The finishing line is on the horizon, with an FA Cup Final appearance against our former manager Jose Mourinho and his Manchester United charges, everyone with a blue allegiance knows where the immediate future will culminate.
What isn’t so clear-cut is what the long-term future holds for Chelsea Football Club – critics will argue that long-term planning hasn’t been at the forefront in the minds of the hierarchy for quite some time, if it ever has for that matter.
Since Roman Abramovich purchased the club from Ken Bates in 2003, Chelsea have adopted a Real Madrid style approach in their managerial dealings, when silverware or sufficient progress hasn’t materialised, it is the manager who pays the price for such failure.
This approach has acquired FIFTEEN major trophies in that period, but at what cost – only Jose Mourinho, in his first spell at Stamford Bridge, has survived into a third season under Abramovich.
Through all of the managerial dismissals, there was one element which held the club together – the spine of the football club – Petr Cech, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba.
All of the 2004-2017 spine are no longer at SW6, what is left is a squad full of talented individuals, but not exactly individuals that you would be prepared to go in to battle with when the chips are down – it would be unfair to lay the blame solely on the players after failed title defences, but two managers surely cannot be the cause of all the problems.
In the midst of the ‘Mourinho’ season and the title defence under current manager Antonio Conte, there have been a number of incidents that have caused the derailing of an entire season – we had the infamous Eva Carneiro incident, which if reports are to be believed had an enormous effect on the squad, the loss of form of key individuals for a period in time which was scarcely believable from what had gone before or since, issues added up saw the club’s greatest ever manager fall by the wayside before Christmas.
Eerily, a similar situation has occurred this season for Antonio Conte, after a quite stunning campaign which saw Chelsea crowned champions following a top flight record 30 wins, the title defence hasn’t quite exactly gone according to plan for the Italian – the Diego Costa situation which first reared its ugly head in the January of 2017 was put aside for the good of the team, but the situation re-surfaced as soon as the whistle had blown at Wembley, following an FA Cup Final defeat at the hands of Arsenal – this time, however, the situation proved to be terminal – an ill advised text message sent to the fiery Spanish striker had repercussions which can still be felt to the present day, the constant sniping at the board hasn’t exactly helped matters and once again a loss of form to key personnel has seen Chelsea fall outside the Top Four and in real danger of not qualifying for the Champions League for the second time in three years.
We know what happens next in relation to the manager, but what happens next in terms of the long-term planning for the future.
The list of managerial appointments since 2003 has had an almost scatter gun feel to it, Jose Mourinho, the latest up and coming manager was hired to add to his Champions League winners haul at Stamford Bridge, the club grew tired with his antics and drafted in Avram Grant who was and still is a personal friend of the owner.
Chelsea decided that Grant wasn’t to be a natural permanent successor to Mourinho so, in turn, hired a World Cup winner in Luis Felipe Scolari in the hope his continental approach could reap its rewards both domestically and in Europe, sadly no one informed the hiring committee that Scolari had never managed a domestic club outside of South America so was always up against it from the outset. When Scolari was relieved of his duties, another personal friend rode in to steady the ship, this time in the shape of Guus Hiddink.
Hiddink plonked a trophy on the table and handed the reins over to a more safer pair of hand, another super coach, a long-term target of Abramovich, one Carlo Ancelotti.
Abramovich was rewarded with his perseverance in his hiring of the Italian with the club’s most successful season to date – Chelsea joined an exclusive club, in which they had won the domestic League and FA Cup double, doubles had been won previously but this is looked upon as the ‘true’ domestic double.
Failure to add to first season success saw Ancelotti fall by the Russian axe in the corridors of Goodison Park and a new approach was looked upon for the club, it was perceived that a young, fresh new outlook was needed for the club to move forward to pursue the ultimate glory – and in strode Andre Villas Boas, fresh off the back of winning an unprecedented league and European treble in Portugal with Porto – alongside an invincible domestic campaign – with the job of bringing the same level of success to Stamford Bridge – it may have slipped the committee members again that Villas Boas was almost the same age as some of the experienced players in the Chelsea squad and that a number of them would recognise him as the chief scout from Jose Mourinho’s first stint in charge.
Villas-Boas proved quite coy in acquiring his backroom team, drafting in club legend Roberto Di Matteo as his number two.
It proved to be a shrewd move on Villas-Boas part, as following a disastrous campaign up until the Portuguese paid with his job at the Hawthorns following defeat to West Brom, Di Matteo picked up the baton, galvanised the players and led the club to the finest night in it’s long history – winning the Champions League in Munich.
Again failure to replicate the previous season saw Di Matteo sacked after defeat in Turin to Juventus in the Champions League group stage which effectively saw Chelsea eliminated from the competition – the owner made the most curious and bizarre appointment of his ownership thus far – drafting in Rafael Benitez, the nemesis of the Chelsea-Liverpool saga which had dominated the early noughties era between the two clubs.
Benitez certainly proved unpopular, but in true Chelsea style, the Spaniard added to the clubs extensively growing trophy cabinet with the UEFA Europa League.
Jose Mourinho was brought back for a second stint and added another league title to his Stamford Bridge legacy before it all began to fall apart at the seams – which brings us rather nicely to the present day.
Despite picking up the league title in his first campaign, taking Chelsea from mid-table to the summit in 12 months, it seems that the events since May 2017 will cost Conte his employment in West London.
No matter who has taken up the hot seat at Stamford Bridge, there does seem a clear remit – success, success and success in the here and now– it may seem fairly straightforward in its short-term ideals but shouldn’t there be a clear plan to create something for the future?.
For the past god knows how long, Chelsea have set new higher standards at youth level, the job that Jody Morris is doing is quite extraordinary and should be looked upon as one of the highlights currently going on within the club, so maybe rather than the short-term idealism of success, shouldn’t the club adopt a philosophy that is centred around one of the club biggest success stories since Abramovich took over the reins at Chelsea. – Youth.
Not one regular first team player from the academy is a rather poor return for the club, yes it can be argued that while the youth players may not have had success in blue, some have gone on to have success elsewhere – but wouldn’t it be refreshing to see a youthful successful Chelsea side to go alongside their much-lauded experienced teammates?
The trophies and success are fantastic and a true testament to the ownership and the club, but maybe, just maybe, there is something more to be added to that idealism that has served the club so well in the past and present, it may just prove to be the best thing the club has ever done.