Something is different. Different good? Different bad? We can’t say. We don’t know.
But the way Chelsea do business with their managers has never been done this way before.
Until now, every single manager that Roman Abramovich hired has either quit, been fired or been released during the season or on the last day of the season. The pattern was set from the very beginning. Claudio Ranieri was sacked on May 31st, 2004, the day the season ended (pocketing a cool £6m payoff). Jose Mourinho left in September of his fourth season. Avram Grant was bounced on May 24th, again the last day of the season. And so on through 13 managers and fill-ins.
Until now. Antonio Conte won the FA Cup fifteen days ago. Nobody believes he’ll be in his office at Cobham come August. Yet, somehow, the man is still employed.
It must signify something. Nobody outside of Roman Abramovich and his close associates knows what. It will never be cheap to sack Conte; the actual reason cannot be purely financial.
It’s possible there’s no strategy. When Jose Mourinho was hired for the second time in 2013, there was already speculation that the rate at which Chelsea were churning through managers, the well of proven, trophy-winning top-flight candidates would soon run dry. As luck would have it, Antonio Conte was available in 2016.
But now it’s happened. The well has run dry. And it may be that Roman and Chelsea management are taking this as an opportunity to step back and re-evaluate how they’re running the business.
Maybe they haven’t hired a coach because they genuinely don’t know who they find most appealing. Maybe they really are watching Sarri’s messy disengagement from a distance, maybe they really haven’t met with either his agent nor with Napoli to discuss a buyout. Maybe Slaviša Jokanović, Laurent Blanc and Luis Enrique really are in the running, just as much as anyone else. (Ed.note: there have been fresh rumors about each of the three just in the past 24 hours. Maybe we’ll end up with four managers? Or maybe with none!)
Lest we forget, a front office reorganization has been supposedly also in the works since Michael Emenalo left in November.
“We will now be reviewing our management structure, and Michael will be a part of that process as we look ahead.”
-Marina Granovskaia; November 2017
Chelsea have since hired Guy Laurence, installed in January as the club’s CEO in charge of day-to-day operations and commercial growth. What he’s not, is a football man. There’s a gaping hole at the top of the football side of the management structure. How that hole will be filled has yet to be announced. For all we know, the delay in hiring a new head coach is related to that — though earlier reports didn’t exactly paint an urgent situation in this regard.
Neither Abramovich nor Chelsea are exactly talkative in the best of times, but these days it seems that they have adopted what amounts to a media blackout. None of the usual outlets seem to be receiving their usual briefings, with even Matt Law of the Telegraph limited to implying rather than attributing since about the start of May. And no one’s said anything at all about any potential “management structure” changes.
So all we can do is read the situation from outside the walls, trying to analyze the situation at Chelsea like an Earth-bound telescope studies Alpha Centauri A. There’s a lot of guesswork involved.
But from our distant vantage point, it’s obvious that something is different. Temptingly, it hints that change may be in the wind.