It’s a very dark day for a football club when terrible performances on the pitch and your fans engaging in an open revolt against your manager are the least of your worries – yet this is the situation that Chelsea have managed to entangle themselves within.
The wording of that is paramount to this story: this isn’t some kind of misfortune that has befallen the club, it’s the culmination of long-term and, frankly, catastrophic mismanagement that has permeated through the it from the top down. It genuinely starts to make you question what goes on at their Stamford Bridge offices. At this rate, they’d be better off heading down the road to Battersea Park Zoo and letting the lemurs have a go at conducting the club’s business dealings.
In all seriousness however, this is no joke. Social media is full of Chelsea fans putting on a brave face outwardly but, if you chip away at that façade, it’ll quickly become apparent that a large proportion of them are deeply worried that this could be the beginning of the end for the type of club they’ve become under the stewardship of Roman Abramovich.
A Sarri State of Affairs
When the club appointed Maurizio Sarri, if they did quite literally with any due diligence at all, they knew what they were getting themselves into. Fundamentally, he is an idealist who believes that football should be played in a certain way and is absolute in his convictions: it’s his way or no way. However, his obstinance has begun alienating a large section of the match-going supporters and that’s a fight that he’ll never win.
A lot has been made of his famed “Sarri-ball” style of play that has, to put it lightly, polarised the fans. On one hand, you have people saying ‘it’s the best thing since sliced bread’, on the other, you’ll have people arguing ‘it’s just a lot of sideways passes and retaining possession just for the sake of it’. Truthfully, no-one knows how this style will translate within the Premier League because they haven’t started playing it yet. At the moment, they’re deploying a weird kind of hybrid combining “Sarri-ball” with the ultra-conservative style that was instilled under Antonio Conte and this mis-match of influences is making the team look clueless on the field.
One of the biggest figures of ire at the club is Sarri’s marquee summer signing, Jorginho, who he brought with him from Napoli to help impart his philosophy on the club as quickly as possible. His role as a deep-lying playmaker was well documented during his time in Naples and made him stand out as one of the best midfielders in the world. Subsequently, it’s no wonder his performances in West London has left fans questioning why he was so highly rated.
The answer comes down to those he is playing alongside. You wouldn’t blame the conductor if an orchestra’s instruments were out of tune. The same is true in this instance – if his teammates aren’t following the coaches instructions and are frequently found in a state of disarray, then how can he be the focal point that knits the team together?
Wham Bam Transfer Ban
From the earliest stages of his tenure, Sarri has made no bones about wanting to bring in new players if the current crop were unable to bend to his will and, on the current evidence, it appears that there’s a lot of dead wood in the squad. However, Chelsea being slapped with a ban on signing players for the next two transfer windows has really thrown a spanner in the works and possibly derailed his entire project.
Looking at the starting XIs that have played in previous matches quickly highlights that there are clear deficiencies with the players available. Looking at the results from this make-do-and-mend approach makes it clear that it cannot continue. From David Luiz being better in a back-three to N’Golo Kanté looking uncharacteristically poor whilst playing in a more advanced role, these problems won’t solve themselves and require intervention that just isn’t possible when the club have these restrictions imposed upon them.
There’s plenty of rumours circulating that the club may be active in the summer transfer window if their appeal against these sanctions lasts long enough. However, it’s difficult to see how every issue could be solved in such a short space of time; not to mention the premium that clubs would force Chelsea to pay for their players, knowing full well that they’re under the cosh to get these deals done.
Some are arguing that a transfer ban may be a blessing in disguise. It’ll force the club to start using the wealth of academy players that are seemingly perpetually on loan which, in theory, could be beneficial. However, if they decide to go down this route, you have to ask if Sarri is the best man for this job given his treatment of highly-rated youngster Callum Hudson-Odoi over the past few months.
In my view, if the club wish to pursue this route, they’ll have to cut Sarri loose and appoint a coach with more experience working with young players to make it a viable option. With this in mind, maybe approaching someone who’s currently working in the youth set-up of a major European club would be the best port of call and could help to make the best out of what appears, on first sight, to be a dire situation.
How Do You Solve A Problem Like Eden Hazard?
Even without the transfer ban looming large overhead, the Eden Hazard situation is another damning indictment of the approach of the club’s hierarchy towards their most marketable assets and highlights yet another example of the inaction they have displayed to drag the club into the mire they’re in.
Without a doubt, on his day, he is currently the Premier League’s best player and some would say that, in terms of skill, he may even be the best player to ever grace the hallowed turf of Stamford Bridge. So, it’s beggars’ belief that his contract has been left to run down to its penultimate year – leading the very real possibility he could leave for well below the market rate or even for free.
With his desire to leave the club becoming increasingly apparent, it looks as though their recruitment of Christian Pulisic could well make him the Belgian’s successor and lead to him becoming the new mercurial talisman of the team. This is a big ask for a player who will only be 20 years-old upon joining Chelsea, not the mention the intense pressure of adapting to a new league and style of play.
Admittedly, none of this is cut and dry and there is still a chance that Hazard could renew his contract in exchange for a hefty pay rise. However, seeing the cautionary tale of Arsenal destabilising their entire financial structure to keep players like Mesut Özil on their books is a stark reminder that this could have far-reaching consequences for the club.
It’s impossible to understate the severity of the situation currently brewing at Stamford Bridge and, if steps aren’t taken by management to arrest this slide sooner rather than later, they’re going to end up on the precipice of a financial black hole. At this point, we’re so far from the halcyon days of the early Abramovich era that it now just seems like that was the delirium that precedes a terrifying fever dream and, with that in mind, fans will have to hope the club wakes up to its new reality.