by Terry Sazio

Where do I even begin?

When we lost 3-1 to Tottenham in November, I thought that was bad.
Then we lost 2-0 to Arsenal a couple of weeks ago and I thought that was worse.

Then losing 4-0 to Bournemouth happened. In the first half, we were actually decent. Good build-up play, good pressing and passing, controlling the game… we were even unlucky to not to be in the lead if it wasn’t for the woodwork – something that has stopped us from scoring 17 times so far this season. Yes, you read that right… SEVENTEEN.

Going into half-time, I thought we would improve, actually finish a couple of chances and get an important 3 points considering the current situation with multiple teams vying for that coveted top 4 spot.

Then the second half – and nightmare – began.

The performance (or lack of even) against Arsenal was truly embarrassing. No passion, no desire, weak mentality and complacent egos across the whole team that night.

But last night was worse, and I never thought it could be the case. The second half was devoid of EVERYTHING. Passion, desire, fight, determination… everything.

After losing to Tottenham, I was frustrated.
After losing to Arsenal, I was angry.
After losing to Bournemouth however… I feel dejected.

In the Intro to this feature series, I mentioned that January 2019 had so far been what feels like a rollercoaster ride. A lot of ups and a lot of downs.

Last night was not even a ‘down’ so to speak. It was worse than that.

It was rock bottom.

With all that has been said so far, it’s time for the players to be called out, be held accountable for their actions (or lack of) and be truly judged on whether they’re good enough to play for our club. Whether that means if they’re smart enough to play the new philosophy and have enough talent to help us get back to where we once were… we need players who have the desire to play for the badge.

Just like the board needs a major overhaul in terms of mentality, decision making and what’s best for the future of Chelsea, the same must be done for the players too.

Five points come to mind for me to discuss. Let’s go.

WEAK MENTALITY, NO LEADERS

The idea of this ‘State of’ feature series came to mind through watching the post-match press conference Head Coach Maurizio Sarri had after the loss to Arsenal last month. Here’s a quick recap of what was said in the now infamous press conference:

“It appears this group of players are extremely difficult to motivate. This is not a team that’s going to be known for its battling qualities. It seems to me that, as a group of players, they’re not particularly aggressive from a mental point of view.”

“They don’t have that ferocity in their mentality. That’s down to the type of players they are, their characteristics. It’s something that is difficult to change. It could take quite a long time.”

“This group of players are particuarly difficult to motivate.”

– Maurizio Sarri

If you read between the lines, what Sarri is basically saying is that this group of players are weak minded, soft to the core and is totally bereft of any sense of leadership quality. Sarri now knows who doesn’t have the personality and character to make this team a force once again.

Photo Source: BBC

To me, that’s scary. It’s getting to the point now where to have to seriously question how many of the current playing squad ACTUALLY care? About the club, about the fans, about the badge. How many?

Going on social media and posting “We go again” blah blah blah is not a sign of showing that they care. All that is is their PR teams tweeting/posting out on their behalf to give them a good image at an appropriate time, whether that moment in time is good or bad. Nonsense is what that is. No wonder we have no true leaders. We don’t because this is the first time since Roman Ambramovich bought the club that we don’t have any. And it is very obvious.

When I think of all the squads and legendary players that have played for Chelsea in the last sixteen years, I’ve never felt any of the previous squads/players ever lacked mentality nor leadership.

John Terry.
Frank Lampard.
Petr Čech.
Didier Drogba.
Ashley Cole.
Michael Ballack.
Branislav Ivanović.

Photo Source: Chelsea FC (Facebook)

Those seven players mentioned (plus the many more I could have easily said as well) were the embodiment of leadership, strong mentality and the desire to only want the absolute best for Chelsea Football Club.

When they lost a game, they wouldn’t be going on Twitter and saying some PR tripe that makes them look good for likes and retweets. They would be angry. They would call each other out in the dressing room or at the training ground not because they were selfish, but because they pushed each other to be the best. Only being first or the best was good enough. Anything else was a failure and rightly so.

These players gave their bodies to this club, literally when it comes to someone like Terry. With Sarri being the first coach under Abramovich not to have the luxury of leaders in his squad, it’s no coincidence that the squad shows nothing but a soft underbelly. Am I wrong?

Having zero players with character, desire and leadership is hurting us badly. Doesn’t matter how good you are – if you don’t have the right mentality, you’re always doomed to fail.

I would give my left leg so to speak to have just 1 of those players in the dressing room right now so the current squad see what a player with REAL passion and leadership is. We lost our well-known ‘spine’ from a football perspective a couple of years ago when John Terry left the club to move on to Aston Villa.

With this group of players however, they’ve never had a backbone to begin with. I remember at the start of the season, a few of our players came out and said that playing on Thursdays in the Europa League hurt them and it was disastrous for the club as they feel Chelsea are a ‘Champions League’ Club.

My question then to those players is where’s that motivation gone? Instead of saying it, prove it. Prove it so I don’t have to be writing articles like this and call you out.

Thankfully, there is one player who does get it. What if means to play for Chelsea. What it means to play for that blue shirt, that badge, to play at Stamford Bridge. And the crazy thing about that player is that he’s not even played for the first-team yet. That’s incredible in both a good way and a bad way.

Step forward Reece James. The tweet below shows everything that you would want from a player to play for us.


Commitment.
Passion.
Desire.
Character.
Mentality.
Love for the club.

This is our future. Players like James, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Ethan Ampadu… those with an elite mentality and wanting what’s best for Chelsea as well as what’s best for them. I can’t wait until we build the team around the likes of them so we can finally get rid of those with spineless mentalities and zero leadership. Hopefully, that happens not at the expense of a new manager too. Speaking of which…

WHEN IS IT THE FAULT OF THE PLAYERS AND NOT THE MANAGERS?

Everything at Chelsea is short-term, except for the players. Considering that that same mentality still exists, even with this squad of players who have shown over the last few years incredibly weak-minded they are and even how selfish they can be. When there’s a cup final, a medal at stake or a big match for them to have a chance of being the main focus, they turn up. When it’s Bournemouth away however, they disappear quicker than a Marcos Alonso jog.

That infuriates me.

If we talk about the here and now – Sarri is not blameless, far from it. But this has become boring now with this group of players. This is a recurring theme with too many of these players. They down tools when the going gets tough or they don’t like what they are doing. They leave their managers isolated and more often than not, the manager is one to be punished with being relieved of their duties.

As for the players… the last four, full season shows what problems lie within the player base, just from a league perspective alone:

2014-15 – Premier League Champions. (Jose Mourinho)
2015-16 – 10th place. (Mourinho sacked due to ‘losing the players’)
2016-17 – Premier League Champions. (Antonio Conte)
2017-18 – 5th place. (Conte sacked due to ‘losing the players’)

If those placings in the last four full Premier League seasons doesn’t scream to you that we currently have a group of players with a yo-yo mentality, then nothing ever will.

Imagine the last 3 managers – Mourinho, Conte and the current incumbent Sarri – ALL saying the same thing about the players’ lack of desire, mentality and passion, but according to those who don’t want to accept it – and just simply blame the manager – it’s the not the fault of the players apparently.

Not many managers at Chelsea under Abramovich have taken on the dressing room and won. In fact, no manager has. And that’s a major reason as to why we’re in this mess now.

When does the penny finally drop for the board and sections of our fanbase to realise that the manager(s) are not to blame and that it IS actually the players? As mentioned in the attached video by Robbie Earle, when is the time to back the manager for once and NOT the players? Surely that time is now, no?

There’s an old saying would sum up Chelsea perfectly right now – ‘The more things change, the more they stay the same.’ This needs to stop. It’s time for a change in the player department and not in the managerial one.

WHO STAYS, WHO GOES?

With everything that has been said so far, whilst we have a few players who have the required talent, the capability to adapt to the new philosophy and potentially become leaders in the future, we unfortunately, have more players that are simply not good enough.

If we look at the current squad that we have, one word comes to mind very quickly.

Average.

We have a lot of deadwood – average – players who simply are not good enough for this club and don’t offer enough to us on the pitch, as well as off the pitch

With a ‘Squad Overhaul’ article coming very soon that looks at every single player in the current first-team squad, I’ll be deciding who’s good enough to stay, who needs to come in as replacements – or promotions from the academy/’loan army’ and the likelihoods of any of these scenarios happening.

But for now, I’ll give you a toned-down version on who we should keep, and who we should sell:

Keep – Kepa, Rudiger, Jorginho, Kanté, Higuaín (for now), Loftus-Cheek, Hudson-Odoi, Christensen, Ampadu

Sell – Alonso, Drinkwater, Barkley, Pedro, Caballero, Kovačić (return to Real Madrid), Zappacosta, Willian, Cahill, David Luiz, Green, Piazon

Not Sure – Azpilicueta, Giroud, Emerson

As for a certain Belgian superstar…

DOES EDEN HAZARD HAVE TO LEAVE CHELSEA FOR US TO IMPROVE?

The only answer I can give to that question right now is ‘possibly’. Not a ‘likely’ possibly either, but more of a ’51/49′ possibly. Eden loves this club, there’s no denying that. But there has always been the ‘Real Madrid Dream’ in the back of his mind – even when he signed for us – and that has not changed. Even his mentality has been called into question recently, entertaining questions about Los Blancos and openly talking about it.

Photo: Standard

With only 18 months left on his current contract, one important question then comes to mind, which could create a huge impact on our future:

Do the club sell Hazard to Real Madrid to make the squad stronger as a whole?

I’ll try to explain and theorise more about Hazard in an article that is coming soon. But for now, I don’t know for certain, which could be the same for Eden as well.

LONG-TERM FUTURE NOW HINGES ON IF THE PLAYERS STEP UP

At the end of the day, this squad needs to improve drastically, both on and off the pitch. We need leaders who will drag us through games, we need those with a strong mentality who will help us in the dressing room when the going gets tough and simply put, we need to give the coach (Sarri) a chance for once instead of always siding with the players when things are not going their way.

What Sarri did in the post-Arsenal press conference was long overdue and I respect him immensely for doing that. It was not long overdue from him, but for the sake of the club’s future as a whole. It was better to do it now, than down the line when it would more than likely be a case of too little, too late.

The players do actually like him. How each of them responds to the recent troubles and his public criticisms will be a clear signal to both him and the board on who should stay and who should go.

The players now have two options in terms of how they should react:

Back Sarri, step up and start fighting for the badge. Get rid of the ‘spineless’ mentality that is currently riddled within the squad and show nothing but passion, determination and resilience every single game for the rest of the season.

Or… Down tools like they did under Mourinho and Conte, cry about it, wait for Sarri to be sacked and then see the fans have to endure another season or two of the same nonsense from these players.

I hope it’s the former. I’m scared that it’ll be the latter.

To check out the other parts of ‘The State of Chelsea Football Club’ series, please click on the links below:
Intro
Part 1 – The Board
Part 2 – The Coach
Part 4 – The Fans