be working towards the betterment of the club and the palpable discord of the “Mourinho season” was dead and buried.
Not twelve months later, it’s been resurrected. A fanbase divided, constant anger, short-termism reign supreme. Everything from last season has been forgotten, replaced by new negative narratives. We crave a true legacy, but the only legacy being made is one of an impossible working environment. We crave the ideal of building a legacy but we are not prepared to be part of the process. Yes, it involves suffering, a word that Conte added to the definition for his second season.
Building a legacy does not mean that the club will go through every season successfully. It means that we have to support the manager now, when things are a work-in-progress, as much as last season, when everything was going right. Success is ultimately measured in wins and trophies, and by that measure, this season has been unsuccessful. But there is work behind the scenes as well and building a legacy requires us to trust that work, to understand that process, understand that it is not straightforward or easy or obvious and look beyond just the headlines.
If we have to see examples — and more recent ones than Ferguson’s first few years at Manchester United — Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool provides a good one. Despite a late season slump in league form that left the door slightly ajar for Chelsea, the Reds have improved each season under Klopp in the three years he’s been there. He didn’t set the stage alight when he took over but they are now 90-120 minutes away from winning the Champions League. This achievement did not come in a day. It didn’t happen purely because of the manager’s work or his tactics or even the support he received in the transfer market. It needed a steady support from the fans who believed in him even when the chips were down. This is something we need to learn and put into practice as well. Abramovich is famously impatient; but we as fans often put him to shame in that regard.
This isn’t necessarily the only way forward. But if we can’t do it this way, if we can’t provide the steady support and the patience needed to build something for the future, then we need to stop crying about a “legacy” every time a new manager comes in. Empires weren’t built in a day or a in a season. If we really want one, we need to be better not just on the pitch, in training and development, or in the transfer market, but in the stands, the real ones or the figurative online ones, as well.