The footballing structure at Chelsea, in particular in recent years, has been a subject of huge debate, in particular since the departure of Director Of Football Operations Michael Emenalo over a year ago.
Since then, player recruitment has been overseen by chief executive Marina Granovskaia and Head of International Scouting, Scott McLaughlin. However, transfer has always been a strange combination of recommendations from the head coach, the scouts, Marina and, until he left, Michael Emenalo.
And if we’re honest, in recent years – summer 2018 excepted – it’s not exactly delivered great results. Numerous big name transfer targets have been missed due to either a breakdown or delay in negotiations. We’ve missed out on key targets because we’ve been unwilling to pay the fees required.
The results are there for all to see. The first team squad is now full of deadwood, which is taking time to get rid of. The club are working on it, but the whole process has set the club back several years.
The other problem at Chelsea, is the complete absence of any coherent football ing strategy for not just recruiting players, but integrating the best of the Chelsea academy into the first team squad. And now this is costing us to, with the potential departure of Callum Hudson-Odoi, arguably the best academy product we’ve produced since John Terry.
The structure and scouting of the club up the the mens first team is strong. But get to the mens first team, and integration from academy to first team, and It all falls apart. In truth, it’s a shambles.
So, what’s the answer? To me, and to many fans I’ve spoken to, it’s simple. A Director of Football.
And for the best examples of this we need to look at the the two top teams in England right now, Liverpool and Manchester City. These two clubs both have a clear structure and long term strategy for player recruitment. They both have strong academies, and Liverpool in particular are creating a clear pathway into the first team, with Trent Alexander-Arnold the best example of this bearing fruit.
But both have a director of football-type figure. Liverpool have Michael Edwards as their Sporting Director. Man City have Txiki Begiristain – who oversees scouting, the academy, transfers, player contracts and works alongside the coach to ensure he is supported in his team building. One thing which hugely impressed me about City in the ‘All Or Nothing’ documentary series, was seeing they don’t just have one director of football, co-ordinating the whole football side. They have directors of football for different regions of the world, different scouting areas.
These two clubs now have a lot of stability, and look to be building for long term success. Whilst Chelsea keep lurching from crisis to crisis. Transfers take an age to complete and almost always nearly fail due to negotations breaking down, or money.
Chelsea have a great businesswoman running the club. The problem with Marina, is that she is, unlike her predecessors Peter Kenyon and Ron Gourlay, not a football person. To her, the bottom line is all that matters. And we’ve seen at Manchester United what happens when you put money before a coherent football strategy.
Chelsea need direction. They need strategy. They need football expertise. They need a person or people with the vision to plan a coherent footballing vision and strategy – who can work with Marina and give her the footballing insight she lacks.
They need a Director of Football.
There have been two types of candidate suggested. A figurehead role – a Chelsea legend and football icon who can represent the club internationally. Or, a more technical figure, who heads up scouting, completes player negotiations, and oversees and develops strategy. A football person, and a businessperson too.
But for me, we need both. Chelsea need a figurehead who can sell the vision of the club to the public, to potential signings and to youth players unsure of their role, and represent the club, and who can input and help implement strategy – and they also need a traditional director of football, to oversee scouting, transfer strategy and contract negotiations.
So who to get for these two crucial roles? For the first – let’s call it, Technical Director. Gianluca Vialli has put himself forward. Some have suggested Gianfranco Zola. Various names have been put forward, but the answer, to me, has always been obvious.
The German midfielder, Chelsea legend, and former Bayern and German captain. Globally known worldwide as a football icon, leader and inspiration to many.
There’s so many reasons why Ballack works.
To begin with, the case of Callum Hudson-Odoi. Say a figure like Michael Ballack goes to him last summer and sells the vision of the future of Chelsea, and a clear strategy and plan for him to be integrated into the first team, in conjunction with head coach Maurizio Sarri. Suddenly the player has way more confidence and understanding of his role in the team and how this will develop, and maybe commits to stay. Which, then, has a knock on effect on other academy players. Ballack can do the same for all of them. He can sell a vision for youth integration and present a clear strategy to players and their families so they know their role in the future of Chelsea.
This concept also applies external players Chelsea are trying to sign. A football legend like Ballack meets them or rings them, and sells them the Chelsea vision and their role in it. It’s so different to a business person like Marina doing the same. Players who idolise Ballack, will commit to the Chelsea vision.
Another area Ballack provides support, is in player negotiations. Boards of many European clubs are still quite patriarchal, and Marina isn’t necessarily popular in several boardrooms. But again, a football icon like Michael Ballack coming in and playing a role, makes a huge difference. It smooths relations between clubs – especially other clubs where he is a legend, like Bayern or Leverkusen. People see a football man, not just a businesswoman. These little things make a difference.
The second role, the more traditional Director Of Football, I would give to either Luis Campos, who helped create the incredible Monaco side of a couple of years ago, or Monchi of Roma. These guys would be masters of developing football strategy, overseeing transfer policy, conducting player negotiations and developing a coherent strategy for youth development – working alongside the figurehead such as Ballack
If we appointed Ballack, alongside Luis Campos or Monchi – then suddenly, from having no coherent strategy, Chelsea would have an expert director of football creating a coherent football and transfer strategy, developing our scouting network, and developing with Ballack a vision for the long term for Chelsea. Ballack’s role would be painting and selling a vision of what Chelsea are about, their long term strategy and plan, to the public, to the players, to the fans, to academy players.
Chelsea would have a team at the top who can oversee that plan and provide stability whatever happens at managerial level – and can also allow for a smooth managerial succession plan, ensuring a smooth transition, the football philosophy can continue. It would allow long-term planning even at managerial level, which could possibly help with the appointment of Sarri’s successor – maybe a certain former Chelsea legend currently impressing at Derby?
This idea is so obvious, and the benefits so many, the only question is why Chelsea haven’t done this already?
(Photos: Getty Images)