Chelsea’s players cut forlorn figures at the end of their 3-0 defeat to Roma at the Stadio Olimpico on Tuesday night. In truth, their demeanour at the final whistle had not differed from the one they had been showing for the preceding 30 minutes. Comparatively, in spite of Roma’s early goal, in the first 30 minutes of the game they had been as electric going forward as they had been all season.
This perfectly encapsulates the highs and lows of their tumultuous campaign thus far; which has been a series of periods of ‘crisis’ followed by restoration, before eventually finding its way back to another crisis.
This unease started in the summer, when Antonio Conte was denied the acquisition of several ‘key’ transfer targets and was left with a strikingly shallow squad, considering the extra commitments of European football present this season. It was then exponentially amplified with the opening day defeat to Burnley and, following a rejuvenation of sorts epitomised by the titanic victory in Madrid, reared its ugly head again in the defeats to Manchester City and Crystal Palace.
After a run of three victories leading up to the game in Rome on Tuesday night, the odds for another collective collapse should’ve retrospectively been far greater. On the surface, all this accounts to is a stuttering start, not unheard of in South West London – look at last season.
Nevertheless, there is something about the current predicament in the capital that speaks to a wider problem within the club itself. Throughout the Abramovich era, Chelsea have been an organisation unafraid of chopping and changing managers, acquiring and discarding in what feels like the same breath – this has been well documented. Because of this, it is universally acknowledged that success in one instant does not guarantee security for the moments proceeding it.
From Carlo Ancelotti, to Roberto Di Matteo, to Jose Mourinho (twice), the club has never been willing to reward notable success with any kind of long term stability. Up until now, this has never caused any veritable problems in the club’s pursuit of such triumph, but the cracks are now starting to form on this managerial model for success: the expendability of these managers.
Before Antonio Conte was seen hanging from an assortment of Premier League dugouts in ecstatic celebration, there was a time of apprehension regarding his impending reign at Stamford Bridge.
While there were few doubts over his skill as a coach, something he has confirmed time and again throughout his tenure, there was uncertainty as to how distinctive his methods would be in contrast to those of Mourinho’s; methods that drove the squad to it’s knees the season before.
Tactically, they are cut from a very different cloth, but in terms of motivation and requiring every ounce of a player’s commitment, they are very much alligned. And here lies the problem. In spite of player turnover, this is still fundamentally the same squad that fragmented and then collapsed under Mourinho, and it’s now flirting with a similar fate under Conte.
And, while the players deserve a portion of the blame for such a situation, they are not the primary offenders. This is the issue with obstinately continuing to treat managers with such clear disdain, and not dealing with the players in the same respect. The persistent pandering to players desires and ‘needs’ at Stamford Bridge has resulted in a squad ready, and incomprehensibly allowed, to down tools at the slightest hardship.
Such a characteristic becomes embedded in the fabric of the team, regardless of changing personnel, and can eventually destroy the very essence of the club itself. If this mentality remains, it will be extremely difficult for any manager to come in, however talented they may be, and sustain the level of success required at the club.
If the club wishes to have continued prosperity in the future, then they must first repair the damage that this perpetuation of convenient change has caused, rather than looking for the quick-fix of a new manager to temporarily paint over the cracks of its institutional affliction.
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