New Manager. Same Old Chelsea?

In April Chelsea announced that they had reached a deal to sign Werder Bremen striker Marko Marin. The deal was said to be around £10 million. It came at a time when Chelsea’s managerial job was still undecided, Andre Villas-Boas has been removed from the job and the fate of caretaker Roberto Di Matteo was still unclear. This raises the question of who is behind these transfer deals at Chelsea? But more importantly when a new manager is brought in will he be given the freedom to choose the players he wants?

It has been a common theme throughout the Roman Abramovich era that transfers have been arranged without the input or knowledge of the manager at the time. Jose Mourinho was said to be less than impressed when Andriy Shevchenko and Michael Ballack were brought to the club without his approval. He was then forced to play a striker in a system that didn’t suit him, and pick change his preferred formation to accommodate Ballack. The whole incident caused a rift between ‘the special one’ and Abramovich which would fester into a situation that became unsustainable. Jose would leave the club the following season. Graham Taylor commented on the situation at the time: “Once you take away the authority the manager has in signing players, you’re on a slippery slope.”

The situation was like that of Fernando Torres and David Luiz arriving in the 2011 January transfer window. It is unclear if manager Carlo Ancelotti was aware that the two players were arriving. Like Mourinho with Shevchenko, Ancelotti was forced to play Torres due to the large transfer fee (£50m) and as a way of keeping Abramovich happy. In the end it didn’t suit his tactics and that in turn forced Drogba to the bench. Ancelotti tried to squeeze both Torres and Drogba into his side when they faced Man United in their Champions League quarter-final first leg. They lost the match 1-0 at Stamford Bridge and then lost the return leg 2-1 where Drogba started on the bench (Drogba scored an equalizer for Chelsea when he came on). At the end of the season Ancelotti lost his job despite finishing in second spot and winning the double previous season. His inability to get the best out of Torres could well be one of the reasons for his sacking.

The trend continued this season when, even before Andre Villas-Boas was announced as manager, the club had already signed Belgium striker Romelu Lakaku for £18m. The striker has hardly featured this season following his big money move. Obviously failing to impress Villas-Boas. Lakaku has now gone on record saying he will “never forgive” Villas-Boas for how he has treated him this season. He was left out of the Champions League squad in the group stage even though the club was short of striking options.

So far Abramovich has approved the signings of a number of young prospects. Who is deciding that these players are worthy of Chelsea is anyones guess. Although most fingers would point to Chelsea technical director Michael Emenalo. He appears to be overseeing the deals that brought a number of players to the club. At the moment the only prospect who looks likely to feature in the future for Chelsea is Thibaut Courtois. The 19-year-old Belgium goalkeeper has just enjoyed a successful season with Altetico Madrid, helping them win the Europa League. He will be seen as a long-term replacement for Petr Cech.

How other signings will fair at the club seems less clear. Young Mexican striker Ulises Davila was signed for £1.75m in Aug ‘11 then loaned to feeder Dutch club Vitesse. He’s joined there by 19 yr old Czech defender Tomas Kalas who was signed for £5.2m in 2010. The highest profile signing has being that of 20 yr old Kevin De Bruyne, bought from Genk in the January transfer window for £6.7m. And even he is unknown name outside his native Belgium. The issue over these players is that they were signed without an idea of fitting into a managers vision of a Chelsea side. But rather were signed solely for their playing potential. Which may not be a bad thing, but without a clear direction or playing philosophy in place, signing every young prospect out there seems counter productive.

While Chelsea are still celebrating their triumph in the Champions League over Bayern Munich, the issue of who will be managing them next season remains unresolved. Whoever comes in will want a say in who is brought into the club. As their history shows the current direction of bring in players against the managers wishes is unsustainable. The club may have finally won the Champions League but to repeat the feat again with this same squad would seem highly unlikely. Abramovich brought in Andre Villas-Boas because we wanted to change the playing style of philosophy of the club. To do so does not happen over night and that aim is not helped when a manager is not trusted to bring in his own players.

Roberto Di Matteo is the sentimental favourite to take over the Chelsea job. But it seems that despite the win in Europe Abramovich remains unconvinced. Bigger names will be linked to the job- Pep Guardiola, Laurent Blanc, Fabio Capello but whoever gets the job the question remains- Will it be a case of new manager but same old Chelsea? Or will the Champions League victory finally allow Abramovich to trust the judgment of whoever he brings in.

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