A simple question with a very complex answer. Are the board making as many mistakes as people say they are?
I have decided to bide my time before writing this article. I needed to calm myself down because my initial reaction to the club’s business during the transfer window was one of sheer disappointment. The fact remains that every fan was expecting four signings on transfer deadline day, and we only got two. The rejections from Ross Barkley and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain progressed my levels of anger to another level.
Are the board doing a good job? This question is so complex. On the one hand they have turned our club around. Do not forget the club was on the verge of bankruptcy when Mr. Abramovich took control. Now, almost 15 years on, we are a club that ABIDES by the Financial Fairplay Rules that UEFA have created but are yet to implement. The club uses a combination of its loan system, player sales, merchandising, ticket sales and sponsorship to generate revenue. This revenue is then used to run the club and pay for any incoming transfers. So technically, apart from the new stadium (which I will talk about later), Mr. Abramovich should not, in theory, have to invest any more money into the club.
There is also a big issue when it comes to deciding how Antonio Conte is expected to perform this season. It is obvious the club have failed to purchase all of his transfer targets. I am sure in an ideal world; two more players would have given him the squad he thinks are capable of challenging on all fronts. Now if it was Wenger and Arsenal, or Klopp and Liverpool, we could be pretty sure they would be in charge next season no matter the performance on the pitch. However, with Chelsea, it is difficult to see whether we are expected to win the league again this year, or whether the board are in acceptance that the club is yet again in a period of transition. With our current squad, I would be very happy with a top four finish and reaching the Champions League quarter finals. But what I consider to be a good season at this present moment, could be interpreted differently in the eyes of the board.
The board seem to have shot themselves in the foot yet again this season by leaving their transfer business so late. Before deadline day, our last signing was Alvaro Morata. But since the 21st of July, it seems all the focus has been on selling and loaning out the majority of our first team squad. The question has to be asked, what have we been doing since we announced Morata? The answer is yet again unclear. Antonio Conte is clearly unhappy about the size of his squad, so why have we loaned or sold our players who could have made our squad stronger in terms of quantity? Ake, Loftus Cheek, Chalobah, Boga; the list goes on. Through offloading players first, we left ourselves very short. Thankfully we managed to get a couple of deals over the line before the window shut, but it is concerning that we leave it so late year upon year.
The main cause for concern amongst the fans is whether Antonio Conte will still be around this time next year. The board have a history of not getting the players in that the manager wants, and then when things go pear shaped, they hide behind the “head coach” and blame him for the results on the pitch. What they fail to understand is there is a direct correlation between good business in the transfer market, and good results on the pitch. You just have to look at what Jose Mourinho managed when he signed Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa in his second season in charge. It is no coincidence that that season was the only one in which he managed to win any silverware. There is also a greater risk of Antonio Conte walking away from the club if we are not careful. He walked away from Juventus due to a disagreement in transfer policy there. Juventus was the love of Conte’s life, so there is nothing stopping the man with 22 months left on his contract walking away sooner rather than later.
Most Chelsea fans have been left very frustrated over the recent failures off the pitch. Then I see some journalists on twitter criticising Chelsea fans, calling them spoilt, acting as if they know more about the club than the fans. But it could be argued that the board themselves have created this culture at Chelsea. The board, through their brutal managerial sacking policy have made it clear that at Chelsea, as a manager, you either win or you get sacked. This culture has rubbed off on to the fans, who now expect Chelsea to win a trophy every year, otherwise the season will be classed as a failure. This is the main reason why the fans are frustrated. We are expected to challenge on all fronts year upon year, but this winning mentality is not reflected through the clubs transfer policy. Then sadly, it always seems to be the coach who the fans always fall in love with, who pays the price.
In the past couple of years, there has clearly been a shift from the Chelsea board and its transfer policy. We now will not be messed around by agents demanding higher fees, won’t pay higher wages to players that do not deserve it, and wont pay over the odds or sell for under our asking price. These policies seemed to have slowly crept in since the deal was struck to buy Fernando Torres for £50M in January 2011. So it could be argued that this is a good stance from the club in terms of being a sustainable club for the future.
In the boards defence, I think we are in a transition period, and we have to accept it may take 2 or 3 extra windows for the club to create a squad with the right balance of home grown talent and first team stars. The club is obviously after home grown talent, hence the Barkley and Oxlade-Chamberlain moves. This can take time due to factors that are out of our control. Surely it is better to wait a couple of windows to secure our first choice target, than spend the money available on a second or third choice player. So maybe in a year’s time, we will have Barkley, Sandro and a top quality winger. Then us fans will be saying the wait was worth it, and the board will be commended for their fantastic efforts.
I think the time has now come for Mr. Abramovich and the board to make a joint statement, outlining the direction of the club for the next 5 years. It may be that with a move to Wembley on the horizon, and a new stadium to pay for, we can’t spend what we once could. Maybe we are now a club that can’t afford to pay the top money for the top players? Maybe we are reserving the revenue generated to pay for the stadium redevelopment?
On reflection, I don’t personally think the board are doing such a bad job. I just think the line of communication between the fans and those at the top of the club needs to improve. Unfortunately, this may not happen anytime soon, due to the fans becoming less and less important in todays game. The fans bring in a small percentage of revenue to the club compared to Television money and incoming transfer fees. Therefore, Chelsea fans should probably get used to being confused. With any business, when a stakeholder has a question, he deserves to have it answered. ut in this murky world of football, it is nothing like the real world of business.
In summary, the board are only following Mr. Abramovich’s orders. If he wants the club to save its money for a rainy day, so be it. If he is prepared to take his time, and wait for two or three more windows before launching an assault on the Champions League, I will accept that. But what I can’t accept is the constant delay in making signings, leaving business until the eleventh hour time after time. I can’t accept the club not being clinical when it comes to delivering targets to the first team coach. I can’t accept the club sacking managers every couple of seasons. The board have done an unbelievable job in reshaping the club from top to bottom, but in order to be truly sustainable, we need a coach who is going to be around for the long term. The first way the board can prove to us it has a long term vision would be by extending our managers contract from a mere 2 years to 5 years. Then, the club should make the fans aware of its expectations for the oncoming season in order for the fans to adjust theirs accordingly. It is time for a 5-year plan to be unveiled, so that Chelsea Football Club and its fans can at last be on the same page, then we can be more forgiving of them, and be able to understand the direction in which the club is moving in.
At this point in time, nobody understands the board’s decision making, and a divide between club and fans is slowly but surely widening. They should put a stop to this whilst it is repairable, but knowing the board we love and hate, by the time they do address the issues, it could be too late.
Follow the writer on Twitter @charlieblake95.