The global Covid-19 outbreak had pretty much put the world on hold, businesses were shut, people forced to stay at home and even professional football stopped all together.
It allowed a unique opportunity for otherwise non-stop entities to take stock of where they are, and more importantly what direction they’re heading.
Not many football clubs have covered themselves in glory during this crisis, both Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur announced they intended to use the government furlough scheme for its non playing staff (both clubs reversed this decision after much public outrage), while more recently Sunderland announced that supporters wouldn’t receive a refund on their season tickets if remaining fixtures were to be played behind closed doors.
For Chelsea Football Club, the pandemic has shown the very best side of the club. From keeping all staff on 100% pay, donating meals to the NHS and making both the Copthorne and Millennium hotels available for NHS staff to use for free.
They also refused player pay cuts, instead instructing players to continue using their own personal judgement on where to make donations, such as Antonio Rudiger donating to a Berlin hospital.
All this, while the owner Roman Abramovich is still denied a British visa in a somewhat feeble attempt by the British government to make a stand against Russia and Vladimir Putin.
However it’s not just off the pitch that Chelsea have had their own ‘project restart’, on it, things appear to be heading in the right direction.
When Abramovich purchased the club in 2003, his sole aim was to become European Champions, and he tried to achieve it by hiring the last manager to win the competition (Jose Mourinho) and spending big money on the best talent available.
The club dominated domestically, but that desire for European glory saw Mourinho sacked, the club reached the final that year, but an ill timed slip from John Terry and a tame Nicolas Anelka penalty saw Chelsea in tears in Roman’s home land.
A World Cup winning manager was given the job, a move which went down like a lead balloon. After Luis Felipe Scolari came another Champions League winner in Carlo Ancelotti, who despite achieving the first Premier League and FA Cup double in the clubs history, was sacked in the tunnel at Goodison Park at the end of his second (and trophy-less) season, mainly due to poor showings in Europe.
Next through the door was the young Andre Villas-Boas, who had just won the Europa League at Porto, but this lasted until February when a 3-1 defeat away to Napoli in the last 16 of the Champions League last 16 first league saw him given the boot.
This left the club at a crossroads, now they’d achieved all Abramovich had set out to, what direction would they go next? It seemed not only did the owner demand successful football, he also wanted beautiful football, and spent the next 3 years trying to copy Barcelona’s blueprint.
In came players like Eden Hazard, Oscar and Kevin De Bruyne to name just three, but these signings where juxtaposed by the appoints of Jose Mourinho II and Antonio Conte.
The appointment of Maurizio Sarri has been the only positive step in changing the playing style at Stamford Bridge, however as is we’ll documented (especially in Cult Fiction- how a year under Sarri almost tore Chelsea apart), he didn’t match the culture of Stamford Bridge.
However, his work on changing Chelsea from a counter attack focused team to a possession based side has undoubtedly helped Frank Lampard since his arrival in the summer.
Lampard’s arrival came at a crucial time for Chelsea, a transfer ban imposed by UEFA, an owner denied a visa, stadium redevelopment plans coming to a grinding halt and a fan base almost torn apart.
It’s no wonder that Lampard’s inexperience was overlooked in favour for a fan favourite. He brought the owner and the board time in deciding what next.
Few would’ve blamed Abramovich for thinking of cashing in and taking his fortune with him to Tel Aviv.
As it happens, Lampard’s arrival has reenergised the whole club and his implementation of several academy players such as Reece James, Fikayo Tomori, Billy Gilmour, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham, has shown that the club has a bright future ahead of it.
The season so far has had its ups and downs but with the team still in the quarter finals of the FA Cup and 4th placed in the league, is far beyond the expectations of many supporters going into the season.
Victory over Liverpool in the FA Cup fifth round, followed by a 4-0 win over Everton before the enforced lockdown of society has Chelsea in a positive place and that has been reflected in the clubs behaviour during this period.
The board has worked closer with the manager and new technical advisor Petr Cech, and targets have been identified quickly and deals completed with seemingly minimal fuss.
Lampard’s use of academy prospects this season, as seen in the most recent training season, will mean an end to signing squad players for fees of £30m upwards. All this means more funds available to sign the first team ready talent that the team needs.
The transfer market has changed dramatically in the past five years, clubs below the elite level no longer need to sell, so we have to be smarter in our business. Our most recent signings, Christian Pulisic, Mateo Kovacic, Ziyech and Werner, show that the club are doing great business.
Nobodies really expecting Lampard and Chelsea to start challenging Liverpool and Manchester City next season, but what we seem to be building towards will hold us in good stead going forwards.
Abramovich has decided on the next destination- to become a successful team, playing attractive football, with home grown players supplemented with the best available talent.
We’ve got the owner, we’ve got the manager and we’ve very nearly got the squad. Chelsea’s project restart may be the start of something special.