Chelsea have a reputation for being overly harsh on their managers over the recent two decades with the board often growing impatient with a lack of success or team harmony. The latter has seen the departures of several managers, even if they’ve brought success to Stamford Bridge during their tenure. In the early years of the Abramovich era, Chelsea was the place to be but, since the riches of Manchester and Spain have risen, nowadays the grass can often seem greener on the other side.
Just like at other top European clubs, recent years have seen the dismantling of an experienced core of club favourites at Chelsea. With the presence of Terry, Lampard, Drogba, Cech and Cole in a dressing room, order was very rarely broken. If you spoke out against the club, you spoke out against them and all that they stood for. The only time when these senior figures broke these values was when a manager disrupted this order and undermined them. Just before Chelsea’s eventual Champions League triumph in 2012, Andre Villas-Boas was dismissed having upset many of Chelsea’s most respected players by limiting their playing time.
In the first leg of the last 16 tie with Napoli, Villas-Boas dropped the likes of Lampard, Cole and Essien to the bench. It was from there that they watched the Italian side take a demanding 3-1 lead into the second leg but, by the time that game came around two weeks later, Villas-Boas was gone. For the first time in a decade, it seemed as if the dressing room had turned against the manager and that would be a sign of things to come at the club over the years that followed.
Jose Mourinho’s return saw the construction of a strong Chelsea side that would go on to win the Premier League during his second season but, after a dismal transfer window, Mourinho’s frustration spilled over as he was accused of sexism towards Eva Carneiro, the team doctor, in a shocking outburst on the touchline on the opening day of the following season.
That falling out led to Carneiro’s departure and her exit resounded with a few members of the Chelsea squad, most notably Eden Hazard, who Mourinho had criticised for the incident against Swansea. And, when you upset the club’s most valuable player, it’s not going to go down well with the board. During the first five months of that disastrous season, Hazard didn’t find the net a single time. Meanwhile, Diego Costa had managed just three goals in the league, compared to his 13 at the same stage the season before. Due to the club’s bottom-half position in mid-December and the seemingly toxic dressing room atmosphere, Mourinho was sacked. His popularity with the fans turned the Stamford Bridge faithful against the players on this rare occasion.
In the first game after Mourinho’s sacking, certain Chelsea players were booed by the large majority of the home crowd at the Bridge with one banner reading ‘The Three Rats: Hazard, Costa, Fabregas’. Hazard wasn’t fit enough to play that game against Sunderland but both Costa and Fabregas were booed when they were substituted during the win. With Guus Hiddink put in interim charge, Chelsea’s performances improved and Hazard, Costa and Fabregas started playing to their best once more. When it came down to the value of the players against the value of the club’s most successful manager, there was only going to be one outcome.
Antonio Conte brought tougher training methods and a less attractive style of play upon his arrival the next summer. After a couple of recruits, things seemed to be going well as the Blues won the league title for the second time in three seasons. Reports emerged during the season that Conte had fallen out with Diego Costa when the striker was absent from the Chelsea squad that won at Leicester in January. However, unlike Mourinho, Conte seemed to have the situation under control and Costa played a key role in the final months of the season.
But things started to unravel with that fateful text message from Conte to Costa. When standards dropped during yet another poor title defence, the players and fans started to grow impatient with Conte’s conservative style of play with the Italian often opting to play without a recognised striker. Despite an FA Cup triumph, Conte was relieved of his duties at the end of the season as player power struck again. In the last week, Willian, who had previously blocked Conte from a picture on social media, came out and said that he would’ve left if Conte had stayed.
You have to imagine that would’ve also been the case for Eden Hazard, who seemed to become increasingly frustrated by Conte’s defensive approach. Upon Maurizio Sarri’s arrival, Thibaut Courtois failed to turn up to training and forced a move to Real Madrid. The fans’ negative reaction to the Belgian keeper, as well as the uproar against some of the club’s best players in the past, proves that the Stamford Bridge faithful have certain expectations of their players and hold loyalty highly.
Chelsea never to seem to be far from a crisis and that’s mainly down to the instability of the dressing room. Managers have paid the price for failing to control the egos of some of the biggest players but when each new manager seems to bring success, why change your ways?