It’s a mere 13 months since Chelsea FC became ‘Champions of the World’ for the first time in their history and in doing so completed the trophy set.
So much has changed since then. The Government sanctions were imposed shortly afterward; the enforced sale of the club orchestrated by the Conservative Government; the takeover by the Clearlake consortium; the sacking of Thomas Tuchel and appointment of Graham Potter.
Things have fundamentally changed both on and off the pitch since then.
It seems that becoming Champions of the World again seems a long way off. But will Chelsea supporters have time for losing while Boehly’s project is implemented?
We now have to embrace a project which so far seems to include eradicating any traces of the Abramovich regime in terms of personnel and philosophy; changing the way we buy players – pay over the odds but amortise the cost with longer contracts and taking a long term, stats based view over recruitment and the development and progress of the club.
The hiring or should I say the retaining of Graham Potter in spite of some dreadful performances and results since his appointment is clearly a marked change in attitude of ownership.
Under Abramovich, Potter would have received his P45 shortly after the defeat to Southampton with Chelsea losing to the bottom side, in 16th and only 4 points off the relegation zone.
There has been an upturn in results since then, notably away to Leicester and in the second leg of the Champions League round of 16 match at home to Borussia Dortmund. It was a storming night and reminded many of us of the Chelsea we have grown accustomed to over the last 20 years.
Up against it in Europe’s premier competition, supporters and players and dare I say manager rose to the occasion and against the odds found a way to victory. Proper Chels.
Of course, the newly found optimism that maybe, just maybe Graham Potter was the right manager for Chelsea fizzled out like air leaving a popped balloon with the 2:2 draw against Everton – another relegation threatened side.
This season Chelsea have failed to beat any side above them in the Premier League table. Normally that would mean the top 2 or 3 sides in the table: it’s a problem when it’s 9 sides.
Similarly, Chelsea has failed to beat relegation fodder such as Leeds Utd, West Ham and Nottingham Forest.
This is Chelsea of old but not Chelsea of the last 20 years.
With all the massive changes going on at the club one thing refuses to change and that is the attitude and belief of supporters.
Of course, that attitude was irrevocably changed 20 years ago, so it seems.
Chelsea was already winning cup competitions well before Abramovich’s arrival in 2003 but the Premier League still seemed frustratingly out of reach.
It’s seemed very likely however when Jose Mourinho arrived and instilled a much-needed winning mentality; not just in the players and the club but the usually half glass empty supporters.
That winning mentality has carried Chelsea through 12 managers and 22 trophies over the last 20 years. It is now firmly part of Chelsea’s DNA.
It’s what we do: win trophies.
And therein lies a big problem for the new ownership and for Graham Potter in particular.
They may want to change the club into a project club, but the supporters are in the main impatient for more trophies and more success.
Winning is more than a habit, it’s a drug, especially when it can so easily make up for the usual deficits of life. The more you win the more you want to win.
Losing becomes more than a minor irritant, it becomes unacceptable.
As a consequence, you can understand the flip-floppery around Potter and Chelsea’s season. Lose to Southampton and it’s #PotterOut, beat Dortmund and it’s #PotterIn. It’s almost schizoid; 21st century schizoid Chelsea fan perhaps?
I feel for Potter. Whilst you can dig him out for being out of his depth, poor tactics, team selections and results, it’s hard to blame him for the mentality of a fan base.
But is that really anyone’s fault?
I grew up with Chelsea as a side who would occasionally surprise with a Cup win but would inevitably disappoint when it came to the league. I knew we were a ‘big’ club, but I also knew we were unlikely to dine at the trophy table with the likes of Man Utd and Liverpool, let alone Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.
The last 20+ years has changed everything, and we can’t turn the clock back.
Abramovich transformed Chelsea into an elite European club and elite European clubs win trophies with unseemly regularity. It’s not a right, of course, but nevertheless when you are an elite club it is expected by the owners, manager, players and especially the supporters.
It becomes a mentality and that winning culture breeds more winning. That’s why it becomes an expectation and as supporters that’s what you want to hear from those who represent the club, not humility and respect for the opposition and how good they are. That’s for cricket or tiddlywinks.
When you have that mentality then there is simply no time for losers.
Whether the new owners, who have invested so much money and patience in a manager who exudes potential, but no tangible success, can withstand the now ingrained winning expectations of players and supporters by preaching patience and humility will likely be as a big a story in football as Chelsea barging their way to the elite in the first place.
Of course, the answer and solution are simple.
Win football matches and trophies.
First published in cfcuk fanzine March 2023