Wish you all a very happy, prosperous and healthy new year! The ideal script of the day was for us to thrash Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge so we can all say that we are back to our winning ways and that the new year has brought us some much needed luck. As ideal scripts go, we got beaten.
Only hours earlier, Man Utd were beaten at Old Trafford on Fergie’s 70th birdthday so I was all charged up for our game. I guess we don’t need to worry about the Manchester teams anymore. We’ve officially joined the ‘also-rans club’ where we constantly peg ourselves to the league leaders but have no chance on earth to catch them. I don’t care what happens to the Manchester clubs anymore. From now until the end of the season, I’m only going to be concerned about also-rans – Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal.
I’ll do you a favour – I won’t talk about the match. I’ll talk about something bigger and more relevant. I’ll talk about where were we, where are we, how we got here, where do we want to go and how do we get there. What better time than the new year eve to reflect on what’s gone right and what’s gone wrong. Also, the idea is to put things in perspective so we don’t get all hysterical and suicidal in these circumstances. So, here we go!
Where were we?
When Ancelotti left Chelsea, the signs of the limitations of the squad were visible – ageing players, lack of creativity, lack of pace and lack of meritocracy. I was pretty critical of Carlo for not getting the best out of the squad. I still stand by it. Granted, we had some issues with our squad but with what we had, I didn’t think he got the best out of it. Best part of the last decade, we were in the top two in the league. As soon as the new Man City emerged, we should have conceded that real title contenders are three and not just two. All other things being equal, you’d find Man Utd, Man City and Chelsea occupying the top three places in different order in the coming seasons. At the beginning of the year, we were at a stage were we realised that Man City are here to stay and if we don’t act quickly, we could lose out. That’s where we were.
Where are we?
All fears have come true. The squad has shown up its colours. The only shining lights are the new recruits – Mata, Ramires, Romeu and Sturridge. Is this a coincidence that none of these players were with us on new year day of 2010? The class of 2005 is not able to keep up with the new demands or the new challenges. They are growing older and have seen half a dozen managers i.e half a dozen ways of training, mindsets, priorities, styles and expectations. Their best years are certainly behind them. If we make no changes and if we finish third, we should be happy. Even if we finish fourth, nothing shameful about it. Man Utd have got a legend managing a young squad. Man City have a seasoned manager managing a super squad. We have a young manager managing an old squad. See, I have nothing against old players. As I keep quoting TSO, ‘there is no such thing called old players or young players, there are only good players or bad players’. Everytime I say ‘old players’ or ‘old squad’, I refer to the individuals or group whose potential and influence keep diminishing and hence do not hold any promise for the future. This could happen to younger players too. Shaun Wright Phillips is an example.
How we got here?
We got here because we won the back-to-back titles too early in the Blue Revolution. We had a smartass manager who could do that and give us a belief that we are building a legacy here only to get fired after winning loads of trophies. Managers kept getting fired but the legacy wasn’t there and our actions weren’t corresponding with our visions of global invasion. It’s a cliche in football that the most important thing is the next match. But what’s also important is that we have a long term view and big picture objective. I’m not saying that lack stability in management was the issue. You could keep sacking managers and let go players as long as you’re clear on the long term goal and all those actions that are being taken fall in line with that. Our investment in youth academy didn’t produce results. Our investment in the transfer market was not with the long term objectives. We have always been short term buyers and bad long term buyers. Either we thought what we doing was right or we did a bad job of doing right things.
Where do we want to go?
I think the desire is to build a legacy. We wanted our quick successes to put ourselves in the European map and we did that spectacularly. Now, based on what we have achieved and gained, we need to consolidate and build the future. This means getting a competent manager that we stick with for a long term and having all our decisions – short term and long term – be guided by the vision that the club has. Roman is quite passionate about football and Chelsea FC. He’s not going to be contended with second place. But this season will test the resolve of the man. Chelsea will not win the title this season. Roman’s reaction to Chelsea’s performance this season will reveal a lot about his strategy and vision for Chelsea FC – in terms of success, profits, identity and brand.
How do we get there?
Understand and appreciate where we are and why we are here. Even for us fans, our expectation levels were set in 2006 and we haven’t lowered the bar yet. We still expect to win the title. It’s fair but we need to realise that we are not catching up to the competiton at all. Man Utd have some very bright youngsters and Fergie is not afraid of playing them and maturing them. Man City have managed to assemble some of the best talents in European football. Both Manchester clubs have taken different routes to their goals but they have a very clear path in which they progress. We are torn between the two roads. It’s a classic conflct – to make or to buy. To buy is easy but expensive. To make is difficult but cheaper. We want to do both. We are neither here nor there. So I’m not sure if as a club simple things like what is our goal and what is our path to the goal is very well established. You might think this is fairly basic but trust me as organisations become bigger and global, only the simple things are given a miss.
If we decide to buy, it’s an expensive battle and we’d never be able to beat clubs like Man City in this game. They are doing to us what we did to the other clubs earlier. If we decide to make, it means we should be prepared to wait. Waiting means providing opportunity for tomorrow’s superstars while we see them mature at our expense. Waiting means going through a drought. And there’s a hybrid solution too – of getting the best of both worlds. Even then, our primary source of supply must be either the market or the academy. If there needs to be an era of Chelsea FC like the Leeds in the 70’s, Liverpool in the 80’s, Man Utd and Milan in the 90’s, Barcelona in the 2000’s, it’s a lot of hard work with a clear vision of the future.
The key to all this, like I mentioned, would be in how Roman reacts to the Chelsea performance in 2011/12. Andre Villas Boas has come in and taken a lot of flak. In my mind, he’s still the guy to lead us. He’s a very decisive manager and that’s exactly what we need for a long term plan. We need a manager who’s decisive, clear and independent. I think AVB is that.
Anelka is gone. So is Alex and Malouda. Lampard’s on the bench. Drogba could be out soon. Mikel’s on the bench. Essien needs to come back and see where he can fit in. There could be reinforcements in January. There could be some serious buys in the summer. AVB could assemble his own team with players with proper ball skills like Mata and Romeu. For me, those two purchases (or the one he wanted to buy – Modric) by AVB are a symbol of what he expects from his players – creative, skillful and disciplined team players. He should be given the opportunity to build a team/squad with players that would suit his tactics and the club’s expectations. AVB is not here to maintain, he is leading a transition here.
Most of us did wholeheartedly say that we would wait for the transition to happen. We didn’t quite know what transition would feel like. Well, this is how it feels like – successive draws, home defeats, huge deficit, big looking small squad – this is how a transition looks like. The good thing about transition is, they don’t last forever, unless it is at Arsenal. Transitions in football clubs are typically a couple of seasons – given than a generation in football now is only about 5 years – Zola, Lampard, Mata – all are from different generations. For us too, it could be a matter of couple of seasons, I mean 2011/12 and 2012/13.
If Roman has the plan and patience, if he could let AVB go about his business and support him where needed, we would be back in the mix for the next season. Same time next year, we could be leading the table by 10 points leaving the Manchester clubs in the dust and proving once again that we are the pride of London. Until then, we need to go through this transition. That’s it for now.
I wish you all a very very happy year and may this new year bring the emergence of the new Chelsea. Have a great day, week, month and year! KTBFFH!