Kitchen Nightmares: the Chelsea Project
A failing restaurant, unaware of its own shortcomings, telephones a successful restaurateur and world class chef for help. The world class chef then troubleshoots the restaurant for a week, often pinpointing the owners’ lack of skill, the menu and ultimately the décor itself for the demise. So spins the familiar concept that is Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. This shambolic season has ultimately been the culmination of a slow burning fuse and its final explosion. Sadly there are no world class consultants we can turn to for an immediate turnaround. What a palaver.
The state that we find ourselves in has a plethora of branches but ultimately the central tenet is that age old cliché of too many cooks spoiling the broth. A failed youth policy, haphazard recruitment strategy, complete lack of managerial direction, intense pressure to win and short termism has ultimately culminated in this rather glorious mess. If we beat Barcelona I will be truly amazed: anything is possible but given our luck against them, I would not hold my breath. We are a team drastically in decline and it will take an effort superseding that against Napoli at home to better Barcelona over two legs. I am always glass half full. Always. We may still finish fourth, but the leggy Fulham performance and a failure to capitalise on a Tottenham slip up is a further shot of realism as to our current standing. We do not deserve to be in the top four.
Can we finish fourth? Yes.
Will we? I am less sure than I have been for weeks. Something about the failure to make the most of Norwich’s superb result at White Hart Line and a tougher run-in suggest it will be difficult.
Where did things go wrong?
Honestly? I trace this back to Mourinho. The decision to remove the world’s greatest manager was one of complete lunacy and to this day seems an even worse decision considering our current plight. A man who preached the collective, who turned good players into great players, was totally usurped by the foisting of players upon him and his lack of control regarding his own playing squad.
Personally, this is the catalyst for the current situation for two main reasons.
- We have never found a manager who has been able to touch Mourinho, neither in terms of skill nor with the fans. Ancelotti came very close to sitting at the same table but was ultimately sacked due to a perceived tactical naivety as we were dissected at the hands of Mourinho’s Inter. We have continued to chase that mythical beast so much so that we even tried to replicate his impact by signing Europe’s then hottest property, Andre Villas-Boas. Look how well that turned out.
- From the point of Shevchenko’s signature (and the subsequent odd purchases/free signings of Sidwell, Ben Haim and co.) there was a very public declaration that the manager was no longer in control of the composition of his squad. I have no qualms with a manager using his own scouts or a Director of Football he works well with to identify targets. I have no problem with a manger saying “I need x, go and get me a list of targets and I will choose”. However, the acquisition of Shevchenko went completely against the methodology of the current manager. He never would have fit into Mourinho’s 433 system and it could be argued that Jose lost his job because he could not accommodate him. The philosophy of the current manager ever since has been overlooked by the Football Board to meet their own ends.
Jose’s eggs and omelettes rant was absolutely spot on. How could we go from signing the likes of Essien to signing Sidwell? Carvalho to Ben Haim? Drogba to Pizarro? To continually compete at the top level there needs to be a level of experience that is supplemented with class coming through in that early 20s age bracket. Have we ever signed a replacement for Lampard? Drogba? Terry? Or have we ever replaced the world class partners to Terry in Gallas and Carvalho? We seemed to find a core that worked and never looked beyond their cycle as footballers. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Be honest. Terry with Gallas or Carvalho was about as good as a central pairing got in world football, let alone the Premier League. For all of the positives surrounding David Luiz, and I am a huge admirer, who would take him over a younger Gallas or Carvalho? I doubt many would. That is not to say that Luiz will not develop into a talented and reliable centre-back, but given the trio then included Terry, Gallas and Carvalho, it is no surprise that we look more vulnerable defensively than we have done in years.
Since Mourinho we have had arguably two managers who could have competed with his tenure at the club. One we had because Scolari was abysmal and the other we sacked after two seasons with very little given to him in the means of transfer funds. The amount of time and money wasted on Grant, Scolari and sadly AVB is catastrophic. Who identifies the managerial targets? Why are they still at the club? The amount of compensation handed out to managers and coaching staff could probably buy you Cristiano Ronaldo.
The worst decision made at the club has been to allow Mourinho to leave. I do not believe in certainties in football, but I am positive we would have won a Champions League title under Mourinho had he been left to his own devices. Instead we now seem to have passed up our best chances of a European Cup and are set to play a Barcelona side that have improved since our last meeting. Worrying.
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.
Transfer strategy is not something you would associate with the club as a whole under Roman’s tenure. Strategy being the direction and scope of an organisation over the long term. Three of our better players are still pre-Roman (Cech, Terry & Lampard) and since 2003 we have wasted an absolute fortune on some horrific purchases. It is not the sheer volume of money we have spent that is bamboozling, but the actual thought process that has gone into who to sign. An absolute hodgepodge of players who do not fit any system Chelsea have played or could play; players of inferior quality to those leaving and players who are far too similar to what we have at the club.
The word balance is crucial when looking at the structure of any football squad. Under Mourinho we played a counterattacking 433. We had so many players who could seamlessly play this system it was embarrassing. Juxtapose forward options consisting of Drogba, Crespo, Robben, Duff, J. Cole, Gudjohnsen et al. with a 34 year old Drogba, a goal shy Torres, Kalou, Malouda, Sturridge and Mata. In fact, the only player who would have added anything to the 2004-06 squad would have been Mata. We had natural width, now we have strikers masquerading as wingers; we had goal threats all over the park, now our defence look better in the final third than our attackers. It defies logic that we are trying to play a single striker system with no natural width or a striker in form or past his prime.
It is not the fault of Cech, Terry, Cole, Lampard, Essien and Drogba that they have gotten older and not been replaced by players of sufficient quality. We all realise that these players in their pomp were some of, if not, the best players in their positions. However, as Frank has grown older have we ever looked to replace him with something similar or as effective? No midfielder will ever be as big a goal threat as Lampard, but we do not have a player who can control the tempo of a game, dictate play with passes or effectively assume the “Lampard” function in the side. There is no person in our squad to become the fulcrum of our side the way Lampard has been the past few years.
We let players like Duff and Robben go, players who played with pace, flair and had an end product only to replace them in one form or another with the likes of Kalou and Malouda. Granted, Malouda had a purple patch under Hiddink and Ancelotti’s first season where he was exceptional, but he has never looked like an absolute winger in the 433 sense. The less said about Kalou’s inclusion in first team affairs the better. Afforded regular chances, he continually flatters to deceive. Our attackers currently look like they have never played football before assuming positions on the pitch that no one would assume even at pub level. There seems to be a flat out refusal for any of them to pass to someone in a better position, provide any natural width, intelligent movement or bring people into play. Look at the devastating combination of Gudjohnsen and Hasselbaink — they wanted to play together. Both scored goals, both had assists and both bought into the concept of a partnership. Try telling that to any of our front three this season.
We do not currently have a single midfielder in the squad that is comfortable in possession, can pass accurately, crisply and with purpose nor provide any movement ahead of our centre backs. In fact if we simplify their functions Ramires, Essien, Romeu, Mikel and Meireles are all essentially the same player: ball winners who do not dictate play particularly well in the opponents half. Yes, Ramires has his moments but they seem to be the exception rather than the norm. He is not a technical midfield general. He is a superb athlete who would complement some technical players superbly. Our attacking options are Lampard and Mata. Juan is overused and looks tired; when playing out wide he drifts infield to good effect but narrows the pitch as he offers little natural width. This can be quite counter-productive and imbalances the side. Frank worked when a side was built around his and Drogba’s talents. Neither of them warrants that sort of treatment now, but given the alternatives they are still deemed key figures.
We should now be looking at a team that has players in the 23-26 age bracket to take over the mantle and push the team into a different direction. Where are they? Instead we have a side packed with defensive minded midfielders, forwards who do not seem to fit in any logical team structure and centre-backs operating at right back. In fact the only decent signing that we have made for years seems to be in finding Courtois who is excelling out on loan at the moment.
What youth policy?
To be honest this seems to go hand in hand with the short termism at the club. No manager is secure enough in their role that they can experiment with blooding youngsters in meaningful games. Where every game is expected to be won and every competition taken seriously, where do we develop players? Playing a bunch of kids in the Carling Cup is meaningless because they are often not paired with an illustrious and experienced colleague. John Terry will have learnt more playing alongside Marcel Desailly than he would have in his entire career previously.
The endless loaning of players around the globe had produced absolutely nothing. The only player who looks remotely like he is ready to play first team football is Ryan Bertrand, who thankfully has played well in his two recent Premier League starts. If Ashley Cole is not on crutches does he play? Does he play ahead of Jose Bosingwa if Cole is not fit for Barcelona?
We have one of the best youth academy facilities in world football and have cherry picked talent since 2004 to start producing the calibre of players that will make an impact in the first team. Where are they? Are we not picking the right players? Are we coaching them the wrong way? Are we handling them wrong? Do not misquote me, producing a Rooney or a Messi every year (if at all) is preposterous, but should we not be able to produce squad players who love the club and play for the badge? Does Meireles do anything worth £16m more than what Jack Cork might have been able to do here under the right guidance? Tiago remains one of our most underrated midfielders, but his class and poise were a key part of the Mourinho way. How do we know that we cannot produce that level of talent if no one is afforded a chance? True, not every player deserves a chance but those on the cusp are rarely afforded any time at all. Remember all the trouble over signing Gael Kakuta? He played a handful of games out of position on the wing and then was shipped out on loans.
Yes, it has not helped that we have often had two international footballers in every position. Similarly, if your job is on the line you are more likely to pick a safe option regardless of form than an untried kid? Nevertheless, there must be some sort of compromise. Josh McEachran (who?!) is currently meandering around on loan somewhere in Wales; who knows what club he is at such has been his impact there. Fabio Borini (remember him?) has scored ten goals in eighteen games for Roma in that small league called Serie A. Clearly would never cut it in the Premier League.
We currently have an extremely talented crop who can be seen strutting their stuff in the FA Youth Cup. Nathaniel Chalobah is the obvious leading light, capable of playing anywhere in the back four and midfield, how shall we ruin his career? Why have an academy at all if we aim to never blood any of the players? It does not make fiscal sense.
The short termism is killing the careers of any Chelsea academy player before they even set foot on a first team pitch. Ryan Bertrand had played over 150 football league games before we even gave him a sniff of a Premier League start. That is an insane amount of football. Is this going to be our benchmark for any potential academy player making their way into the first team squad? Only after spending most of your tender years away from the club will we actually consider playing you. Ashley Cole looks knackered and has been playing on an ankle injury for years now. Why is he playing every week when we have had the England U21 left-back and occasional captain sitting twiddling his thumbs?
We have not utilised the experience of the likes of Lampard, Terry and Drogba in developing younger players during proper matches. The intensity of training does not replicate what happens within a meaningful game. Bertrand will have learned more in 180 minutes of football than he has all season. What would have been the issue with playing Bruma next to Terry for a few games, instead of playing regularly in Germany? How do we ever know how good a player is if we never actually give them a chance? Borini played in four games for us and has now scored more goals for Roma than Torres has for Chelsea.
I do not believe that every youth product merits game time at the club. Clearly there are those who are destined to ply their trade at a lower level and hopefully succeed. However, we must ask ourselves are we doing enough for those with glimpses of potential to truly determine if they are going to near the mark ability wise?
I am not someone who watches Lord Sugar’s programme, in fact I may have seen two episodes ever. However, I think it does not take a business guru to astutely judge who is a complete buffoon and who is decent at their job. Generally the world is a results business — massive profit, good, massive loss, sacked. How has anyone on the football board kept their job given the current situation? What does Emenalo do, anyone? How about the other inner circle members? If we are run by committee, should that committee not be directed by what happens on the pitch and therefore the person running that side of the club?
At Chelsea, the opinion of the manager comes secondary. His needs and desires, his wants and requests all brushed under the carpet. A “we know best” mentality pervades the board from the Director of Football up to the Director’s themselves. For all AVB’s faults, you could see his point when nearly £30m was spent on Lukaku and De Bruyne when he wanted Modric. In fact, add that to the near £17m paid for Meireles and Modric would be a Chelsea player. You cannot expect silverware with second rate footballers.
Why is it that the most important area of a football club, its playing personnel, has been allowed to decline to such a ludicrous state? Are the football board more worried about keeping their jobs than telling the facts to the owner straight? I mean, if they cannot see the issue with the playing squad than why are they being employed? In a year where the Director’s pay increased at the club, exactly what have they achieved?
We have a board insistent on ignoring the immediate concerns of a manager in redressing the imbalance of the playing squad. A board purchasing young players for vast sums of money who are not making any impact in the first team. Looking directly at Michael Emenalo, what is it exactly that he brings to the table? The average fan will take things on face value. It is far easier to stomach someone like Guus Hiddink in the Director of Football role because of what he has achieved at the highest level than say Emenalo who coached a girls team a while ago…
Emenalo may or may not be doing a fantastic job behind the scenes, but the point remains that it is not visible enough for him to escape a lot of criticism. He (the football board must listen to him… right…?) must have okayed the purchases of De Bruyne and Lukaku. Where are they now? £30m buys you Cabaye, Tiote, Ben Arfa etc. or it buys you a classy attacking midfield superstar. We seem intent on splashing large sums of money on U20s who eventually never amount to anything at the club. Meanwhile Newcastle purchase a midfielder in Cabaye who would start for Chelsea on a weekly basis and a striker who, GOD FORBID, scores goals for a combined fee less than that of what we paid for Lukaku. If they were running a FTSE 100 company they would all be sacked.
The absolute despicable con artistry of Messrs Buck and Gourlay in trying to purchase the CPO shares has also highlighted the complete imbecilic heads of brand Chelsea. I am not against the club moving stadiums, not in the slightest. However, the clandestine and underhand nature of the initial purchase left a bitter taste in the mouths of many. We are one of a very select group of clubs who have remained at their original home since the inception of the club, something the “no history” brigade often overlooks. We are meant to just hand that over without any sort of guarantee that the redevelopment of Stamford Bridge has not truly been exhausted or that we will be moving to some hellhole in the middle of Acton.
Who here trusts the people that run the club? Anyone? No…?
If you add together all the various factors that have taken place since the Mourinho debacle it is easy to see how this season has come to transpire. Without managerial input into who comprises his squad, any subsequent manager is left to attempt to develop a system that fits a squad of players with no linear philosophy behind their assembly. This remains the biggest issue at the football club. The dregs left in the squad are a mishmash of the counter-attacking football that Mourinho promulgated and the power football that Ancelotti used to sweep everyone aside. The key protagonists in each side are now at a state where they can no longer or should no longer be key features, yet they remain that way.
We are built to play in a robust manner which involves the power of Drogba and Lampard’s influence around the penalty area. We have been playing this way in variation since Mourinho came and it was effective until Ancelotti’s second season. We have never looked to deviate from this path nor imbue the squad with the types of players to either directly replace the key ingredients or change the style of play. When these players decline the whole squad and the club decline with it, oddly enough.
So what next…?
We have a smaller stadium than our rivals; a squad that requires more work; a board that seem incapable of making the correct decisions and an inability to invest long term in the correct manager.
Regardless of which European competition we find ourselves in next season the level of change required is equally as necessary. There are quality players to be had regardless of where you are playing, but given our previous magnetism to established names, are we going to hunt for the likes of Robben and Gallas, all relative snips who became superstars at the club. We need younger players with hunger to supplement the quality we have already. I would rather invest in 5-6 players than pay £40m for a Cavani type acquisition. We severely lack attacking quality and the need for an actual right back is bordering the absurd. Is it so hard to find players who can string passes together? Players who actually move when their team mate has the ball? We have had them before, it is not Einstein’s theory.
The biggest question that needs answering comes with two prongs. Exactly who the manager will be and will he be given the funds and the decision making ability to buy/sell who he sees fit? I will not be indulging in who should be our manager at present, but the decision needs to be made earlier than the Boas appointment. He needs to be given complete control over the targets we are signing and no penny should be spent that he does not believe in nor has endorsed.
There needs to finally be a clear commitment to a redevelopment of the playing squad. Any perceived negative influences need to be shipped on, any player deemed not good enough or fitting with the new managers philosophy needs to go and he needs to be able to reshape the squad with his own choices. You do not need to spend £40m for an attacking midfielder or a winger and you do not need to spend £50m on a striker. What is required is a better scouting department, a push towards less established names with quality and players who are hungry to march Chelsea into a new cycle of success.
Please Chelsea, have a little think this time? This is a pivotal summer in the future of the club. We can either rebuild and come back stronger or turn into the next Liverpool.
The choice is yours. This or that.
You can follow the author on twitter @JoeTweeds and the blog @PlainsOfAlmeria