CHELSEA’s current season is in danger of spiralling into a sea of mediocrity. Some fans are calling for the head of Graham Potter, others are questioning the transfer policy of the new owners and the occasional chant for Thomas Tuchel can still be heard at Stamford Bridge. Potter is a mid-term appointment, so he deserves the benefit of a full season before decisions on his future are made. The culture at Chelsea since 2003 is one of zero tolerance. Success has to be instant and consistent. At present, nobody really knows if the Todd Boehly band of investors are adopting this stance, but they have already sacked their first manager. It wouldn’t be too difficult to axe their second.
If Roman Abramovich’s regime was unforgiving at times, it is clear that many supporters now have the same desire for instant gratification. There have been complaints about the quality of players being signed, the sums of money being paid out and the length of contracts being given to the new hires. Potter is not to blame for the overall situation at Chelsea – he is merely the latest incumbent – but it could be so much different if the club could acquire some very necessary qualities that could change the shape of the future: patience and a little bit of vision.
The fact is, Chelsea have been in relative decline for a few years. They haven’t competed for the title since 2017 and have been between 19 and 33 points off the top spot since their last Premier League success. Furthermore, in the last five seasons (including 2022-23 so far), they have won two trophies, both of which were UEFA competitions. Their last domestic trophy was won in 2018, the FA Cup under Antonio Conte. The only trophy they could still win (and it’s a big ask) in 2022-23 is the UEFA Champions League.
Nobody can accuse the new ownership of lacking generosity or commitment in the transfer market, the latest signing, Mykhailo Mudryk from Shakhtar Donetsk, cost £ 70 million, bringing the total paid out in 2022-23 to over £ 400 million. And yet, despite the influx of fresh talent, there’s a feeling of mild dissatisfaction about the nine players brought in. Among them is Raheem Sterling, who cost a “bargain” £ 47.5 million but is rumoured to be surplus to requirements already. Most of their purchases are young, which is a positive sign, but the prices being paid seem inflated and a sign that more homework is needed from the recruitment department.
Chelsea have had too many signings that have not lived up to their billing. Romelu Lukaku is still their player, but at £ 97.5 million, he is never going to emerge as a good deal. Likewise, whatever happened to Tiémoué Bakayako and Baba Rahman? They are still on Chelsea’s books. The list of under-performing hires down the years includes: Michy Batshuayi, Danny Drinkwater, Juan Cuadrado, Timo Werner and Álvaro Morata among others. Often, it has felt like “quantity over quality”.
For all the trophies and big-name signings, Chelsea have lacked the ability to introduce the sort of stability that has proved successful at Manchester City and Liverpool. Likewise, long-term planning has been conspicuous by its absence. Between 2004 and 2012, Chelsea won 10 of the 17 major prizes under Abramovich. Since City stepped up a gear and Liverpool hired Jürgen Klopp, success has been more fleeting and they have moved from title contenders to become a team for the knockout competition.
Arguably, Chelsea have become less successful because they have not kept pace with the approaches taken by City and Liverpool, in terms of strategic, smart signings and more consistency in the dugout. In the time Klopp and Guardiola have been at City and Liverpool respectively, Chelsea have had seven men in charge of their team. For a long while, the strategy of short-termism seemed to worked because it kept motivation at a high. But since Klopp and Guardiola have been around, the dynamism has gone or at best, is harder to find.
This is why Chelsea need to persevere with Potter and build for the long-term. The idea of a dynasty is a myth, very few have ever achieved that concept in football, but the club needs to dispense with any fragments of the short-termism cultivated during the Abramovich era. Boehly has already eyed the City multi-club model and hinted that he wants to build a similar structure. If he wants to send a message out to the club’s fans and to the football business community that Chelsea are changing, then keeping faith with their manager is one way to do it. Potter was hired because of what he was doing so well at Brighton. Expectations are undoubtedly higher at Chelsea, but if the club performed its due diligence well, they should have known exactly what they were getting. Dispensing with his services after a very short period would merely suggest they were rash in their decision-making processes. Again.