Chelsea Players: You’re On Notice

So, we need to talk about last night. Bournemouth 4 Chelsea 0.

What a complete and utter shambles. I’ve followed Chelsea since 1983, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been this angry after a defeat.

And honestly this has almost nothing to do with the manager, tactics, or formation. Yes, there are tweaks Maurizio Sarri can make, slight changes to formation and selection.

But that’s to ignore the gaping big elephant in the room. It’s been there for a long time, covered by the sticking plasters of CV managers who deliver instant success.

The players. The character, mentality, attitude of many of our senior players in particular.

It all began, I believe, around the time we won the Champions League.

Within two years of that triumph we’d lost Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Petr Cech and Ashley Cole. All of them strong characters, leaders, and winners. People who got the club, who cared, who never gave up, who fought for the shirt – and hated losing.

Drogba came back, more for his dressing room influence than anything, and with John Terry still in the squad, we won the league in 2015. After the title win of 2015 though, Drogba left, JT began his decline, and we had the monumental collapse of 2015/16 – which started under Jose Mourinho, but continued under Guus Hiddink. Eden Hazard didn’t score until April that year. The players switched off, stopped playing, stopped caring.

Antonio Conte became head coach in 2016, and with a strong enough squad, motivated again, with JT still present behind the scenes, and no midweek games, led us to the title in 2017. But then, last season, JT left, and we had the same old story. The team fell apart, Eden Hazard stopped playing, players gave up and just managed to salvage themselves and the season with the FA Cup.

And now to this season.

We started well with lots of confidence and optimism. As always under a new manager.

But as before, the moment we’ve had a difficult period, the players have gone. Again.

All links to the great Chelsea side have gone, and leaders are noticeale only by their absence. The current players tweet about defeats. But I don’t sense we have players who will go absolutely bonkers if we lose, players who physically hate losing, people who respond under pressure – both on and off the pitch.

Last night we played decently enough in the first half, but after they scored the players went mentally. We capitulated. Like against Wolves, and all our defeats. Heads went down, no one responded, everyone wilted.

I saw no pride. No passion. No one stepping up under pressure. No one raising their game, organising or even trying to lead the team. And allegedly only one or two players even came over to the away fans to thank them for their support.

One or two.

I doubt Chelsea players read this site, but if they do, know you are on notice.

I for one am done with a bunch of cowards in my team. I’m done with players who bottle it and capitulate under the first sign of pressure.

I’m done with players who give the distinct impression only care about their pay packets, their reputations, or where they are playing next season.

I’m tired of players who don’t even have the courage to face up to the fans after a defeat.

Even if we win a trophy this season, I’m still done with them.

And that includes Eden Hazard, who looks to be showing up when he feels like it, and quite frankly, has his head in Madrid. He always disappears in these bad runs, and truly great players like him should be doing way more.

Very few players are beyond criticism right now.

We heard yesterday head coach Maurizio Sarri spent over an hour alone with the players after the game. He did something similar after the Arsenal game

Can you imagine a team with John Terry, Frank Lampard, or Didier Drogba even needing one of those kind of talks? I can’t.

It shouldn’t take a 1 hour rant from the manager to get top players motivated. In the past, after a defeat like that, you’d have JT, Lampard, Drogba, all stepping up, shouting , screaming at the players, telling them it’s not good enough. They’d all be over to the fans after the game. They’d front up to the cameras and apologise for that shambles. They’d motivate themselves.

Not now.

It’s not just the quality of a lot of players – it’s the mentality.

People who don’t understand how Sarri coaches, who blame the manager, mock the word ‘mentality’, because he has had to use it so often.

There’s a reason he has to keep saying it. Because it’s a serious, ongoing problem, the players seemingly aren’t capable of solving.

Sarri had it nailed from the beginning when he talked about mentality. And it’s so endemic in our squad it’s taken care of two managers and is now threatening a third.

The only solution is a ruthless cull. And in terms of recruitment, we shouldn’t just look at quality of players, but look at their mentality, their character, their mindset.

I want world class mentality, not just world class talent. One big reason for Liverpool becoming title contenders this season is the recruitment of people like Van Dijk – a leader.

And frankly, I see more leadership in the academy and youth players than in established first team players right now.

Reece James, Ethan Ampadu, Mason Mount, they are leaders. They have character. They get what it means. They have respect for the shirt. Ruben Loftus-Cheek has shown character this season in his attitude to improving himself. Callum Hudson-Odoi has been here for nearly a decade. They’ve nearly all won things with our youth team, they know what it means to win, they know the demands of this club. All of them have the ability to be regular first teamers.

I want as many of them as possible starting. Because at least then we’ll have some characters who care about this club and know what it means, people who won’t capitulate, people who care.

I believe in Sarri and know what he’s trying to do. He’s not the problem.

Most of these players follow the same pattern – new manager, new motivation and energy, do well for a period. Maybe reach a final or win a trophy.

But as soon as things get tough, they capitulate, give up and wait for the next manager. Who changes tactics again because people see that as the problem – and to be fair, last season that was partially true – and the pattern repeats. This time it’s just happened more quickly.

I’ve said many times the time to judge Sarri is next season, with his team, playing his way – not this season. And I stick by that.

However, if this we keep getting results like this, and we end up outside the top four yet again, there is a chance the club might make a change. In which case the cycle will repeat again, and we’ll be here again sooner or later.

The minimum target this season was top four, and we’re not looking like a top four team right now. We’re right where we should be, with an inferior squad, with a weak mentality. It may take winning the Europa league to save Maurizio Sarri.

And I do have a niggling, discomforting feeling, that this problem is so deep rooted, that Sarri, through no fault of his own, might not be able to solve it. 

There is an argument to suggest the issue will ultimately be best solved by bringing in a coaching team who know what this club means. Winners, leaders and legends who will command total support of the fans – and meaning the players will have nowhere to hide.

My hope is Sarri turns it around and completes his project. I think it’s worth persevering with, and I won’t be turning on him this season, I want him given time. If he can produce a Chelsea side playing Napoli type football, it will be well worth it.

But we all know how the club has worked in recent years. Many of the fanbase have already turned on Sarri too. If this continues, the campaign to oust Sarri already growing on social media will escalate, the pressure will build and, I suspect, the clamour to bring Frank Lampard home from Derby in the summer may become irresistible.

If Sarri is sacked this year, I won’t be blaming him or even the club.

He will just be a victim of a bunch of players who seem not to care, who have no leadership, no character and give up at the first sign of pressure until the next coach arrives.

They’ve been a cancer to this club too long  – and as far as I’m concerned, they are all on notice now.

******

By PGCFC001 – Follow me on Twitter

(Photos: Getty Images)

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