Sat 10 Mar 2012InArticles
621 Views Chelsea Football Club is truly stuck in limbo at present - money must be spent to reunite the club with the highest echelons of European football, whilst UEFA's financial fairplay restrictions dictate that any excessive spending could result in exclusion from Champions League football, presenting the powers that be with a conundrum over the club's immediate future...
When Andre Villas-Boas was appointed, the air of optimism about the club was infectious. People were hardly being carried away and expecting a significant trophy haul this term, but the prospect of the Portuguese's gradual revolution of the club resulted in a buoyant outlook adopted by most Blues supporters.
Just nine months later, Villas-Boas is out of a job and his renovation of a club in dire need of long-term stability was over; even before it truly began. Villas-Boas is a young manager with a particular footballing ideology that has an emphasis on attractive attacking football, very much in Barcelona's trademark style. At first, it worked - despite losing at Old Trafford in an evenly-contested fixture with defending champions Manchester United, notable for a couple of exceptionally poor missed from Messrs Ramires and Torres respectively. The goals were flowing and the results were a positive indication of things to come, albeit with some haphazard defensive tactics employed.
Then came a hat-trick of damaging defeats, as first Arsenal - inspired by the invincible Robin van Persie - recorded an incredible 5-3 victory in front of a shell-shocked Stamford Bridge. Liverpool repeated the trick with a late, late winner delivered by the foot of former blue Glen Johnson, and after the same team inflicted Carling Cup misery on Villas-Boas' men, the tide had well and truly turned against the soon-to-be beleaguered Chelsea boss. There are few friends in the world of a football coach, but Villas-Boas cut a particularly isolated figure on the touchline. Even his own players lost the faith. The promise soon turned to despair, and the 'bad moment' that began under Carlo Ancelotti had returned after a brief hiatus.
Villas-Boas soon found that he did not have the players to match his ideology. The results failed to improve, and after an unforgivable showing at West Brom where the players well and truly placed the final nail in the Portuguese's coffin with a display totally lacking passion or commitment, he was scapegoated and shown the exit door, just as they have done with countless managers in the past. The players had spat their dummies out, and rather than opting to go against the egos, the directors took the easy option and sacked a promising young manager, who could have been the man to offer stability and build a dynasty.
There is a reason why Guus Hiddink refused the Chelsea job, afterall.
Andre was given neither the time nor the opportunity to create a squad that mirrored his image and football philosophy. Granted, he took his sweet-ass time in the summer as he sought to assess his team, and at first, his patience and faith seemed to pay rich dividends. Chelsea were simply the 'best of the rest' - not quite good enough to challenge for the title, but by some distance the next-best thing the Premier League could offer beyond the Manchester giants. When the results turned for the worse and the performances became increasingly sour, the gap between Chelsea and the 'rest' closed to such an extent that by the time Villas-Boas was shown the door, Chelsea were no longer the third-best team in the league. Instead, they were the third-best team in London...
The fact is this season represents the inevitable. A period of transition that might have gotten underway a little sooner, but for persistent postponement. It first came in 2008 under Luis Felipe Scolari. Rather than riding out the storm, Chelsea opted to go for the more authoritarian presence of Guus Hiddink; a man who could contain the egos that had been fed by Jose Mourinho. Carlo Ancelotti soon followed and papered over the cracks (quite convincingly) by winning the Community Shield, FA Cup and the Premier League in his first season, as well as reaching the last sixteen of both the Champions League and the Carling Cup. However, the following season saw that 'bad moment' emerge. Chelsea were a club in dire need of refreshing, and had been for some time.
The unquantifiable millions spent by Roman Abramovich between 2003 and 2006 had created one of the finest football sides ever to grace the English game. Two Premier League titles won by record point margins emphasised that point, and that Mourinho side was perhaps the best team never to win the UEFA Champions League. But herein lies the issue. Chelsea purchased an array of experienced talent in its prime - Drogba, Carvalho, Cech, Essien, Robben et al. - and failed to radically revolutionise the squad through the years.
At Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson has a habit of introducing youth talent into the first team on a regular basis, whilst marquee signings and squad players are signed almost every transfer window, adding new blood into a competitive team. Whilst various managers have attempted to do the same over the years at Chelsea, their differing football ideologies have meant they have gone and signed targets to fit their particular teams, but not the teams of their successors, who would inherit players who would suddenly be on uneven footing with the arrival of a new boss.
Villas-Boas arrived and certainly knocked a few noses out of joint. Frank Lampard was the most notable casualty - the former invincible man regularly relegated to the bench by the manager's even hand. Chelsea needed new faces, and AVB had addressed this with the creation of a new spine to the team. Replacing the old guard were the new breed; Ivanovic, David Luiz, Ramires, Mata and Sturridge now formed the core of the side. Lampard, in particular, seems desperate to destroy his own legend status. With more time on his side and significant funds, Andre would have gone on to replace the players he was slowly phasing out of the club (though not necessarily with dignity, as Alex and Nicolas Anelka found out in January) and replaced them with more young, exciting talent with bags of potential.
It was a case of the manager addressing the many issues at this club - chief amongst these being player power. AVB, though resented for it, challenged the authority of the players, and whilst it may have cost him his job in the end, he has opened up the eyes of the public to the dressing room politics at Stamford Bridge; meaning the next man to fulfil the role of Chelsea manager will definitely know a cold reception awaits should things turn for the worse. This club awaits the return of a strict disciplinarian who will take no amount of shit from any player. The manager is the most important cog in the machine that is a football club, and at Chelsea this role demands even greater responsibility, one that begs the return of the Special One, perhaps?
Instead, we return to Square One with a squad of overpaid and underperforming players who are willing to let down the club and its supporters just because they don't like the man in charge. Football is not about making friends. It is a results business, yet it was not through his own fault that Villas-Boas was sacked. He lost the dressing room, and with its collective sulking, the squad became divided into those in support of the manager (who, notably, seem to be the 'new breed' of Mata, Meireles, Luiz and company) and those whose egos were bruised beyond repair. In his bid to address the inevitable, the inevitable had befell upon Villas-Boas, and he paid the price of the failure of his squad - a multi-million pound pay-off. Not bad for nine months' work.
The players have won this round. Having witnessed first-hand the trouble that Terry, Cole, Cech, Lampard and company can cause for a manager, Roberto di Matteo will certainly do his best to avoid the wrath of these so-called professionals. But, as it has already been said, the club is rooted at Square One, without a long-term manager and facing a tricky financial future. The club simply cannot afford to miss out on the additional revenue offered by competing in the Champions League, especially if they are to fund a rebuild of Stamford Bridge or relocate somewhere else entirely. But Chelsea will not be able to guarantee a European future without significant investment - so what action can be taken?
The first step is a full-scale revolution of the club, from top to bottom. The first group that needs to go is the old guard, but they need to be quickly followed by the poor excuse of a director's board we have, who act in the best interests of their wallets rather than those of the fans. Don't be fooled by a freeze in ticket prices for next season - the bastards are still expecting you to fork out £50 to watch an uninspiring match against Stoke on a cold March afternoon in a subdued atmosphere. The club have already priced a significant portion of dedicated supporters out of Stamford Bridge. These men are only interested in turnovers and profit margins, so expect to see an increase in the cost of replica shirts or your half-time pie. There is no altruistic tendencies amongst the men in suits. Time is the only course of action to rescue this club from its current position, and patience must be exercised for the next man to accept the Chelsea job. Time and time again these morons have made the type of hasty decision which has left the club in a mire of embarrassment.
Then, the likes of your Drogbas, your Lampards and your Maloudas need to be offered one-way tickets out of Stamford Bridge. This breed of player has no place at the club anymore, not unless they are willing to drop the spoilt-toddler act. They need to realise that it is in the best interest of the club that they are no longer fixtures in the team. If that is too much for their egos to take, then they have to be shipped off. These players have been wonderful servants for the club and been part of the club's most successful period in its history, but that does not disguise the fact that they are now disruptive influences in the dressing room and insipid performers on the pitch. Their job is done, and the choices facing them are twofold - move elsewhere for a final fat pay-cheque, or act with the dignity of Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs and accept the role of 'squad player'.
Fresh, young talent needs to replace them. Players such as Kevin de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and academy players like Josh McEachran and Ryan Bertrand are experienced enough to step up to the fore and do a job for this club. There are quality young players that have seen their potential rot away whilst the likes of John Mikel Obi and Salomon Kalou - two players who have shown no real improvement in six seasons with the club - are given regular game-time. Why go out and spend excessively on players without at least giving the chance for the youngsters to show their worth? Even if they do not live up to their inflated billing, these players have the quality to at least be adequate cover, whilst also freeing up places for marquee signings thanks to the home-grown quotas.
For the meantime, wholesale changes aren't actually needed if the club can look to these young players. Millions of pounds have been spent on improving the club's youth academy infrastructure, and with the likes of McEachran, Bertrand, Patrick van Aanholt, Patrick Bamford, Jeffrey Bruma, Thibaut Courtois, Gael Kakuta and academy players like Todd Kane and Nathaniel Chalobah, we are finally seeing reward arise from the riches. There is plentiful talent to exploit, and what more exciting prospect is there than seeing an academy graduate given a run in the team?
Experienced players most also be thrown into the equation, however - with particular positions proving problematic. Genuine wingers are required and there is no shortage of talent at present available in the mark, whilst the need for a playmaker is actually reduced with the ability of Juan Mata to play as a genuine number ten, behind the strikers. Defensive reinforcement arrived in the shape of Gary Cahill in January but a new right-back should be a priority to contest that position with Branislav Ivanovic. Addressing these key areas would be the first step along the gradual process of transition.
Gradual. That is the key word. We can no longer afford to go out and spend millions, as ironic as that may sound. Instead, we must invest in the youth academy, and buy two or three players each summer at a time. Things will get worse before they improve, but with a long-term manager in place and the promise of Champions League football, the rebuilding of Chelsea Football Club will well and truly be underway, and it will begin in the summer with the expulsion of those whose day has been and gone. From their sale a fair sum will be amassed, and it is from player sales that we must now find our main source of financial injection. Any significant investment from Abramovich's pocket risks the wrath of UEFA, and the club simply cannot afford to be kicked out of the Champions League, even if participation is just to guarantee an additional revenue stream.
It is simply cause for concern, that on the day of the club's 107th birthday, the immediate future looks ominously bleak - but things will improve.
Patience is a virtue, but this is going to be a tedious waiting game....
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