by Terry Sazio
When I think of how Chelsea Football Club is run at the moment, I think of the famous quote from one of the true pioneers of mankind:
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
– Albert Einstein
To me, this unfortunately sums up the Chelsea board to a tee.
From Directors Marina Granovskaia to Chairman Bruce Buck to even Roman Abramovich himself. There are major faults within the club that need urgent attention or at the very least, need to be approached with a completely different mindset from now on.
Whilst the club is being successful off the pitch from a financial perspective, it’s on the pitch where the current problems exist and need to be addressed.
Not with a big piece of paper to cover a crack – but with proper fixes.
The club needs to become that club again, where they set every precedent and not just simply react to them. With this in mind, here are the four major problems that for me currently surround that club and thus need to be resolved as soon as possible…
THE SHORT-TERM MENTALITY NEEDS TO STOP
With the recent victory over Tottenham Hotspur in the Carabao Cup Semi-Final, Chelsea booked their place in a major cup final for the fourteenth time in sixteen seasons under the regime of Roman Abramovich.
• 16 seasons.
• 15 major trophies.
• 14 major cup finals.
Taking this at face value, you could say what’s the problem? Unfortunately, it is not as simple as that. Whilst we have had success in 11 of those 16 seasons, we have also had eleven different managers been given the objective of delivering instant success for the impatient Russian billionaire.
• Claudio Ranieri.
• Jose Mourinho (Twice).
• Avram Grant.
• Luiz Felipe Scolari.
• Guus Hiddink (Twice).
• Carlo Ancelotti.
• Andre Villas-Boas.
• Roberto Di Matteo.
• Rafael Benítez.
• Antonio Conte.
• Maurizio Sarri.
Some have delivered significantly (Mourinho/Ancelotti/Di Matteo/Conte), whilst others have miserably failed (Scolari/Villas-Boas). Now I’m not expecting our managers to have 20+ year reigns such as Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger. However, when you look at the fact that our longest-serving manager has been Mourinho at just over 3 years (1st spell June 2004 – September 2007), managers have to hit the ground running even more than players if you think about it.
Players can have a few months, a couple of seasons even to get a fair chance at whether they’re good enough to play for the club or not. As for managers, however, they’re scrutinised EVERY SINGLE GAME. Win a match – they’re the best manager of all time. Lose a match though – fans are calling for their head. Sometimes, even our board are doing the same.
Just look at this season for example. Our current Head Coach Maurizio Sarri – you could argue – has the almost impossible task of trying to rebuild the team/squad and introduce a new attacking style of play that our Russian billionaire owner has yearned for during his entire tenure, whilst delivering instant success on the pitch (Champions League qualification and/or success in a domestic cup or in the UEFA Europa League).
With the club currently in top 4 of the Premier League, in the last 32 of the Europa League, fifth round of the FA Cup and a League Cup final against Manchester City inbound… you could say that what Sarri has been able to ‘achieve’ so far is almost a miracle of some sort. This season should be the season where the board and most importantly Ambramovich himself, ditch the current philosophy it adheres to of ‘win at all costs’. Time (& patience!) is needed for things to be turned around and be for the better.
Constantly sacking and hiring managers every couple of years is eventually going to catch up with us – especially on the pitch. I hope it does not become the case because if that happens, a season of transition won’t be enough to turn things around in SW6. It might end up being a few of them…
The short-term mentality simply NEEDS to stop. We cannot keep papering over the ever-largening cracks that the club currently has, nor should we put our heads in the proverbial sand and simply pretend that there’s nothing wrong even when we win the odd cup here and there. Fixes need to happen, sooner rather than later.
BETTER SQUAD INVESTMENT
Player recruitment in recent memory – with the exception of a couple of great players – has been an absolute joke.
In the last three full seasons, 2015-16 to 2017-18, the club has spent a whopping £438.5m on 24 players. Of all those players brought in, only three you could say can be deemed as successful purchases.
• Pedro for £21.4m from Barcelona in 2015.
• N’Golo Kanté for £32m from Leicester City in 2016.
• Antonio Rüdiger for £29m from Roma in 2017.
Those 3 players cost a combined £81.4m. That means since 1st July 2015 – not including this current season – we have wasted £357m on players that we could easily acknowledge as nothing more than deadwood. For every Rudiger, Kante and Pedro, there has been Davide Zappacosta, Danny Drinkwater and Álvaro Morata. To give you an insight on how I feel on the amount of money wasted, I shook my head in disgust whilst typing this paragraph.
Describing the majority of the player recruitment/squad investment that has taken place over the last three full seasons would be disrespectful to words such as shambolic. For a club of our size and stature in today’s game, this is simply unacceptable.
The recruitment drive – along with the scout networking – has been predominately overseen by Granovskaia and ‘Head of International Scouting’ (more like ‘Head of no scouting’ if you ask me) Scott McLaughlin.
Granovskaia – Abramovich’s right-hand woman and the person who effectively runs the club on a day-to-day basis – whilst having exceptional financial acumen (based on annual financial results for the year ended 30 June 2018 that included a record £113m profit), has zero knowledge when it comes to finding the right player. McLaughlin has… umm… feels like no knowledge of any sorts and has contributed absolutely nothing to the club since being appointed.
Multiple big name targets have been missed due to the inept work from our scouting department, the very same department run by McLaughlin which has suggested we sign the likes of Andy Carroll, Ashley Barnes, Peter Crouch and earmarked Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson to be our main signing this coming summer. I don’t have enough words to describe how inept his decision making is. As Mourinho once said: “I prefer not to speak. If I speak, I am in big trouble.”
Thankfully, this season has been different due to the fact that the players brought into the club have been at the request of Head Coach Sarri and no one else. Thank whoever that is holy that Sarri has an eye for a good player. With that said, this is not enough. We need a few more windows where we’re signing talented players along the lines of like Kepa Arrizabalaga, Jorginho and Gonzalo Higuaín to name a few.
Christian Pulisic – a £57.6m signing from Borussia Dortmund – is a great start to our summer investment. If we continue along those lines, we will better off in no time.
This could have easily avoided though. The poor squad investment in recent seasons is staring us right in the face. The current first-team squad is full of deadwood, and that is going to take a while for all of that to be gone. Now only if we had someone at the club who has football (& business) knowledge and could be the perfect go-between for the board and Maurizio Sarri. Something that’s badly needed. I wonder what that could possibly be…
A DIRECTOR OF FOOTBALL IS BADLY NEEDED
I’m going to mention one name. Callum Hudson-Odoi.
I cannot emphasise enough how different the scenario involving CHO would have been if we had a Director of Football (DOF) in place at the club. Whether it’s a traditional DOF or a ‘figurehead’, either one of those would have personally dealt with Callum’s future in a much more constructive way. Giving him goals to work to, five-year plans to help utilise the best for his career, giving a sense of direction so his family/management team feels he’s being looked after… all of that and many more factions to throw in and Hudson-Odoi wouldn’t only have NOT handed-in a transfer request, but would have signed a new long-term contract as well as being (already) an integral part of the Chelsea squad.
When I look at the likes of Manchester City with how their club is run – having DOF’s for EVERY region let alone just one at the club – it truly frustrates me as not so long ago WE used to be the benchmark for how to run a club and think long-term. Now, however, we just react to everything, and too little too late more often than not. From being the status quo of how a club should be run to being an afterthought… Embarrassing.
There’s a huge fracture between the board and Sarri in terms of investment, academy integration, building for the future, etc. Having a DOF would help with all of this and so much more. From the football perspective – they would be able to talk to Sarri and the academy coaches, explaining what will be happening for players x, y and z over the next couple of years, informing them of budgets and what players will come and go and – most importantly I might add – allow the coaches to focus completely on what they were hired to do in the first place… coach.
From the financial side, they would be in close liaison to club Director Granovskaia, understanding what is needed from a financial perspective to achieve the goals and requirements that the DOF has in order for the team to be successful in the present as well as in the future.
With the way the club is run today, we would benefit greatly from having a ‘figurehead’ DOF. Someone who knows the club inside out and understands how the club is run and most importantly… understands how football works off the pitch. Someone who can sell the vision of the club to fans worldwide, to help with player recruitment and give much-needed guidance to youth players unsure of their role like Hudson-Odoi for example.
If someone gave me the power to appoint a DOF tomorrow – I would not look any further than Petr Cech.
Someone who knows the club inside out, holds much respect from all his peers and fans around the world, has a football as well as an economic brain and (this would be the clincher in my opinion) someone who Abramovich trusts. ‘Big Pete’ Ticks every single box in my opinion.
STOP USING THE ACADEMY AS A CASH COW
Another huge problem that faces the Chelsea hierarchy right now is the complete absence of any direction for our youngsters breaking through from the academy. Since the academy opened at Cobham back in 2007, we’ve had a few players here and there that have the potential to break into the first-team squad and become an integral part of Chelsea’s future.
For the likes of Gaël Kakuta, Josh McEachran, Lewis Baker and Dominic Solanke, none of them and many more have not been given a real chance to showcase their talent and prove whether or not they were capable of becoming a first-team player. Eleven and a half years and not one single player from the academy has made a defining impact on the biggest stage. Some would say that the quality of player coming through wasn’t good enough. Seven FA Youth Cups, two U18 Premier League Titles and two UEFA Youth League trophies… but no one was good enough? Some would say that they weren’t given a proper chance due to the nature of how the club is run and the insane demands of instant success for every manager that has come and gone. Not even in the earlier rounds of the League/FA Cups?
Former academy graduate and Academy Head Coach Jody Morris – now Assistant Manager at Derby County – felt that “little importance from some of the previous managers was shown towards our youth football and the youth players.”
The last player to come from the academy, break into the first-team and become a Chelsea great was back in 1998. You might have heard of him, his name is John Terry.
For the likes of Neil Bath (Head of Youth Development), Joe Edwards (Development Squad Manager) and many more, this must be disheartening. No one in the last 21 years has been considered good enough to make the step-up from the academy to the first-squad and thus, why the academy (& the infamous ‘loan army’) has been nothing more than a glorified cash cow for the club.
This season is the first season since Abramovich bought the club where there is a real possibility that the club has FINALLY woken up to the notion that the academy is not a cash cow but in fact the very future of Chelsea.
• Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
• Ethan Ampadu.
• Callum Hudson-Odoi.
All players mentioned above are now a part of the first-team squad and rightly considered – by our more experienced players, former players and most especially the fans – as the future, and a bright one at that too.
That’s not all. From the likes of RLC, Ampadu and CHO in the first-team squad, to the likes of Reece James, Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori and Tammy Abraham on loan at Wigan Athletic, Derby County and Aston Villa respectively, to looking further ahead to current academy prospects in Billy Gilmour, Daishawn Redan and Conor Gallagher to name a few… our future is more than capable of being a resounding success for the club in the years to come.
This is why NOW is the time for the board to finally trust the kids. They can’t hide behind the excuse of them not being good enough because that is simply not true. They ARE good enough. They’re that good that the likes of Bayern Munich have been desperate to acquire the services of Hudson-Odoi, who is arguably the brightest star to ever come from the academy has the potential to be a generational talent in world football. He’s THAT good. They have to play. They have to be given the chance. They simply have to have the faith of others in them. Confidence goes a long way for a youngster in the football world.
That’s why with the current saga surround CHO, we simply cannot afford to lose him. The board have dealt with the situation (for the majority of it) badly. It’s not about money for the kids. It’s simply the desire to want to play football. That’s it. Hudson-Odoi is the potential precedent of how the academy will be considered by the club hierarchy in the foreseeable future. Our current generation of academy talent is the best we’ve ever had, possibly the best ever we ever will have.
If the club cannot allow the management team and coaching staff enough time and patience to give the likes of RLC, Ampadu and CHO a genuine chance – and they leave as a consequence – then no player from the academy will ever believe they will get a chance. If given the time, the patience and the chance… watch all the players mentioned take the bull by the horns and take our club to a future era of nothing but success.
From the academy opening in 2007 up to this season, the treatment from the board to the academy has been nothing short of disgraceful, no matter how much PR spin they want to put on it. It’s about damn time this stops and we give these kids the chance to fulfil the dreams they’ve had their entire lives.
I think I’ve said enough of what I feel about the current situation of the board and how they run the club from top to bottom. Things need to change, everywhere. The board need to open their eyes, take the earplugs out and both watch and listen to what many have been saying for a while now.
It’s time to change, to adapt and get back to where we once were. Setting the standard for how a top-tier football club should be run in the 21st century.
The club has done it before. They can do it again…