Chelsea’s new era starts with another big loss

CHELSEA are constantly in the news for one reason or another, from managerial changes, player acquisitions and finances to their below-par performances on the field of play. The club has even changed hands, but the constant scrutiny of the club’s spending behaviour has dominated this new era at Stamford Bridge. 

The 2021-22 season saw the club pass from Roman Abramovich to the consortium fronted by US investor Todd Boehly. The club made a pre-tax loss of £ 121.4 million, taking the accumulated losses since 2003-04 (RA year one) to well over £ 1 billion. In three of the last four seasons, Chelsea have run-up losses of well over £ 100 million. According to football finance expert Kieran Maguire, the club has lost £ 900,000 per week for 19 years.

Chelsea generated record revenues of £ 481.3 million, a rise of 10% on 2020-21’s £ 436 million. Broadcasting, inevitably, was the highest source, the £ 235 million derived from this stream, contributing 49% of total income. Commercial revenues, thanks to increased sponsorship and the renewal of existing deals, were up by 14% to £ 177.1 million, representing 37% of turnover.

With stadiums free of covid restrictions in 2021-22, Chelsea’s matchday earnings were £ 69.2 million, the highest since 2018 and a massive increase on the £ 7.7 million earned in 2020-21. Chelsea’s average attendance fell by 6.8%  to 37,810 and was the 10th best in the Premier League. The club has a clear disadvantage in its relatively small capacity at Stamford Bridge, but the new regime is looking to revisit the new stadium project.

Chelsea’s player trading profits rose substantially from £ 27.9 million to £ 123.2 million, the second highest profit the club has recorded after the £ 143 million posted in 2019-20. Chelsea signed Romelu Lukaku from Inter Milan for £ 97.5 million, but they also received around £ 115 million from the sale of Tammy Abraham (Roma), Kurt Zouma (West Ham), Marc Guéhi (Crystal Palace) and Fikayo Tomori (AC Milan).

The club’s wage bill for 2021-22 was a record £ 340.2 million, equating to 71% of income. It will be interesting to see how the wage situation looks in 2022-23 with all the big money signings now on board.

Chelsea’s wages compared to the other members of the Premier’s “big six” places the club fourth highest after Manchester United (£373 million), Liverpool (£366 million) and Manchester City (£354 million). They’re also fourth when it comes to revenues behind the same three clubs. In the transfer market, Chelsea’s 2021-22 activity resulted in a net positive of £ 7 million but they were also among the biggest spenders. The biggest net spenders were Arsenal and Newcastle United. Of course, Chelsea have broken all records in 2022-23 with their £ 500 million spending spree, the outcome of which has yet to reveal itself.

The willingness to invest in new talent demonstrated some level of ambition, but it will have downsides. A trend has developed in the form of longer-term contracts, which helps deal with financial fair play concerns. However, Chelsea may find they have a top heavy squad in the near future which will need some pruning. Furthermore, the lack of stability in the manager’s chair, a feature of the Abramovich era, appears to be continuing under Boehly. The sacking of Graham Potter was the second such dismissal since the US consortium took over. Abramovich’s aides could at least point to a long run of success to justify the continual  churning of the team management, but the first Boehly sacking, Thomas Tuchel, has just been appointed coach at Bayern Munich, which serves to highlight the flaw in their current thinking. The answer may have been there all along. It just needed a little patience, perhaps?

At present, Chelsea look like a club that has – temporarily – lost its way despite the influx of players. The return of Frank Lampard as stand-in, a popular figure considered unsuitable for the job in his first stint in the role, appears to be something of a desperate move to win favour from the Chelsea faithful. After all the spending this season, it would seem unlikely that anywhere near the same amount of cash will be made available in 2023-24. Whoever gets the job full-time may have to work with a pre-assembled squad of random players. The short-term, at least, looks a little tricky.

Wish Potter well because Chelsea should have known better

IN A few months time, former Chelsea manager Graham Potter may, in a quiet moment of reflection, be thankful for being shown the door at Stamford Bridge. He wasn’t the right man for the club and Chelsea were not the right employer for him. It was doomed from the start and that really wasn’t his fault. He was given the chance to manage an elite club, one with a recent history of hiring and firing coaches, and who would turn down that opportunity? 

If mistakes have been made, they are mostly Chelsea’s. Potter made his name at Brighton and was praised for his considered approach and his apparent ability to get a lot out of little. At Chelsea, they expect instant gratification and success in the form of trophies. There is no room for error, no tolerance of failure and it all has to be done with bells and whistles. No, Graham Potter, who had cut his teeth in Sweden and with Swansea and Brighton, was not their man.

But they should have known that from day one. If football professionals have the deep knowledge they claim to have, then expecting a 47 year-old to become something that he hasn’t been up until the point of engagement is totally unrealistic. In most sectors, a 47 year-old is the finished article, he’s never going to be greater than he is at that point and he should be at his peak and just about to roll down the other side of career achievement. Football, as we know, is not like most professions, but Potter was never going to become Pep Guardiola, Jürgen Klopp, José Mourinho or Antonio Conte, to name but a few. This was a left-field appointment for a club like Chelsea.

That’s not to say Potter is not a fine manager, because he is respected for his methods and he seems to have very good values. But an elite club is different and within that band, Chelsea are an organisation that seems to thrive on creative tension. It worked during the Abramovich era with a stream of trophies, but right now the club needs a stable model that has some genuine vision rather than a random, fantasy football approach to team building. Not even RA sacked two managers in a season.

In hindsight, they must wonder what the hell they were thinking of when they disposed of Thomas Tuchel, whose credentials are very plain to see. His stock hasn’t fallen because he’s now coaching Bayern Munich, but it is unlikely Potter will be offered a job in that bracket again. Now one of Potter’s bench squad, Bruno Grau, is in charge and the club have a Champions League quarter-final with Real Madrid on the horizon. Do they seriously believe the number two will produce something better than his gaffer?

Potter did not have a track record of success that was aligned to Chelsea’s expectations. There were reasons for that, but nobody is going to listen when you’re getting beaten by Southampton and Aston Villa at home. In order to avoid those tricky Sunday night conversations Chelsea managers have to win silverware, but it is that much harder to achieve now than it was a decade ago for the club. Chelsea have outspent virtually everyone and their wage bill is very high, but the huge difference between them and the likes of Manchester City, is the man in the dugout. Tuchel, at least, was able to look Guardiola, Klopp and Arteta in the eye because he had won the Champions League with Chelsea.

But then Chelsea, since 2003, have made some poor decisions around team management. For every Mourinho, Antonio Conte and Carlo Ancelotti (the three managers to win the Premier League), there have been flawed appointments like Luiz Felipe Scolari, André Villas-Boas, Frank Lampard and Graham Potter. Since 2011 when Ancelotti was sacked a year after winning the double, the Chelsea job has become something of a mess. AVB was seen as Chelsea’s attempt to create Mourinho 2.0 but it was a failure. Roberto di Matteo, who stepped in after AVB was sacked, won the FA Cup and Champions League and was then replaced as soon as there was a sign of limitations. Rafa Benitez came in on a temporary basis, ignored all the abuse and won the Europa League to rescue the season. 

Back came Mourinho in 2014 and revived the club, but it all went horribly wrong in 2015-16 with his infamous rant at the popular club doctor. Conte won the title again for the club but a year later fell out with Chelsea, and his successor, Maurizio Sarri, won the Europa but was never the right man for the role. He knew that and went back to Italy to seek refuge. Lampard was a popular choice with the fans, but it was a job too soon for the club’s record goalscorer. 

Then came Tuchel, one of the heirs to Guardiola’s throne, but he became Thomas of a 100 games. Potter got just 31 and had a win rate of 38.7%, better than the 31% he won at Brighton, but way below meeting the job spec.

It is hard not to feel sorry for Potter, but he will rise again and many clubs will be keen to offer him a job. It’s important that he does not get defined by his brief stint at Chelsea. Meanwhile, the media are enjoying making forecasts about the next man in the hot seat.

Julian Nagelsmann is being tipped to take over and at 35, there are some concerns about a lack of experience, but he has been on an upward trajectory for the past seven years and won the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich last season. Chelsea are no stranger to young managers; Tommy Docherty, Eddie McCreadie and Glenn Hoddle were all appointed in their early 30s. These are different times, of course, but if the club is looking for dynamism and the flexibility to adapt to the very specific requirements of the employer, a 35 year-old may just fit the bill.