Judging Chelsea by last season and the recent calamities against Arsenal & Liverpool it would be sensible to surmise that we are in a mess.
Dig a bit deeper and one might postulate that we are in decline, that the team that Roman built, the greatest Chelsea team of all time, is convulsing before its life force finally ebbs away.
They say that success in football is cyclical – great teams come and go; periods of success are followed by fallow; nothing lasts forever.
A good example of this has been the decline of Liverpool FC – the all conquering team of the 1980s – who grew fat on their success (well Jan Molby did) and then old and ineffectual together. Their last League title came in 1990 and bar one Suarez fuelled season and one Rafa induced choke they’ve not really come close since.
Man Utd and to a certain extent Arsenal played a part in Liverpool’s downfall and created a duopoly in the 1990s and 2000s until a Russian Billionaire had the sense to rescue Chelsea FC from bankruptcy rather than buy a certain North London club.
As a consequence Arsenal have failed to win the title since 2004 as they singularly failed to replace players of the calibre and standing of the infamous back four; strength and leadership of Patrick Viera; guile and firepower of Bergkamp and Henry.
Man Utd sustained by the charisma and managerial nous of Ferguson kept it going longer until Man City pricked their bubble and the ‘class of 92’ and their Headmaster reached pensionable age and in truth were never replaced.
You could make a decent argument that Man City with their own oil dividend have done to us what we did to Arsenal but like many clubs before us, did we allow a great team to grow old together and not find the players to replace them?
If so, what happened to Chelsea’s succession plan?
Many clubs before us have not found it easy to simply replace legends at the club and keep their trophy winning momentum going.
If you look at Chelsea the question we have faced as many clubs have faced before us is how on earth do you replace legends like Petr Cech; John Terry; Frank Lampard; Didier Drogba and Ashley Cole.
The simple fact is that you can’t. These players are of course unique and irreplaceable but furthermore their deeds on the pitch in terms of goals scored; assists created; saves made; tackles won and crucially the leadership, experience and will to win are all proving nigh on impossible to replace immediately.
And there is a fundamental truth that this always takes time to accomplish if you look at our top three record goal scorers.
Bobby Tambling scored his 202 in the 60s after which we endured a gap of 10-15 years before another goal scorer of his effectiveness emerged with Kerry Dixon.
Kerry scored most of his 193 goals in the 1980s and then we faced another 10-15 year gap before another goal scoring legend emerged – namely Frank Lampard. Logic indicates that we might have to wait another 10-15 years for another goal scorer of Frank, Kerry or Bobby’s magnitude.
So players like this don’t come round very often – if we’re lucky, once in a generation. But what do you do when you are faced with the prospect of replacing arguably 5 of the best players we have ever seen play in Chelsea shirt?
Just look at two positional cases in point. Courtois, arguably one of the worlds best ‘keepers when he arrived at Chelsea after a 3 year sojourn in Madrid is suffering in comparison to Petr Cech. Much grumbling emanates from Chelsea supporters when his performances or attitude are deemed questionable but the real issue is simply that he is not Petr Cech, compounded by the fact that we got rid of the much loved legend for the supposed successor. You could argue that the same affliction has plagued the replacement of Ashley Cole. Whomever we play at left back it seems will suffer by comparison to Cole.
It appears that the Club in trying to do the impossible – replace legends; continue winning and implementing a succession plan, have several choices open to them.
Secure sought after young talent like Courtois, Hazard, De Bruyne and hope they develop in to the next legends; buy established and costly players who can do the job now like Diego Costa and finally develop an exciting array of talented youth players to feed in to the first team in the hope that they are good enough and their success will mean they don’t have to buy young or established players at a greater cost perennially.
All of which seems eminently sensible if it works. But of course in football there are no guarantees.
Chelsea’s best laid succession plans seem to have hit a massive and inconvenient obstacle – some of which may well be of their own making.
The fact that the most vaunted and talented youth players ever produced by the club have simply failed to come through has seriously undermined any thought of using them as part of a succession plan.
Of course it may be that they are not good enough but that may well have been down to decisions taken by managers unprepared to risk their own future in finding out. The fact that so many are out on loan with little prospect of returning to break in to the first team would perhaps indicate a willingness to balance the books than plan for the future and implement a true succession plan.
It is also hard to implement a succession plan when there has been a constant change in the men at the top. Every new manager hired at Chelsea is burdened by expectations of winning titles and trophies every year. As said earlier this will lessen their risk taking and they will play the tried and tested rather than look to move players on.
Added to this is a constant cycle of instability and upheaval – never ideal conditions to implement a succession plan.
Frustratingly modern players and the power they wield through their agents seems to go against attempts for succession organically. You could argue that in Ryan Bertrand; Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku we had identified potential successors to Messrs Cole; Lampard and Drogba but given the lack of guaranteed playing time and constant managerial upheaval – they felt that they had to leave, leaving the club’s long terms plans in shreds.
And sometimes you just have bad luck – judging by Kurt Zouma’s promising performances at the start of his Chelsea career it appeared that we might have the successor to John Terry waiting in the wings. Even better he’d have the advantage of learning from the old master himself. Sadly he was cut down by a nasty injury and that succession and mentoring has been delayed. One hopes that he can continue his development but after such an injury doubts will remain.
Ultimately it depends on what the players do on the pitch and there is very little Owners, Managers, Coaches or technical directors can do if those players are missing that crucial X-factor that will drive them to the commitment needed to contribute success at the club which will make them a legend. If it were simple then every club would be doing it and in the process be perennially successful.