A change of managers at Chelsea is nothing new. In the 15 years Roman Abramovich has owned the club, the Blues have had 12 different men in charge of team affairs on a permanent or temporary basis. The likelihood is that this will soon become 13 with Antonio Conte expected to depart in the coming weeks.
Presently, there is no glaringly obvious candidate to replace Conte and Chelsea supporters are widely divided over the suitability of the managers being linked to take on one of the most challenging jobs in football.
Fan concern at this latest hiatus is exacerbated by the fact that Abramovich is pressing ahead with plans to redevelop Stamford Bridge. It’s expected the Blues will play at the Bridge for two more seasons and then move to temporary home for at least four years while the stadium is rebuilt. Where Chelsea will play their football during this period has yet to be decided. Wembley remains the most likely venue, but a ground-share with West Ham at the London Stadium is also being rumoured and it’s believed that options to remain within the Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham are also being explored.
To make matters worse for supporters already troubled by these uncertainties, the Blues have come up short on the pitch this season. Premier League champions Manchester City have raised the bar and in the process, erased a number of records set by Chelsea in the Abramovich era. Manchester United, Tottenham and Liverpool also finished ahead in the table, meaning Champions League football will not be on the agenda for the 2018-2019 campaign.
What Chelsea fans crave right now is managerial stability and sight of a clearly defined football strategy that will enable the club to claw back the ground lost to rivals. When Jose Mourinho returned in 2013 for his second stint as boss, hope sprang eternal the Portuguese would go the distance and stay to build a dynasty that would overarch the stadium redevelopment that was announced during his tenure. Of course that didn’t work out — boom soon turned to bust for Mourinho. When Conte was appointed and led Chelsea to the title in his first season, the same thought processes were applied — but then the Italian’s world rapidly unravelled as well.
At face value it could be argued that supporters are worrying over nothing. Saturday sees Chelsea play Manchester United in the FA Cup final and with that comes the opportunity to win yet another trophy. Win or lose, Abramovich has huge cash reserves to throw at his expensive hobby.
Conte may well leave and, should he do so, the next man will come in and be given money to spend on new players — that’s the way things have always worked at the Bridge under the Russian and the 14 major trophies won to date under his ownership make it hard to criticise the way success has been achieved.
Scratch beneath the lustrous veneer that this silverware represents, however, and there is little for fans to be enthusiastic about. Chelsea lack the director of football-style structure and stadium permanence their rivals now have in place. Yes the academy continues to deliver success, but that is also measured in trophies rather than progress — which in this case means players breaking through to the first team.
Right now nothing appears joined up. Abramovich, of course, has the financial resources to address this, but does he have the right kind of football wisdom? The next managerial appointment and the back office support that goes with it is potentially the most important in the club’s entire history.
Get it right and Chelsea will soon be back in the groove and match-going supporters will ride out the stadium redevelopment and continue to part with their hard earned cash to follow the team. Get it wrong and the empty seats that were very much in evidence in the final home game of the season with Huddersfield will become increasingly noticeable and only get worse when the Blues move away from the Bridge.
Gazing at rows of empty seats at the Emirates when disgruntled Arsenal season ticket holders stayed away during the final troubled weeks of Arsene Wenger’s managerial reign was a portent of things to come. Watching football is an expensive business and now as never before supporters need to feel that their club is doing the right thing by them.
Clearly conscious of this fact, Arsenal are being meticulous about appointing a successor to Wenger who was in charge of the team for 22 years. A long-term strategy is clearly in play, but they know they need to get the right man. Whether or not Abramovich is thinking along the same lines is a mystery — he should be though, because if two years down the line Chelsea find themselves without a manager once more it will only mean one thing — failure, and with it a long hard road might lie ahead.
Mark Worrall is one of ESPN FC’s Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @gate17marco