One critique laid at the door of Roman Abramovich is that he is guilty of short-termism. In particular when it comes to managers.
Since Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea way back in the summer of 2003, Chelsea have had 10 permanent managers, up to and including incumbent Maurizio Sarri. That’s not including two caretaker spells by Guus Hiddink, and one by Rafa Benitez. All in all, 12 different managerial spells.
From our recent history one could easily conclude Chelsea are just a hire and fire club. Not allowing any manager to build a team or implement a philosophy.
But I believe things are changing.
To my mind, we’ve begun to see a shift in approach, even as far back as 2013. When Jose Mourinho returned that summer, he himself spoke of establishing himself at the club for a long period. The noises were about long-term planning. Indeed in the summer of 2015 Mourinho signed a long-term contract with Chelsea.
He was sacked that December after the worst run of form seen from any Chelsea side for nearly two decades. But the hints were there even then, that something had shifted. The bad run began in August with a shock 3-0 defeat by Manchester City and didn’t end really until Jose’s sacking, seeing us near the relegation zone by Christmas.
In recent memory, managers had been sacked for far less. I remember thinking at the time, that in the past, with that run of form, Mourinho or any manager would have been sacked in September or October, not December.
And then last season. Things fell apart under Antonio Conte very quickly. After the successive and humiliating defeats to Bournemouth and Watford, everyone assumed Conte would be sacked immediately to save our season. But he remained in place. After the Man City away game, the same was assumed. He stayed. Indeed, he remained as manager into the first week of pre-season this season.
Again, something in me twigged the club were changing.
Finally, there was the appointment of Maurizio Sarri, an appointment unlike any other in the Abramovich era. All the previous appointments had been made on the basis of the managers CV. Even Di Matteo got the permanent job based on winning the FA Cup and Champions League the previous season as caretaker.
Maurizio Sarri, for all his achievements at Napoli, has yet to win a trophy. Until now this was the pre-requisite of any potential Chelsea manager under Abramovich. And unlike any other manager Roman has appointed, he is a coach with a specific footballing philosophy.
I sense with Maurizio Sarri, that his job here is not simply to win trophies. When Jose Mourinho was appointed manager in 2004, he changed the mentality of the club. He turned us into winners. He set a new standard of what it meant to be a Chelsea player, and increased fan expectations. He revolutionised the club. Maurizio Sarri too, I believe has been hired to transform the club – but in a different way.
Sarri is here to change the footballing philosophy of the club. Winning trophies is no longer enough. Roman has long wanted a Chelsea team to play stylish, attacking, Barcelona-type football – hence his long but ultimately unsuccessful pursuit of Pep Guardiola. Now he has a man in charge who can implement a philosophy at the club – much as Johann Cruyff did at Barcelona – which will continue after his departure.
The club will have done their research. Despite what some fans seem to allude to, the club are not fools. They do their due diligence on potential manager appointments, and will know Sarri’s philosophy takes time to implement.
The reasons for this are numerous. First, there’s a recognition that football is changing. The most successful sides now play a high press, passing attacking style – and we need to keep up with this. I think there’s also a recognition that much of the squad needs replacing, and this process will take time. There’s a lot of dead wood at the club which it will take time to replace. There is also the very real threat of a transfer ban the immediate future. Finally of course, we have a generation of academy players on the verge of a breakthrough. As such, we need a coach who will improve players – not just a CV manager. And with all of these factors in play, and the unsustainable cost of continuing to sack managers, some stability at manager level is both welcome and preferable.
I thought it was very telling when Sarri’s assistant and Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola said recently that there was no pressure to win a trophy this season (although he qualified this later by admitting that winning a trophy would be preferable). I can only think the reason he felt safe to say this, is reassurances from the top that there is a long-term strategy.
Sarri and Zola have both spoken of a desire to be here a long time and rebuild Chelsea into one of the best footballing sides in Europe. Newer Chelsea fans, used to us buying lots of players and instant success, may struggle at first to understand this process. Indeed we’ve already seen mutterings that we need ‘plan B’ or to go back to what we know to get success.
This the first time we look like giving a manager time to build a team since the great rebuilding job done by Claudio Ranieri between 2000 and 2004. I genuinely believe Maurizio Sarri is here to stay.
I genuinely believe the club will stick with Sarri even if no trophies come this season. He’s made a solid start, and it’s clear to see he is laying the foundations of something potentially very special.
Provided he is given backing in the next two transfer windows, before a potential ban comes into play, in addition to utilising the best talent from our academy and loan army, and a bit of time, I genuinely believe he’ll build the next great Chelsea team – playing the kind of football both Roman and the fans have been dreaming of, hopefully with some academy talents playing a key role.
The Premier League and Champions League are becoming far more competitive and major trophies will be much tougher to come by, no matter how good our team is. But if we are patient, the future can be very bright. The future is Sarri.
(Photos: Getty Images)