Date: 9th February 2024 at 11:11am
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How do we understand what the hell has happened to Chelsea? This is all down to the hubris of the owners.

As an American, what Clearlake are doing here is fairly standard “new owner” bullshit that we see frequently. The approach of buying elite young players who aren’t yet earning the wages of currently world class players & thereby cutting operating expenses while your revenue increases every year works in American sports like baseball and basketball. Teams can afford to throw away a year or a few years when a new owner comes in because the TV revenue & league wide revenue sharing float perpetual mediocrity. So new owners can plan to not be truly competing for championships for 3-5 years. They often do just that, and it’s widely tolerated by the media and the fans because building a contender is a “process”, and of course that requires time.

These are not stupid or incompetent people. But I don’t believe they really understood what they acquired when they bought Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea. There is no tolerance among the supporters for having a season where you’re not capable of competing, much less several in succession.

Surely they knew that in order for their business model to translate to the EPL and generate the revenue they project, they need to be in the champions league – virtually every year. What they somehow failed to understand is that the EPL in 2023 is the most competitive elite league in the world. A team of unproven prospects who have never played together are quite likely to lose to less talented but more experienced sides like West Ham and Villa. It genuinely takes time for young players to develop their game, for relationships to develop on the pitch – even for very talented players. And in the time all of that takes, Chelsea will have played themselves out of Europe by failing to get results. Christ, they genuinely could have gotten relegated last year and it’s not altogether out of the question this year at this rate.

This is a disaster not only for the players who need to build confidence and learn what it takes to win at this level, and not only for the fans who are enduring this rapid decline. It is a disaster because the feasibility of the entire Clearlake grand scheme and economic model crumbles quite quickly if Chelsea does not have UCL revenue in consecutive years. We’ve already begun to see the briefings blaming the frontman – Bagman Boehly, the one naive enough to put himself in the firing line. They all assumed success would come easily.

It’s possible that these players will all be world class in two or three years. Far more probable is that some turn out great, others struggle, and most are not here in 3 years.  And the interim years – where we now find ourselves – are likely to be really rocky, especially since they’ve surgically removed any remnants of club culture.

They made the common assumption of American owners buying a new team that they could do better by replacing everyone at the club with “their” people and increasing revenue by pricing out real fans and focusing on corporate revenue. They’ll sell premium seating at outlandish prices to Hedge funds and banks and those looking to impress clients with the access they can offer. Those guys will turn up with clients for the matches their clients really want to attend – top 6 and champions league, if we ever return. The rest of the time those seats will be either empty or filled by kids who are friends with the boss’ son. (Having grown up in Boston, I’ve been one of those kids sitting for free in ridiculous corporate seats thanks to a friend’s dad many times.)

If you’re going to sacrifice the club culture at the altar of corporate profit, surely you have to at least get the corporate profit bit right. Yet Chelsea still don’t even have a kit sponsor. They’ve paid Brighton – a club who hadn’t won anything – record prices for a manager who couldn’t last the season, the worst negotiator I’ve ever seen – who was promptly named sporting director, a backup GK, a disastrous LB, and a good midfielder.

Our injury record was bad when they arrived, but it’s only gotten worse since, as once again they presumed to know better than those in place when they turned up. It goes on and on.

We are now in purgatory, and there’s a decent chance of travel in either direction. But the elevator seems to be going down, and unless we start making the long term plan a secondary priority to the present, I fear it’s going to get worse.

As for the actual football, Poch seemed to have it all well in hand during preseason. He clearly wanted to add more experience, but the owners refused. Of course the injuries are brutal. But he’s also got to do better with what he still has at hand.

Chilwell is not a winger. Colwill is not a left back. Enzo is clearly not a ten. These are senior internationals at their natural positions. For the love of god, play the players in their best positions. You bought them to play those positions and it’s where they thrive. Playing them elsewhere doesn’t help them settle in a new squad and it’s clearly not working.

If you have to protect Thiago Silva in order to play him then he needs to be dropped. You have no margin for dropping points because you’re accommodating a player who won’t be here next year.

The attack is toothless because there is no creativity from the number ten. Enzo is not a ten, and Connor isn’t the answer either. You’ve just bought Cole Palmer, who has done well internationally at his age level and has been developed at the best club in the world at City under Pep for a few years. Plus he already has a relationship on and off the pitch with Sterling, the only forward player who looks capable of scoring at the minute. Give him a chance.

I think our best chance of success this year, especially while Nkunku is out, is giving these young guys a real run of games and finding out if we have any pearls among the oysters. Gusto, recent red card aside, looks like a player. Les looks like he may be quite good. Even as raw as he still is, Mudryk shows flashes when he gets minutes. Perhaps Palmer can be a real asset to the attack. Either way, we need to find out.

I know this has been a long and winding rant, and perhaps its only purpose is to vent my personal frustration with everything at Chelsea just now. But the Clearlake gambit is hardly new to American fans, and it’s failing because the owners have fundamentally failed to understand how difficult is it to build and maintain a premier league side that can compete now if you’re focusing primarily on three years from now.

Up the Chels,

Brendan Piper

(@CFCRaleigh on Twitter/X)


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