It may be erratic, but it’s hard to find fault with Roman Abramovich’s win-at-all-costs philosophy. Unless, of course, you happen to be a football manager by trade.
The billionaire Chelsea owner has been through nine managers since he bought the club nearly 10 years ago (Rafael Benitez is his 10th) and has blown to smithereens both pound notes and the notion that stability in the managerial position is necessary for sustained success.
The Blues have qualified for the Champions League in each year of the Abramovich era; two different managers have delivered three Premier League titles; another won them the Champions League, and four have lifted the FA Cup. Add to that a pair of League Cups and you’ve got 10 major honours between 10 managers in 10 years, assuming they don’t win a trophy this spring.
No other team in England has packed its display case so full of silverware over the last decade. Manchester United are second with nine trophies.
Given that sort of record, Abramovich has no reason to part with the managerial merry-go-round that has been at least partly responsible for it. But the approach of one decade isn’t necessarily the best advised for the next, and given the group of players Abramovich has spent the last few transfer windows assembling—particularly the type of players he’s been buying—a less unpredictable strategy would seem to be more useful going forward.
In David Luiz, Ramires, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, Abramovich has the spine of a team that looks to be capable of replicating the success of its predecessor. But where the old guard—namely John Terry, Claude Makélélé, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba—required pragmatic or even conservative tactics, this new group is in need of something different, something less practical and more spontaneous. Someone along the lines of Borussia Dortmund’s Jurgen Klopp, Swansea’s Michael Laudrup or Wigan’s Roberto Martinez.
What’s definite at this point is that Rafael Benitez, or someone of his ilk, is the wrong man to take this Chelsea side—this Chelsea 2.0 of the Abramovich era—forward into its next phase. And while the team assembled for José Mourinho had the mental fortitude and, most importantly, experience to maintain a high standard under successive managers, the current side is more creative than pragmatic and considerably less seasoned, particularly in the Premier League.
In other words: What they require is a manager who can guide them as they grow up as footballers together.
The last thing Oscar needs, for example, is to be in and out of the squad during his first few months in England, at the age of 21. And the last thing Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Josh McEachran need is to be loaned out, spending what should be their formative years apart from players of the same age who should be their teammates.
Imagine a Chelsea squad consisting of Thibaut Courtois in goal; Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Gary Cahill and Ryan Bertrand (or even the likes of Dejan Lovren and Luke Shaw, as have been rumored in the Daily Express and Daily Mail, respectively) in defense; Ramires and one of McEachran or John Obi Mikel (or, perhaps, Marouane Fellaini) in central midfield; Juan Mata, Hazard and either Oscar or De Bruyne in the creative positions and Lukaku in attack.
Cahill, at 27, would be the elder statesmen of that team; no one else is over 25.
The potential that group of players has to play flowing, attractive football should be enough to make any Chelsea supporter salivate. And they only need one thing to bring it all together and into the second decade of Abramovich stewardship: a long-term manager tasked with turning that potential into reality.
You can argue that the shadow of Mourinho lingered at Chelsea long after his exit, that it was his team that won the title in 2010 and the Champions League in 2012. But a new sun is rising over Stamford Bridge, and with it a new generation of Chelsea players and a new philosophy that must be implemented to get the most out of them.