The next game Chelsea play in the Champions League will not be until at least 2017/18.
It's a damning proposition.
In that time, the Blues will be nomads, moving from the current rendition of Stamford Bridge to Wembley Stadium (or another temporary London home)—as their home of 111 years receives an over £500 million renovation, according to the Daily Mail's Oliver Todd.
Times are changing in SW6. They elected for a hard reset last December, sacking their club's best ever manager Jose Mourinho after a double in 2014/15. Whether expecting interim manager Guus Hiddink to earn them a top-four spot, win them the Champions League or some other lofty goal, the decision has worked to a point, but not magnificently.
When the Portuguese boss left, Chelsea were 16th in the Premier League. Now 10th, the Dutchman has aided in lightening Stamford Bridge's dressing room, but what owner Roman Abramovich gained in a calming influence, he lost in tactical prowess.
Mourinho is unarguably one of the world's foremost footballing minds. His relationship with players notwithstanding, there is an expectation of elite game management and preparation that came/comes with the former two-time Blues boss.
From the season's start, there was a lack of ambition on the club's part.
Maybe attempting to save money for their upcoming stadium, Chelsea's board was rather timid in the transfer market. Winning the 2014/15 Premier League by eight points, it seems they expected the current squad to compete again without too many additions, but were bitten by "Golden Badge Syndrome."
In the space of 10 months, defending champions morphed into mid-table drifters; it's an incredible story, if not free fall.
Branislav Ivanovic, in an interview with the Daily Mail's Matt Barlow, said:
We finished brilliantly last season. We won the trophy. We knew how difficult it was.
[Mourinho] told us the hardest season in football is the year after you win because everyone else has extra motivation. We were ready for that, but we didn’t start well and we lost control of our game, of our minds.
Without Mourinho, Champions League football, their stadium and the spine of Petr Cech, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and John Terry (who will not receive a new deal, per the Guardian's Dominic Fifield) to rely upon, Chelsea's identity under the Abramovich era has reached its turning point.
People say "you can't sack 25 players," well 25 players won't last at #Chelsea for 10 years, a manager can—if allowed to...— ChelseaTalk (@ChelseaTaIk) March 9, 2016
Some consider the Europa League consolidation. Climbing the table to six (or possibly seventh) is one route. The other is winning the FA Cup. In reality, Chelsea would be better off without the competition.
The advantage to missing the Europa League is three-fold. Firstly, players who have no intent on playing for the club due to situations they help manufacture can be sold. Secondly, it avoids the terrible/arduous Thursday-Sunday schedule. Last and, most importantly, it allows full concentration on English trophies.
Premier League intensity will increase next season with an improved top tier and middle class; having the ability to prepare for a week, not two or three days, is an oft-unspoken advantage (see Liverpool 2013/14).
An argument could be made the UEL provides another avenue for Champions League qualification and adds to your club's overall revenue, and they're solid claims. However, if a team cannot compete in its domestic league, thus placing all European hopes on knockout competitions—as Chelsea have this season—it isn't a great sign...rather disparaging.
The Blues have a monumental task on their hands.
They must acquire a new, robust manager, players who want to wear their shirt, retain those who might want to seek greener pastures elsewhere and all while complying with UEFA's financial fair play regulations. Add their rumoured and favourite choice for manager, Antonio Conte, via the Independent's Samuel Stevens, will have a short acclimation period because of his Euro 2016 duties with Italy and cause for concern abounds.
The list of mistakes Abramovich and his board made this season is extensive.
If there were a reset button, taking the west Londoners back to May, there are many things they would do differently:
- Not sending his players to Asia for a post-season tour.
- Not allowing an extended rest period afterwards.
- Not starting pre-season late.
- Not selling Cech.
- Not signing Radamel Falcao.
- Not having a summer net spend of £27 million, and on and on.
Chelsea have one competition to salvage something, but that victory has potential to ruin their rebuild—as the consequence (or "reward" depending on your sensibilities) for winning the FA Cup is Europa League qualification.
If this season was merely a blip, it was a costly one; should the Chelsea we've become accustomed to appear again, many were sacrificed.
If, however, the Blues are trending downwards—invading the same spaces Liverpool and Manchester United currently are—expectation will remain relatively high (because denial comes by the bucket-load), but nothing much will change.