With a manager on the way out, no star, and no chance of signing new players, it’s time for Chelsea to hit the reset button – writes Pete Sharland.
Come in No. 12, your time is up.
With the news that Maurizio Sarri is looking to leave Chelsea, Roman Abramovich is now on the hunt for his 12th different permanent manager.
Bear in mind this astonishing number doesn’t include Ray Wilkins and Steve Holland both taking charge of a game each, Jose Mourinho’s chaotic second spell in charge and the subsequent second helping of Guus Hiddink we got as a result of it.
Even in the constant revolving door that is English football few clubs can compete with Chelsea in terms of the coming and going of managers.
It’s created a truly astonishing paradoxical existence at Chelsea, it is a club where managers change with the seasons yet success remains a constant.
Since Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003 he has only had to watch four seasons without some kind of silverware. Four, out of a possible 16. Two of those came after Mourinho meltdowns and one was his very first owning the club. The other? Mourinho’s first during his second spell in charge interestingly enough.
It’s a remarkable way to go about things. Chelsea have won more major trophies since Abramovich took over than any other English club, but they’ve also comfortably had more managers than any of the top six sides, and indeed the most of England.
It feels as if the Abramovich era can be split into three eras. 1) The Dawn of Mourinho 2)The Rise of the Players 3) The Eden Hazard Experience. The first saw Mourinho build Chelsea into a dominant force both domestically and in Europe, establishing their pedigree as a new force in football. After that players like Petr Cech, Ashley Cole, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba took control, seeing off Luiz Felipe Scolari and Andre Villas-Boas, although sandwiched between was a glorious period under the ultimate ego-manager, Carlo Ancelotti.
Terry and Lampard-Getty Images
That period ended with success in the Champions League, the club’s holy grail, and eventually that side broke up. In its place came a new generation led by the supremely talented Hazard and stalwarts like Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta. That period has been possibly the most turbulent, winning the Premier League twice but suffering more internal meltdowns than ever before.
The summer of 2019 brings an end to Act Three and at one stage visa issues threatened to bring the whole show to a close.
For now Abramovich Productions Ltd are still in business but now it’s time to take a step back.
With a new manager to hire, the departure of their star player and an impending transfer ban there is no better time to start again.
The phrase “Trust The Process” has become synonymous across American sports, a concept pioneered by former Philadelphia 76ers General Manager Sam Hinkie, although he can hardly lay claim to the popularisation of the phrase itself.
Briefly, the process involves tactical tanking and the trading away of star players, all with the aim of acquiring as many high-end draft picks as possible in order to be able to build a team capable of dominating for years to come. The theory has largely worked out, except for the overall success, but the 76ers now have an extremely strong, if slightly dysfunctional, roster.
Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie looks down at his phone prior to the game against the Sacramento Kings on February 10, 2016 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaGetty Images
Could this be applied to football? A lot of clubs hate the phrase “Moneyball” but the astonishing analytical details Liverpool have used to reach the summit of Europe show the benefit of looking at the finer details to try and achieve maximum value.
But that isn’t quite the same as what the 76ers did, and of course the fundamental problem is that outside of Major League Soccer there is no draft system in football, players are acquired through purchases or development from an academy. It’s not quite the same.
However that isn’t to say that Chelsea couldn’t implement some of the policies.
If you extract some of what “Trust The Process” is you come up with some key fundamentals. Accept the possibility (or likelihood) of some short-term failure. Put faith in your staff and allow them to develop the young core that is put into place. Reap the rewards of that faith with a home-grown core that is capable of competing for titles.
Why couldn’t Chelsea do this? They spent their way to success under Abramovich, yet have fallen behind Liverpool and even Tottenham Hotspur, clubs who have not always spent as big and certainly not as consistently as Chelsea.
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich applauds- Reuters
If Chelsea are legally prevented from signing players for the next two windows surely now is the perfect time to sacrifice a season perhaps in order to blood in some of the next generation.
After all Chelsea have one of the best academies in the world, regularly dominating youth tournaments for over a decade. Yet there has been nothing to show for it. The last Chelsea academy product to make a long-term impact on the first-team was Terry.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi have offered glimpses of a change this season, and the talented young pair have not looked out of place when given their opportunity, but they are not alone. The academy and the now infamous “Loan Army” could provide a large chunk of the Chelsea first-team squad.
Reece James and Mason Mount already look set to be rewarded for excellent loan spells in the Championship with senior spots, they could well win starting jobs by the end of next season. Kurt Zouma and Tammy Abraham could both come back in and help the squad. That’s not to mention the countless talented players still at the club who are deserving of a chance to prove themselves. Just look at the meteoric rises of the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Jadon Sancho, it’s astonishing what this young generation of England players can achieve when they catch a break.
Mason Mount of Derby County-Getty Images
Furthermore if this season has taught the Chelsea hierarchy anything, it’s that more than anything the supporters care about seeing the kids from the academy given an opportunity. Before it was posturised that they wanted attractive football, but Sarri bought that (along with a European trophy) and still plenty were unhappy. More than ever, the fan base is crying out for a new Terry, a product of the academy they can root for. Their vocal support of Loftus-Cheek and Hudson-Odoi shows this.
Stepping up from youth football to men’s football is always tough, not every player can make it. But to suggest that a set-up that has won everything going at youth level, including back-to-back UEFA Youth Leagues and an astonishing five FA Youth Cups on the bounce, cannot produce at least one player a season capable of helping out the first team is quite frankly absurd.
No, it is the culture, or chronic lack of, that has allowed this situation to develop. When a Chelsea manager knows he is more than likely to be out of the door within two years why on earth would he spend time developing young players? Plus you have to consider that since Michael Emenalo left 18 months ago there has been no Director of Football and as such no strategy, no clear footballing philosophy. That doesn’t have to come from a Technical Director type figure, Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino are managers that can instil an ethos, but they have to be given time, something that is hard to come by at Chelsea.
So what are the options? Well Chelsea can continue to bumble along as they are, hiring and firing, spending and hoarding, winning and losing. It is a proven model and they can keep on doing what they know, until Abramovich finally decides to pull the plug and suddenly the money dries up and the club starts to drastically free fall.
Or they can stop the rot, and take a drastic course of action that could potentially secure the future of the club beyond the riches on offer from Abramovich and the current state of affairs in the Premier League.
If they are going to follow this path they are going to need spearheads, figures that satisfy all parties; club, players and supporters.
It would represent a tremendous gamble, but the logical choice surely has to be Frank Lampard. One of the club’s most historic players, Lampard would instantly command respect from all three concerned parties.
Plus he has a proven track record of developing young players, having shown no fears in throwing in the likes of Mount, Fikayo Tomori and Harry Wilson whilst at Derby County. With Lampard also comes Jody Morris, a former Blue and an ex-academy manager who brought his own level of success. Morris has been vocal in his opinions about the Chelsea youth set-up and there is no doubt that he and Lampard would look to promote from within far more.
Of course this is not without its own risks, Lampard is only one year into his managerial career and there are no guarantees that he is cut out for life in the dugout at the top of the game.
And he wouldn’t be alone. It is widely expected that one of his former team-mates, Cech, will take up the Technical Director job upon his retirement. Throughout his playing career Cech was the closest of the playing staff to Abramovich and he could be the link between boardroom and pitch that Chelsea have been desperate for.
Together Cech, Lampard and Morris could spend the next year developing a true philosophy at Chelsea, creating a pathway into the first team for the club’s young players and putting in place a structure that should outlast them.
Are Chelsea going to instantly start playing kids and see all their problems solved? No – don’t be ridiculous. For starters they are losing the best player in the Premier League, that in itself is going to have a big impact on this team. Furthermore, these young players will need time, just as the people coaching them, but in the long-term that patience could reap vast rewards. In a few years Chelsea could be competing at the top table with a team built on home-grown players.
This should not be mistaken as a suggestion that Chelsea should look to build a totally home-grown squad. Like Liverpool have done they should not be afraid of adding elite players to the squad. Liverpool’s smart business and trust in younger players had got them so far but it felt like the additions of Alisson, Fabinho and in particular Virgil van Dijk pushed them over the edge.
To that end, they have the opportunity to do something equally unique. Rather than repeat their old patterns with someone like Max Allegri, a fine manager in his own right, why not take a chance on Lampard and the exciting new future he could bring in.
Give some of their legendary players time to shape this club the way they want, and then next year you can supplement what they have built with some marquee additions.
It’s time Chelsea changed, it’s time they took back control. It’s time they trusted the process.