Chris Morgan reveals his fears ahead of Chelsea’s upcoming season.
I used to love the close-season.
It used to be dramatic. The daily papers were real page turners. In the late 80s and early 90s, the Clubcall ads on Teletext were obtuse and vague and yet irresistible.
“MAJOR TWIST IN WINGER SWOOP?”
“TOP STRIKER TO SIGN IN DAYS?”
Usually, it was one of the youth team kids going on loan to Grimsby or Chelsea being tentatively in discussions with FK Red Banner Smolensk for a 15-year-old Byelorussian kid with an unpronounceable surname. But it was news that got progressively more exciting as the 90s progressed. Then Mr Abramovich came in, and the captions were the same, only they related to Andrei Shevchenko, Hernan Crespo and Fernando Torres. It was an incredible time. What a party that was.
Now, fifteen years later things feel a bit… weird.
I can only liken it to how one feels when you’ve been on it all day, you’re into double figures of the pints and have been doing whiskey and packet chasers with your mates since 4pm. There is music, laughter, beautiful people and a carefree feeling of indestructible abandon. You kick off your pants and sit there on the end of your bed at 4am with one sock on, feeling really… weird.
Part of it is the uncertainty. You never really know what is going to happen. The room is spinning. Will you go to sleep and wake up ok? Or are you going to see that chicken burger again? Can you make it to work tomorrow? The booze courses through your veins and the hedonism echoes through your aching temples. You really smashed it. You did it all. You had the best time.
This summer (and the one before that) has a definite hangover feeling to it. You think: “Oh Christ, not again.”
The good times we have enjoyed now seem a really long way away. Something profound inside could be telling us we need to pay for the good times. We have no idea how the next few hours, days, weeks or months are going to play out. There never used to be hangovers really but lately, the good times have been punctuated by vicious spells of suffering (with and without the ball) that seemed to go on forever. As with the very worst hangovers, this summer feels nervous and uncertain. We have The Fear. Partly The Fear is justified. We all remember last summer and the chaos that everyone connected to Chelsea Football Club felt.
We have a squad that is bloated with journeymen who chucked it in for Chelsea last season at times. We have a raft of superb youngsters out on loan who are mightily disenfranchised with the empty promise of ever playing for the first team. Meanwhile, we have a number of expensive recent signings who are nowhere near their level of quality or potential. The club’s transfer dealings, while always dramatic if not unpredictable, have lurched from reasonably successful overall to plain catastrophic in the stroke of a Montblanc on Michael Emenalo’s severance letter. The club seems to have lost its ability to sign good players, or indeed sign anyone in a timely and uncomplicated manner. Traditionally where deals have been done away from the media spotlight, they are now conducted more openly in public, and if this was Marina Granovskaia’s ploy to make the market understand she is not to be taken for a fool, it has backfired. Now we just get messed about by agents and club owners all knowing the club is desperate and so are asking for silly money and daft terms. Unable to close the deal at a reasonable sum of money, the deal doesn’t get closed. We panic buy someone for three times their actual worth on deadline day who is injured and plays a handful of games for us before being linked with a move to Burnley or QPR for a third of what we paid for him. You think: “Oh Christ, not again.”
Then you have the manager. Conte is undoubtedly a great manager but is unquestionably on his way. It seems that Sarri will probably be his replacement but, typical Chelsea, the process far from being sorted in early-May now stretches on into July with no firm resolution in sight. The lawyers debate, agents gouge, the clock ticks and Chelsea haemorrhage money. You think: “Oh Christ, not again.”
The top-to-bottom change of culture, of playing style, or ethos and of strategy has not materialised yet. The squad remains in limbo, and the renewals, departures and arrivals now have less time to get sorted out. Given the confrontational Ms Granovskaia’s apparent troubles with getting business done quickly and decisively, this does not bode well at all. You think: “Oh Christ, not again.”
By my reckoning we will be or should be saying our goodbyes to Courtois, Hazard, Pedro, Willian, Morata, Batshuayi, Drinkwater, Zappacosta, Rahman, Kenedy, Musonda, Aina, Omuruo, Miazga, Kane, Luiz, Hector, Feruz, Piazon, Kalas, Nathan and Quintero with some serious question-marks over the futures of Cahill, Barkley, Bakayoko, Moses, Zouma, Brown, Baker and Fabregas as well. That’s 22 to 30 players. Logic would suggest there surely will not be anything like this number of departures, so anyone hoping for a meaningful change in the squad’s composition under Sarri will be sorely disappointed. One reason for this will simply be that Chelsea, minus a Director Of Football, is currently unlikely to be able to replace them. We simply cannot physically do the deals. Let’s also not forget the transfer window closes early this summer.
So we are looking at Sarri turning up a day late and a dollar short with a squad that was arguably not optimised for Conte and looks even less well-suited to the sort of game Sarri liked to play at Napoli. Any realistic chance at galvanising what he has into something that might work looks to be drastically shortened by the double blow of the world cup and Chelsea’s maddening inability to take care of business back in May.
All eyes shift to the likes of Tammy Abraham, Marco Van Ginkel, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Jay Dasilva and Mason Mount as possible saviours but can you really build a whole new team around these young stars? And if you can, can you do it in three or four weeks? No matter how good Sarri is, that is a very tall order indeed. Especially if the club probably also needs to sign a world class keeper, a world class striker, a world-class centre-half, a world class right back and a world class winger in that time as well. Recent experience suggests it won’t happen, especially as the board will also have to devote precious time to trying desperately to defending raids for Kante, Azpilicueta and Christensen…
F***ing hell. Imagine if they left as well?
Don’t know about you but I have got a severe case of The Fear.
What if Sarri comes in but is not backed with the squad he needs, key players are once again allowed to leave and are either not replaced or replaced by expensive dross? Sarri is let go by Easter, unable to do anything but flounder with a demoralised and gutted team bereft of confidence and unable to escape the bottom half of the table. He is replaced by Eddie Howe who can do little to stop the rot and only lasts a season himself. The stadium plans are shelved permanently. The frustrated fans turn on Roman Abramovich and his secretive proxies. Our crown jewels are mercilessly and systematically plundered by bigger teams and again, are not replaced or replaced by expensive dross. Mr Abramovich openly declares the club is for sale. Nobody wants to buy it for the billion quid he has put into it with the team struggling and silvery success looking a long way off. It is eventually sold to a Chinese consortium who immediately try to sell Stamford Bridge with all sorts of promises about a new stadium in Hounslow. The open war with the CPO divides club bitterly from top to bottom. The promised investment in players and a stadium does not materialise as, despite assurances, it depended on the club being in Europe and winning things. The team continues to struggle. Banners appear. There are protests. The negativity spreads, and in a couple of seasons, Chelsea are finally relegated. It feels like the death of something, somehow. Homeless, Chelsea ground-share with MK Dons and then Brighton while a search is conducted for a new 40,000 seat stadium site within 60 miles of London. Sponsorship money dries up. Riddled with debt and unable to pay for the ground-share fees, the club is relegated again and the Chinese consortium flee the UK amidst suggestions of fraudulent activities. Criminal charges are brought in absentio. Chelsea goes into receivership and are eventually liquidated.
How’s about that for The Fear? Worst hangover ever, wouldn’t you say? You think: “Oh Christ, not again.”
It’s all a bit overwhelming, isn’t it? It feels like one of those mornings when you want to be sick, but you have not got the energy. It’s all just a bit much. You want to go to bed and hide under the duvet in a pit of self-loathing.
Will we ever feel normal again?
What is normal now anyway?
Can you make me a cup of tea, please?
Written by Chris Morgan – @BlueYonderCFC