Things around Chelsea FC could go from excellent to appalling in as many seconds as it takes to read a news headline. The only thing that hurts is not deciding. Chelsea are in one of the most peculiar positions they have ever been in. Here is the situation:
Either Chelsea will fire Antonio Conte, one of the top five managers in Europe and the only coach in football to beat Pep Guardiola, Jugen Klopp and Jose Mourinho, all while in his first season in charge of a team he did not get to build himself and replace him with another excellent although oddly trophy-less manager in Maurizio Sarri.. or Chelsea will announce they’re keeping (maybe even extending) Conte and show, for the first time in as long as I can remember, some managerial maturity in respect to the coaching situation.
At this point, either would be fine.
Now, I realize I can be a little bit of a blowhard. It’s one of the side effects of truly incredible intellect and footballing genius coupled with a frustrating injury record and having an enjoyably open platform to speak every week. But Chelsea have done so much wrong in recent years. Simply making the decision above sooner rather than later would be the best thing they could possibly do.
“I was blessed to begin my bid as a Chelsea supporter with the fun Claudio Rainieri – Ken Bates era team led by Gianfranco Zola, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Marcel Desailly. One thing has become very clear to me in the time since: Chelsea will always have a good manager. It’s not really ever a case of good or bad with Chelsea. More so it’s a case of how good, and for how long will those effects be felt” an English fan posts.
Chelsea are a big enough football club, with Premier League money and a global brand and the right location in London to pull even the biggest of names. Chelsea have had Jose Mourinho, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Andre Villas-Boas, Carlo Ancelotti, Rainieri, Guus Hiddink, Rafael Benitez and more in the Roman Abramovich era. Managers, like players, understand their window is only ever shrinking. Their egos need a chance at the big time. Chelsea offers that in a way, say, Real Zaragoza (no disrespect) do not.
At the moment, for those managers who fancy themselves as geniuses, the Premier League is where they need to be. The other proven ones are there, and four of the big six are taken. As a result, Chelsea will always have at least a few good options from those who have risen to the top.
The two best managers of the Abramovich era were Mourinho “The Special One” (not “The Happy One”) and Conte. It’s probably one of the reasons why they so obviously do not get along. Mourinho sensed early there was a chance his history would be outdone, and Conte sensed the old power creeping.
The early Mourinho side and how Chelsea went about building it was one of the best things to happen at the club. Chelsea hired Mourinho and were decisive, like a shark through water. It really was a remarkable summer. They hired the best manager in Europe – this young, smart, handsome Portuguese genius – and gave him all of the tools he needed.
They signed two of his quality lieutenants so his ideas would sink in faster (something you should always do with a new manager, by the way, and something Chelsea used to do and yet have since oddly forgotten) and get the ball rolling. They signed Paulo Ferreira , Petr Cech , Arjen Robben (should be back to show the grass isn’t always greener), Mateja Kezman, Didier Drogba, Tiago, Ricardo Carvalho (the defensive god who actually made John Terry into the defender he is) all before July was even over.
The identity that team created is what made Chelsea into the new club they are now. The team that won the Champions League was still very much reliant on the attitude and culture Mourinho created. It was poetic that, despite being followed by no more than eight managers before his return, he was the only one who could tear his legacy down in the end.
Since Mourinho I, though, Chelsea had not made any progress until Conte. They won trophies, but there was no genuine footballing evolution. Managers would come in and try something, lose their spines and then revert to the Mourinho 4-3-3 with Drogba, some wingers and Frank Lampard.
Before Mourinho the Premier League was a 4-4-2 league. Team tried to do it either the United way, with flying wingers like David Beckham and Ryan Giggs pinging balls into the box in the dozens per match. Or they did it the Arsenal way, and fiddled around like they were playing five-a-side before just having Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires and Freddie Ljunberg sort it.
Mourinho was the first person to come in and revolutionize tactics in a long time. In doing so he immediately swept the division for two titles. His 4-3-3 with the tactical center-forward / target man and inverted wingers has been the backbone for a lot of the tactics in Europe since then. The only managers with similarly sweeping effects on their respective divisions since then have been Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte.
It’s a testament to Conte’s character that he actually made all of the changes in harsher circumstances than Mourinho. Whereas Mourinho received any signing he could think of and his whole staff, Conte only had some of his staff, some leftovers from previous reigns and did not have much say in his signings. It’s a testament to his footballing intelligence and creativity that he won the league with a tactic last used in this division with Glenn Hoddle and Terry Venables’ Spurs.
If Chelsea are smart and want a new decade of dominance, they will double-down on Conte and let him create a culture the way Mourinho did. That way, when they fire him, at least there will be some sort spine to lean on.
Chelsea no longer have that old Mourinho culture for successive managers to borrow and take credit from. It has finally run out, and Conte can at least build a new one. Conte should have three of his desired transfers immediately signed and then sign an extension himself. That’s the best way Chelsea can prepare for the future.
Or they can sign another very good manager, not give him all the tools to build the Blues properly, fire him and hire another new very good manager in a couple years as well.