Tuesdays are for Europe: Groundhog Day at Chelsea

Roman is gonna Roman

In the 1990s, Manchester City was not a club that anyone would have argued that you should emulate. In what was arguably the worst overall decade of the club’s history, they managed to become the first club to have won a European trophy to then get relegated to that nation’s third tier of professional football.

Although it was a short stay at that level – Paul Dickov and a miracle comeback at Wembley made sure that the blue half of Manchester’s time in League One was a single season – it still was a glaring reminder of how bad things had gotten.

It didn’t help that that same period also corresponded with the rise of Manchester United to global dominance and United fans were sure to remind their Sky Blue neighbours that their team “wins fuck all.” Another thing they liked to hold over City was the lack of stability at the club.

While United was led by a man that would eventually be knighted for his work, City trotted out 10 different men as manager during that decade. It’s an absolutely absurd turnover that ensured that no one ever had a chance to stamp their vision on the club to help drag their way back to respectability.

Ten managers in a decade. Insane, right? No club in its right mind could possibly ever top that.

With yesterday’s firing of Frank Lampard, Chelsea will name its 10th manager since 2011 today. It’s not a perfect decade (or analogy since Chelsea has won things over that time, albeit with a much higher budget than the City of the 1990s), but it’s a pretty damning comment on the way that club is run. They are winning despite themselves.

If you don’t like the old City comparison, here’s a more current one: Chelsea has had twice as many managers as any other club in England’s so-called Big Six during the period. United, Liverpool and Spurs have had five each, City four and Arsenal only three.

Not great, Roman. Not great.

As for today’s piece of business it’s easy to justify it. Lampard always seemed out of his depth and it was only because they performed slightly above expectations in 2019-20 that he lasted even this long. The reality is that he likely was offered the job ahead of when he was ready and it was probably because no “big” manager was willing to come while Chelsea had a transfer ban.

With that ban reduced to a single window, Lampard was able to bring in some of his guys and, unfortunately for him, the club’s performance didn’t improve. In fact, it probably dropped when he no longer was managing in a pressure free, play-the-kids way.

So, firing Lampard was probably for the best. In isolation, you can justify any firing though. It’s the pattern of behaviour that is harder to glaze over.

Chelsea either consistently makes the wrong hire, or doesn’t let a good hire manage through a hard time. The result is chaos and a club that, in context to its wealth, is spinning its wheels. Since they won the Champions League – with a considerable amount of dumb luck, it must be said – it’s hard to pinpoint what Chelsea has been. They seem further away from being a championship team now than at any time since they got oil money rich.

Unfortunately, for Chelsea fans it’s hard to see things changing much now under Thomas Tuchel. With the German, you have a manager that has already been involved in two different power struggles that resulted in him forced out of jobs at BvB and PSG. In fact, it seems like he’s walking into the exact kind of environment that he left at both of those clubs. What’s the old adage about repeating the same behaviours and expecting a different result?

As the must-read book Soccernomics points out, the problem with churning through managers is that each new one comes in with their ideas and their favourites and ends up disrupting everything (and spending way too much money). That’s why it’s often best to let managers work their way out of slumps. But, that isn’t always possible, so when you make a change you had best be ready to give them a long rope. Otherwise, you’ll probably end up repeating the whole process all over again in short order.

Like Chelsea. Again.  

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