The complete lack of transparency at Chelsea Football Club is something we have grown used to over the years of Roman Abramovich’s ownership. No Premier League club does obfuscation better than the Blues. And that was okay before. We could, more or less, rest assured that the club were well-run and we would not derail. This time around, that confidence has all but gone.
The years of completing transfers on deadline day out of desperation, coupled with the habit of alternating great business with ludicrous business have damaged the efficient image of Chelsea. There is no doubting the business acumen of Roman Abramovich (or Marina Granovskaia), but that hasn’t been translating well to Chelsea lately.
It starts with the Conte/Sarri fiasco. If there was one thing that Chelsea were always efficient at, it was sacking and hiring managers. Whether it was for a project, a quick fix, a new dynasty, or just something new, Chelsea were always decisive, never sluggish, and relentlessly ruthless, perhaps to a fault. The club’s methods made headlines (even if they were not so different from other top teams), almost as much for the size of the discarded manager pile as for the size of the associated trophy cabinet.
Along the way, Chelsea were somehow able to consistently substitute one world-class coach for another. That streak may also be coming to an end, as we struggle to severe ties with our current top-shelf manager for a cheaper-priced alternative, who has neither the winning record nor the winning reputation of an Antonio Conte.
Keeping Conte unfortunately is no longer an option. He’s reportedly fallen out with those in charge and a few of those in his charge.
His probable replacement, Maurizio Sarri, certainly has style in his favour. (Ed.note: on the pitch; certainly not off of it...)
The end of Conte and the current situation in general is quite similar to what happened once before under Abramovich, in the summer of 2011. Ancelotti’s second season was also not good enough, even though Chelsea finished second, and the big idea was that Chelsea needed something new, something fresh.
We found that in (supposedly) budding star André Villas-Boas, once of José Mourinho’s staff but with a style of his own, who would lead the project on and off the pitch that would change Chelsea from the “Real Madrid of England” to “Barça on the Thames”.
The project lasted only a few weeks beyond the halfway point of the season. AVB failed to deliver results. He may have had style and progressive ideas, but they were not enough. That Chelsea would go on to win both the Champions League and the FA Cup that season playing an entirely different style showed just how ill-suited the squad was for AVB’s pontificated strategeries.
Seven years later, the parallels are striking. Chelsea’s squad is much more suited to Conte’s style than Sarri’s and the former Napoli boss would come from an even weaker position than AVB, who at least had a few titles and the Mourinho calling card. Sarri, like AVB, advocates a football style that’s exciting and easy on the eye, but also takes some time to build — either through the transfer market or through internal development. Sarri was able to do the latter with several players in Napoli, including Koulibaly, Jorginho, and Hysaj; will Chelsea’s big stars afford him that opportunity? Will Chelsea themselves give him the time needed?
Transforming Álvaro Morata, Eden Hazard & Co. into an offensive juggernaut will not be enough. Sarri will need to translate that into proper results, wins, points. Even Pep Guardiola needed (and was afforded) an entire season at Manchester City to do so. Sarri could need much longer and has little of the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich’s boss’s clout.
Conte in the meantime does not have the aesthetics. His football, which, via Steve Holland, has inspired Gareth Southgate and the English national team into a World Cup semifinal spot, is more likely to bore with effectiveness than excite with scorelines. Chelsea’s victory in last year’s FA Cup final over Manchester United was a perfect example of that, and thus almost a fitting final note for the man who revolutionized English football in just one season.
Perhaps such a realization has factored into Chelsea’s lengthy power transfer this summer. There are probably other factors at play, too — financial, political, De Laurential — but Chelsea could be concerned that Sarri will just be another AVB.
And if we are not, perhaps we should be.