Russian ‘machine’ + Italian ‘engineer’ = new era?
“Blue is the colour, football is the game
We’re all together, and winning is our aim”
But at what cost? Hear me out…
Since Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea back in 2003 – the club has well and truly been a trophy machine. 15 years, 15 trophies (17 if you include the 2 Community Shields).
1 UEFA Champions League (2011/12)
1 UEFA Europa League (2012/13)
5 Premier League Titles (2004/05, 2005/06, 2009/10, 2014/15, 2016/17)
5 FA Cups (2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2018)
3 League Cups (2004/05, 2006/07, 2014/15)
Only 4 of the last 15 seasons have we gone without a major trophy. No other club in England can boast a recent record like that.
From the day he bought Chelsea, Abramovich started sowing seeds for one of the most captivating transition stories in English football – stupendous wealth and astronomical ambition surpassed only by the will to dominate and rewrite Premier League (& Champions League) history.
However, with every machine – over time it starts to wear and tear.
Then, it eventually breaks. The cause for concern over recent years has been that even though the club has continued to win trophies, the club has stayed stuck in its out-of-date ways.
Short-term obsession, no long-term building, ageing squad, poor squad investment, lack of youth promotion… the list is far too long for a club of our stature. Even with another FA Cup in 2018, last season was seen as the season where everything (unfortunately) finally fell apart.
The Russian funded, globally built machine needs a tune-up. The machine needs to adapt (well overdue for some fans) so it doesn’t suffer another malfunction anytime soon.
More importantly, I think it’s time to give this machine more than just a tune-up. It needs something new…
New marquee signings, youngsters breaking through, have great footballing minds control the football side of the club thus allowing the business experts to continue making us financially sound, a philosophy to adhere by and then be envied by everyone else. If you combine all of this and allow it time to mould, settle and form, something incredible could happen.
An Identity. The ‘Chelsea Way’. Imagine that for a moment.
We never have had an identity at this club, not even close. Since Abramovich took over it’s always been a ‘Win at ALL costs’ mentality. This can’t last forever. Short-term fixes don’t always lead to constant success and definitely does not allow the future of the club to ever get going. We need a new way of life at the club. With this in mind, can this new identity be built by an Italian ‘engineer’ recently brought in? I hope so.
Here are the major issues that need to be rectified so Chelsea can move into the future with positivity, success and finally for fans/media to know that this is the ‘Chelsea Way’:
SQUAD NEEDING A MAJOR OVERHAUL
4th in the Premier League, Carabao Cup Semi-Final, easy group qualification in the UEFA Europa League… you could argue that the 2018/19 season so far hasn’t been too bad. With that said, everything is not as positive as it seems.
A lot of positivity – in terms of results, performances and stand out moments – can be attributed to one major factor. One person even.
Eden Michael Hazard.
Now, I’m not saying we’re becoming a one-man team but it’s not far off if we’re being honest. When Hazard doesn’t ‘turn up’, the team doesn’t seem to either. 2017/18 was arguably the worst season for transfer dealings in our history. Just the mere thought of those 2 windows send every single Chelsea fan into a cold sweat. Issues with the squad investment go back further but last season was definitely the straw that broke the camel’s back. It’s been attritional for the last 12 months since the humiliating 3-0 defeat at home to Bournemouth and 4-1 capitulation to Watford.
If you look at the current squad we have – you could argue as few as only 11 (1 or 2 more possibly) of the squad would be wanted by the majority of our fanbase to continue to be a player member of our club.
With those mentioned, it’s not too hard to work out who the current ‘deadwood’ is in the squad and therefore needs to be replaced by players of a higher (& younger?) level. The likes of Danny Drinkwater, Victor Moses, Davide Zappacosta and most especially Álvaro Morata simply don’t meet the standard of player we need. We’re an elite European club – therefore only the best (ready made and/or youth prospects) should be fighting for a starting position at Stamford Bridge every other Saturday. The blame game could be laid at multiple doors here.
A lack of a Director of Football (since Michael Emenalo departed in November 2017), a questionable scouting system, combined with a board that whilst is brimming with business intelligence, severely lacks in football acumen – shows the current problems with our transfer dealings and general player attraction. Square pegs, round holes comes to mind. This needs to be rectified as soon as possible. If this happens, we will be successful both on AND off the pitch.
So far, this season’s acquisitions of Kepa, Jorginho, Kovačić (along with Christian Pulisic in the Summer) is a step in the right direction. A direction we used to be synonymous with. If we can back to signing that calibre of player (higher level even?) on a regular basis, along with developing the finest youth players there is… we will be challenging on the domestic and European front once again. No more being content with just top 4 security and potential Europa League success. League titles and Champions League glory – that’s where we belong.
TIME TO START TRUSTING OUR ACADEMY
John Terry. 717 club appearances, 78 International caps, captain of both Chelsea and England. Captain, Leader, Legend.
And the last genuine player from our academy/youth system to break into the first team and become great for our club. Breaking through and establishing himself in the 2000/01 season – that means we’ve gone 18 and a half seasons without another player coming through and to say that he’s made it.
Over the years, we’ve seen the likes of Josh McEachran, Gael Kakuta, Jeremy Boga, Bertrand Traore, Ryan Bertrand, Scott Sinclair, Patrick Bamford, Jeffrey Bruma, Nathaniel Chalobah and Nathan Ake make the odd appearance, score the odd goal… and then disappear forever.
In my opinion, Ake is a better CB than Gary Cahill, Chalobah would be a better midfield option than Drinkwater and so on.
Now you could argue that none of them was good enough to play for us on a regular basis (besides Ake who I strongly feel can and we need him back ASAP) and I would understand that. But if you look at our current squad and continue to see the majority of academy prospects not get a look-in – especially with the current situation regarding Hudson-Odoi – you start to question what is the actual point of the academy?
Since Ambramovich fund and develop (continuing to do so) the state-of-the-art youth facility at Cobham, the academy has gone on to win 7 FA Youth Cups (including FIVE in a row), 2 U18 Premier League Titles and 2 UEFA Youth Leagues. Incredible considering the youth system as a whole only had 2 major trophies to date pre-Abramovich (FA Youth Cups – 1960 & 1961). With all this recent success, you would be confident in those academy players breaking through and becoming the nucleus of our squad?
Nope. Once again, the short-term ‘disease’ of the club (instant success > building a future) has made it so that there is a huge fracture – a brick wall even – between the academy and the first team. Year after year, manager after manager simply didn’t want to give youth a chance because due to being under pressure from the board to get trophy after trophy. This was summed up perfectly by Jody Morris back in September last year. The club needs to stop seeing the academy as a cash cow (this is pretty evident with 30+ players currently on loan and less than a third of those having a chance even at breaking through).
Now, I’m not saying winning trophies is a bad thing because if you were a Chelsea fan pre-Abramovich, every trophy won in this era will be forever cherished as this could arguably be the golden era of this club. With that said, I’m sure a huge proportion of our fanbase would have been content with sacrificing the odd League Cup here and there if that meant seeing the future of the club be given a proper chance at potentially breaking through.
With all of this considered, maybe, just maybe… things are indeed changing. Ruben Loftus-Cheek is finally starting to fulfil the potential everyone has known he’s had for years and is becoming a first-team regular. Ethan Ampadu – already a full Welsh International – is being regarded as the new Marcel Desailly and the next Chelsea captain. Andreas Christensen is wanted by every major club in Europe as they see him as one of this generation’s finest centre-backs.
We also have the likes of Reece James, Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori, Ola Aina, Jay Dasilva and Tammy Abraham currently on loan making huge strides in their development. Along with youngsters such as Billy Gilmour, Connor Gallagher, George McEachran, Daishawn Redan et al making a name for themselves in our current youth system – the future does certainly look bright for Chelsea.
And there’s Callum-Hudson-Odoi. Seen as the definitive future of our club and possibly a generational talent. His potential is indescribable as there’s no ceiling to what he could be capable of in a few years time. This is pretty evident by the fact that Bayern Munich is desperate to get him – which is a huge concern for us as he feels he’s not being given enough time in the first-team at the moment and rumoured to be stalling over a new contract extension. That would be disastrous. With that said, I also feel that Hudson-Odoi’s management team have not been helping him as they’ve most probably used the example of Jadon Sancho at Borussia Dortmund and think CHO would be an instant success for the Bavarian giants.
Let me give you a couple of bits of info to say why Hudson-Odoi would be better off at Chelsea than at Bayern:
– Bayern Munich currently has SIX wingers at their disposal: Arjen Robben, Franck Ribéry, Thomas Müller, Kingsley Coman, Serge Gnabry and Alphonso Davies. All fully fledged internationals. Whoever is telling CHO he would break through all 6 of those is basically feeding him lies.
– Hudson-Odoi is 18 and has made 5 competitive appearances for Chelsea this season. Oliver Skipp at Tottenham Hotspur is also 18 and made 1 more competitive appearance. In my honest opinion… you could say that both players are getting good opportunities for their age right now. If Skipp doesn’t have an issue with his current game time, why does Callum? I feel the people around him are causing more problems than solutions. Why is he in a rush? He has a contract till the end of next season – a simple solution would be to go on loan to either a club in the Premier League or a competitive team in Europe. Sign a new deal, come back after the loan spell and he would walk into the starting line-up let alone the squad.
Getting back to the point of the issue – I understand that the academy situation is a complex one and cannot be discussed in black and white terms, I get that. I just hope that the fears of the fans over the last few years were nothing more than overreaction (& a tiny bit of obsession) than anything else and that we’re finally starting to the REAL progression of the academy system.
Chelsea having the cream of the crop in youth? Let’s hope so.
IMPLEMENT A PHILOSOPHY FOR THE WHOLE CLUB
You know what is as good as winning trophies? Playing attractive football WHILST winning trophies.
Just as important as overhauling the current first-team and giving academy prospects the chance to excel is giving them an ethos of what it means to play for Chelsea Football club and doing so, how to play.
Only 1 manager since Abramovich bought the club you could say won trophies whilst playing football that was easy on the eye. Carlo Ancelotti.
Although his second season in charge didn’t go well and in my opinion abruptly sacked due to Roman’s obsession of Champions League glory above everything else at the time, Carlo’s first was a thing of beauty.
A conductor presiding over an orchestra, hitting the perfect notes every single time. Intelligent build-up play at a frantic pace and exquisite possession in the final third of the pitch combined with aggressive domination and a nucleus of players at their absolute peak… watching Chelsea was simply euphoric.
Brushing teams aside at a canter for fun, scoring 6’s, 7’s, 8’s every other game along the way to 103 goals overall (a PL record at the time), going to all the big clubs away from home and making it a walk in the park – I wish I had a time machine, went back to 2009/10, created a blueprint, brought it back to today and said to the club “Just do this.”
And this is why I want this at the club right now, an upgraded version even.
Of the 5 Premier League titles won over the last 15+ years, only 1 was won with swagger and flair. The other 4 was – at the time looked impressive – 4 seasons of passive-aggressive, counter-attack football. We have had incredible players over the years such as Robben, Hazard and Joe Cole where had they played only attack-minded football… Imagine how much more they could have contributed both personally and to the team as a whole. Frightening to even just imagine that.
This was most evident under Antonio Conte. Even though certain records were made during the 2016/17 season – most notably 30 wins in a single season (since broken by Manchester City last season) – you could argue that that season was successful as much due to the rest of the aforementioned ‘Big 6’ severely underperforming as well as no club being able to overpower Conte’s fast-paced, counter-attacking 3-4-3.
If Conte initially showed his ingenuity, adaptability and organisational prowess to reconfigure Chelsea six weeks into his first season in charge, then you could safely say we doubled down on their title-winning formation last season. Going from the flexible 3-4-3 to the incredibly rigid 3-5-2 that consisted of 3 defensive midfielders and playing Hazard playing off a target man – Chelsea got found out and were punished. Badly at times. The 1-0 defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad last March was for me the worst performance I had ever seen by my club. Inept, soulless… a complete embarrassment.
I don’t want to see that sort of performance ever again. That’s why I believe in Maurizio Sarri. Why do you ask? Because he – not just for the board/fans but for himself too – wants to be entertained. He wants to his team to play football that is so expressive and free-flowing it makes every team want to play like that.
‘Sarrismo’ (or the altered saying of ‘SarriBall’) during Sarri’s leadership at his previous club Napoli was a sight to behold. Sarri preaches the gospel of playing beautifully, and that is one church I would be proud to be a part of. If it wasn’t for an all-conquering Juventus cruising past teams (not Napoli mind) for the last 3 seasons in Serie A, the Naples faithful would have seen their beloved team win a lot of trophies. Easily.
Full-backs attacking at break-neck speed, a midfield including Jorginho and Marek Hamšik conducting the style of play and interchangeable forwards such as Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne scoring goals for fun whilst confusing defenders… give me some of that at Stamford Bridge. In fact, I want all of that throughout the entire club. Develop our youngsters/youth teams in this style of play so they’re ready for the first team when the time comes and can fit in straight away.
At the moment, I still feel we have too many ‘Conte’ players and that the team as a whole is still structurally wedded to that style of play. This has to change.
So, with all of that has been said and suggested… a new Identity is achievable.
I’m not saying it will be easy. And I’m not guaranteeing it’ll be the exact same as Barcelona’s ‘La Masia’ youth dynasty, the spectacle of a team managed by Pep Guardiola or as all-conquering as Manchester United at its peak under Sir Alex Ferguson…
But why shouldn’t Chelsea at least try to have their own? There are signs that Abramovich/the board is FINALLY listening to the fans and understanding that the cracks at the club can no longer be papered over. Thus, things need to change both on and off the pitch.
This is a transitional season. The heydays of keeping up with the title challengers at the start of the season were great to see but it was almost as if we were over-performing and everything was going our way to an extent. Once teams started to see the holes in our (still being developed mind so take that into consideration) and began to expose them – that’s when we saw where Chelsea really was a team in terms of how far behind and what was needed to rectify. This hasn’t been a disastrous season but I don’t our fan base to get carried away. I understand we have been privileged and fortunate over the last few years with our success. But it’s not going to happen every season and certainly won’t if we continue along with short-term thinking – from both the board AND the fans – of demanding instant gratification.
A new philosophy, style of play, a new spine of a team, creating our own ‘class of… it needs time and patience, something I hope everyone can get behind.
Six months for Sarri is like a day in Rome – it cannot be built overnight. But once SarriBall gets perfected, it will be a spectacle to behold when it’s unleashed.
The ‘Chelsea Way’ is coming. Alongside the blue flag, keep the faith flying high.
Written by Terry Sazio.
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