How and Why Man United’s problems should be a lesson for Chelsea

We all know there are massive problems at Chelsea Football Club right now. Regardless of the results, the club has major issues it needs to address – and these are not solely the responsibility or ‘fault’ of either the players, the manager, the board or the owner. 

The responsibility is a collective one.

In my view, the whole club needs a reboot. Manager, squad, and above all the structure of the club, all need changing. And some fans think the current manager succeeding this season and staying would solve the problems, others seem to want a change, and potentially a Chelsea legend to come back this summer as manager. But neither would address the bigger issues.

But we all have an emotional attachment to the club – and maybe to players, former players and our manager. So maybe this is difficult for Chelsea fans to see.

So, let’s look at another club who are in almost an identical position, with the same problems. 

Manchester United. 

As a business, Man Utd are second to none in English football. The revenues they make are unparalleled. But the football structure is non-existent. 

Since 2013, when manager Sir Alex Ferguson and chief executive David Gill, a football man, left the club, things have got steadily worse. 

Ed Woodward, a business man, not a football man, took over as CEO in 2013, and since then, you have to say, has run the club primarily as a business. Footballing decisions have been made by non-footballing people. Lots of money has been spent, but still, United are currently 6th in the Premier League. Every managerial appointment has been a reaction to the previous one. 

As a result you have an unbalanced squad, full of egos, player power, and no coherent football strategy.

Any of this sound familiar? 

For Ed Woodward, read Marina Granovskaia. 

The problems Chelsea have now are almost identical to those United are encountering. 

And it looks like those will continue at United, because in my opinion, their current management team will be gone by this time next year. Appointing United legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (OGS) permanently was a rash, fan driven appointment, made in haste. 

Just a quick note here, regarding a Chelsea legend who many Chelsea fans want back as manager – Frank Lampard. In my view, he and him potentially being appointed manager, shouldn’t be compared to OGS. Lampard has proven this season he is much better, more tactically astute coach and manager than OGS, whose previous Premier League experience at Cardiff was a complete failure, and outside of that role, has only managed in Norway.

In contrast, Lampard has, given the circumstances and what he inherited, overachieved at Derby, developing and improving young talents, including the likes of Mason Mount and Fikoyi Timori – Derby’s player of the year. Lampard is hugely promising young manager, with or without his Chelsea connections, and even in his short time at Derby, has proven himself a far more talented coach than OGS, in my view.

However, even taking this into account, to give him the reins at Chelsea too soon could be a mistake.

Before that happens, the club – like Manchester United – needs a complete overhaul.

And that begins with the owner.

Roman Abramovich has been an incredible owner. He will always have my eternal gratitude for saving our club from oblivion and making our dreams come true. If he gets more involved again, that would be great. But if not, maybe the time has come to sell. He always said he would only sell to someone who would be good for the club, and I trust him to do so. But this situation needs to be clarified sooner rather than later, for the good of the club.

That said, whilst this issue is still ongoing, it is still possible to reform the structure of the club, and start that process now. 

The teams in the top four at time of writing – Chelsea are 5th as I write – all have a clear footballing structure and strategy. United and Chelsea don’t, and it’s no surprise they are sitting 5th and 6th. 

After making recommendations like Danny Drinkwater, Andy Carroll, and Ashley Barnes, it’s quite clear the clubs chief scout, Scott McLoughlin, needs replacing. It’s absolutely fundamental for the clubs future to hire a quality director of football or technical director to create and oversee a football strategy for the club.

There have been rumours we are looking for a technical director in the last few months, with several good names linked. This is a positive step forward for the club and would be a massive appointment, regardless of whether Maurizio Sarri is still in charge or not.

This brings us neatly to the management issue. We all have different views on Maurizio Sarri. Some believe, for perfectly valid reasons, he should stay at the club. My own view is that the club now need a coach who is a proven team builder. A coach who can build and develop a young team. Not the hipster choice (arguably Sarri), not the sentimental choice (Lampard), and definitely not the CV choice (Max Allegri).

There’s been a myth perpetuated, largely on social media, that Sarri is a team builder, a man who develops players . But it’s a total myth, with no basis in fact. Never, not once, in his career has Sarri built a team from scratch, he doesn’t have a track record of bringing in young talent and developing it. He generally uses experienced players he trusts, and sticks with them stubbornly – which was demonstrated at Napoli, and we have seen this year at Chelsea.

Maurizio Sarri hasn’t got any history of developing academy players and building a team – the core of his Napoli side was built before his arrival, he merely added a few players and improved what he had. That’s not team building. The idea he is a team builder is a complete fiction, with no evidence to support it.

Maurizio Sarri is the manager you build a team for, and hand it to, to help realise it’s potential. He’s not the man who builds the team. He’s maybe the right manager for Chelsea – at the wrong time.

And despite his protestations early in the season he doesn’t like or require the transfer market, it’s become palpably clear the club probably need to spend about £300-400m to buy a team suited to his football. Something which won’t happen in one summer, and with a transfer ban, won’t happen at all.

In hindsight the best long term appointment we could have made was in 2013 – Mauricio Pochettino, who had just left Southampton. But I suspect not many Chelsea fans would have said it at the time. And it’s that type of manager the club needs now. My choice for this, even last year, was Leonardo Jardim of Monaco, but this is now unlikely. Recently we’ve been linked with Wolves manager Nuno Santo and Watford boss Javi Gracia, both overachieving and doing well at their respective clubs, both promising but proven young managers.

I’m not advocating for either, but these two, Jardim, and coaches like this are the profile of manager we need right now. The man to come in, build the club and the team, ready for a Lampard (or a Sarri) to come in and take it to its’ potential.

My own view is that Maurizio Sarri will stay at Chelsea should we get Champions League football. To be honest, if he does achieve that, he’s probably earned another season, provided we don’t have a transfer ban. 

If the ban is upheld, for me this raises questions as to whether he is the right fit for Chelsea – Champions League or not. Purely because with a ban, the whole context and approach to the Chelsea job completely changes.

Whatever happens between now and the summer in terms of results, Sarri has, for me, proven he can’t fully implement his philosophy with the current squad, and if we can’t add to or improve the squad at all this summer, there’s really no point in keeping him. Results and performances are not going to suddenly improve with the same players, especially as Eden Hazard is likely to move on this summer.

I’m well aware there’s a group of fans who disagree with this assessment. But that’s totally fine. Ultimately all fans opinions on management come from a love of the club. But, whatever happens in the summer with management, we all just need to get behind the club – and realise that whether we reach the Champions League and Sarri stays or we don’t and he goes, that won’t solve the all the problems at at Chelsea.

So whether you want Sarri to stay, or to go, neither group should delude ourselves.

Neither qualifying for the Champions League, being able to buy players and Sarri staying, (for Sarri supporters), or a change of manager (for those who want a change) on their own, will solve all the clubs problems.

In many ways, finishing fourth and/or winning the Europa league risks us papering over the cracks yet again. For too long good results have covered up the real problems at the club, and there’s a solid argument this could happen again if we make Champions League football.

As we can see mirrored so clearly with Manchester United, the problems at Chelsea are way bigger than just management, or indeed results on the pitch, good or bad.

Let’s hope the owner and board understand these bigger problems, and regardless of results this season, are willing to make those bigger structural changes at executive level, and commit to rebuilding the squad, whether we make Champions League or not.

Because if that fails to happen, it won’t matter who is in charge of the first team, or whether we make the Champions League or not – the bigger problems will remain.

******

(Picture Sources: Getty Images / New Indian Express)

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