It’s hard to avoid the temptation now to be dismissive, in hindsight, over any improvements which might have been made since the turn of the year. The number of disappointing home draws in the Premier League, as well as our sorry eliminations from both cup competitions, has made the extent of Guus Hiddink’s work look pretty average at best. Little if any blame has been laid on the Dutchman however (which I think is fair), rather, the majority of disappointment seems to being levelled at the club as a whole. The premature removal of meaning to our season has left us with time to reflect, and for the most part these reflections have been extremely pessimistic, if not, completely morbid.
Of course, costly strategic mistakes have been made over the past 18 months or so. The sales of Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Juan Mata and David Luiz are thrown around and discussed with annoyingly regularity as examples of costly pieces of bad business – especially when considering the mediocrity that has been recruited since they left. Personally, I still really don’t like this kind of revisionism. We walked to the Premier League title after all of these players had left and after they had all commanded (what were considered at the time) impressive transfer fees. And now the constant bemoaning of the long term consequences is getting us nowhere. I think we can be honest about the club’s problems without constantly harping back to past mistakes.
So what are these problems (in case anyone hasn’t noticed)? The squad is painfully thin. The dressing room is plainly, and desperately short of leaders. Whilst the best players in the team seem to routinely play with less passion and energy than Juan Roman Riquelme might have done, high on valium in a pre-season friendly. Off the pitch, the clubs performance in the last three transfer windows has been shocking. I read somewhere recently that every addition we have made since last January has collectively made less than 50 appearances for the club; the latest of which, Alexandre Pato, looks set to return to Brazil without playing even playing a single minute.
Still, my view of the club’s situation isn’t as resigned as the consensus, just yet. I think the importance of the upcoming summer transfer window could hardly, however, be overstated. Another failure to make any serious improvements would resign us to a rebuilding period, which may well last many (depressing) years. A handful of quality and thoughtful additions on the other hand, could see us immediately back involved in the title race, as a serious, worthy contender. Especially considering the current state of all our usual competitors.
In summary, there are three things which I think need to happen, to ensure an immediate return to the top of our domestic football picture…
1) For goodness sake, re-sign John Terry. The club captain is not only still an exceptional defender (one of the best in Europe) but, right now, the only true leader in the squad, as well as the only emotional connection between the fans and the team. I honestly can’t think of single reason Conte wouldn’t want to have him for next season
2) Hire an experienced director. The endless abuse aimed at Michael Emenalo on social media blows my mind – the enjoyment that seems to be had in scapegoating the man is just weird. He might not be wholly exempt from blame but it seems to me the problem is far more likely to be structural, rather than owing to the incompetency of one man (who’s day to day involvement we know nothing about). Still, the absence of any football professional on a board full of lawyers and businessman seems a little conspicuous to me. Conte’s ambition to bring Walter Sabatini to the club sounds like a promising move. If not however, why not hire Guus? The Dutchman has already said he’s retiring from coaching this summer – who better to provide high-level advice and guidance to the club, than a man whose influence has been almost invariably positive during both of his tenures.
3) Most importantly of all – back the new manager. Give him full control of operations this summer and give him the resources to have the team he wants next season. There’s surely no way you can hire a coach like Conte, with his standing and reputation, without the intention of giving him licence to make decisions over the strategic running of the club. If he wants to sell a player – let him (really, who in this current squad would we really miss?) If he wants to sign a player, and they’re attainable – give him the funds. If it fails, then it fails and we can deal with the consequences, but more than anything, what no fan wants to see, is the club fading into relative irrelevance because we didn’t have the courage to commit to an idea of how we ought to progress.
Next year’s Premier League season should be enthralling. Pep Guardiola coming to City is one of the division’s biggest ever managerial coups. And the prospect of him bringing in the likes of Pogba or Lewandowski makes City an immediately frightening prospect. As it stands, Jose is favourite to take over at Man utd, an appointment which no Chelsea fan needs explaining the significance of. Jurgen Klopp looks to be making significant strides forward with Liverpool; Arsenal continue to improve on paper (if not in reality) having added Petr Cech, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil in consecutive summers, their contendership for the title certainly isn’t getting less serious; whilst the surprise performers of this season (Tottenham, Leicester, West Ham) could all potentially improve and be serious players once again.
When considering the above, it’s only too easy to imagine how easily we could fall even further behind. This is why we have to gamble, back the new manager and show serious intent before the beginning of the new season. The potential line-ups of our opponents make ours pale in comparison. It feels as though these tentative links to the likes of Leonardo Bonucci, Arturo Vidal and Edinson Cavani will need to be realised in order for us to compete. Should we suceed in making additions of this calibre then next season we should have a enjoyable and crucial part to play in one of the closest and most exciting league seasons for a long time. If not, then it could be another very long and miserable campaign indeed…