FUBAR is a military acronym for “f*ck*d up beyond all recognition”, used by American troops in the second World War to describe their lot.
I can think of no better way to describe Chelsea Football Club at this point in time. The whole situation is well and truly FUBAR.
The miserable abject defeat away to Man Utd means Chelsea haven’t won back-to-back league games all season. At home there have only been two league wins this season, having won only six at home in the league last season.
To gauge how poor that is, we can go back to the 1990’s before the Premier League was established. With Ian Porterfield at the helm there were seven home wins in 1991/92 when we finished 14th; nine wins in 1992/93 when we finished 11th under Porterfield and David Webb after Porterfield was sacked. It didn’t get better under Glenn Hoddle, the man attributed with lighting the blue touch paper of the rise in Chelsea’s fortunes. We finished 14th in 1993/94 with ten home league wins; 11th in 1994/95 with seven home league wins and 11th in 1995/96 again with seven wins.
Whilst the idea of going back to the 1990’s might appeal to those thinking of a nostalgic visit to the days of Disco Biscuits, Day-Glo and Raves, this stat might change your mind. Of the 17 teams to have played Premier League football since Jan 1st 2023, Chelsea are bottom of the league. Perhaps we should be thinking of going back to the 1980’s or even 1970’s!
I know that the chaps at Clearlake are considered to be geniuses within the field of finance and investment, but even by their standards, dismantling the winning mentality and upward trajectory established at this club over nigh on 30 years inside 18 months is very impressive. “Fine work gentlemen”, as I suspect the Cabinet Ministers involved in the spiteful and self-serving destruction of Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea are saying. It’s like this was the plan all along.
Chelsea has perhaps struggled with an identity over the years, but if we had one, it was that winning mentality and ability to continue to win trophies at any cost that was defined by Abramovich’s tenure. If we lose that, then what is there? Winning trophies and challenging for and winning Premier League titles and Champions’ Leagues seems a very long way off at the moment. Indeed, our status as an established European elite club is under threat should this omnishambles continue.
As Jose Mourinho said: “When you start accepting defeats just because your team played well and players gave their best and you accept losing, that’s when the big clubs stop being big clubs.” Quite.
Where has it all gone wrong?
While it is the natural inclination for supporters to immediately heap blame on the manager and the players, I would argue that we need to look beyond that.
To paraphrase @ChicagoDmitry for his excellent analysis of Chelsea’s ‘plan’, it would appear that Clearlake’s plan was akin to playing ‘Football Manager’, for real. Given their obvious lack of football knowledge in this country perhaps it would be more accurate to call it a plan to ‘play’ the football market. They are Hedge Fund people after all.
The idea seems to be to buy younger, cheaper players with potential with a view to increasing their value, playing for an elite club in the top European competitions and then keeping the best and selling the rest for a significant profit. So far so good, but this has never been successfully implemented by a club regularly winning titles and cups because they understand the need for a balance between experience and youth. And certainly not from scratch which given the way Clearlake have cleared out any vestiges of the Abramovich regime, is exactly what they are doing.
Now, we all know there are no guarantees in football, but this strategy does appear to be a huge gamble with massive risk. Like putting everything you have on an unproven young racehorse in the Grand National in the hope of paying off your mortgage in one go. There are simply too many things to go wrong.
What if the players turn out to be distinctly average and the manager doesn’t want them in his squad? What happens if we miss out on European competition for one, two, three or more seasons? What happens if the players who are reaching their potential become fed up with missing said European competition and want a transfer to clubs who are? What happens if you have paid too much for them, stuck them on 8 year contracts and find you are unable to shift them for a profit?
When it comes to footballers and football there are no guarantees, no sure things. We are dealing with unpredictable human beings who often defy statistical analysis.
Given the amount of money Clearlake has invested so far, it sounds like this strategy simply has to pay off, which I find incredulous. There seems to be no contingency; it’s sh*t or bust.
This situation potentially has serious consequences for Chelsea when it comes to FFP, especially with the very real prospect of no revenue generation from Champions’ League football for possibly years to come.
It’s alright for Clearlake. They can just write it off as an unfortunate loss; a gamble that didn’t pay off and look to their other business interests to make the return on their investment. They will find other Golden Geese, but what about us?
I am, like many other season ticket holders, approaching my sixties and I know that there are less years in front of me at Stamford Bridge than there are behind me. We are now faced with the prospect of footballing misery in our golden years and returning to a place where we never expected to go again. For the avoidance of doubt, it is the answer to the question raised by opposition fans: “Where were you when you were sh*t”.
An essential ingredient in football support is hope, but what use is hope if you might not be around long enough to see it fulfilled?
Hey, I’m an optimist by nature and it may all come good. I firmly believe that Maurico Pochettino is a good manager and was the best we could get at the time, with Premier and Champions’ League experience and a good man manager of both young players and established stars. He is a team builder in more ways than one. Hopefully he will be given time and space to put his imprint on it all, after all he is one of the few at the club with an established football pedigree.
Ultimately, I am at peace with it all. We can’t turn the clock back and have little power to influence or change things. Uniquely, we are in a position where the previous ownership and everything they achieved have almost been deliberately wiped out.
We are starting all over again not building on the foundations laid down by Abramovich. Am I angry about it – yes. Do I think it was unnecessarily arrogant – yes. But any solutions to the place we find ourselves in cannot be solved basing it on what we used to do then. I’m afraid those days are gone.
We have no choice but to stick it out and hope. Hope that Nkunku really is as decent as they say. Hope that the injured players get fit. Hope that we buy a proper striker but even with all that I just don’t see us finishing better than mid-table, unless there is a drastic turn round.
My biggest fear is that the old-fashioned cyclical nature of football that saw Man Utd and Liverpool not compete for the title for 30 years and Arsenal for 20 (at the last count) could now be visiting us.
Like the GIs of 70 years ago, who similarly had no control over their fate, maybe we should just hope that we get through it and accept that it is all just FUBAR.
First published in cfcuk fanzine December 2023