Over the past month, Chelsea had seemingly manoeuvered their way through another crisis. Performances had improved, results too. A push for the Premier League top four seemed a real possibility. And then the Blues went to Goodison Park…
Defeat to Everton was difficult to take. For the first 45 minutes, Chelsea were sharp, vibrant. That they didn’t go into the break ahead was unfortunate. The second period was, however, the antithesis of what preceded it. And the home side deserved their 2-0 success.
Pressure is back on Maurizio Sarri. There are even reports the Italian could be dismissed during the international break. It would be, even for Chelsea, harsh to dismiss the 60-year-old coach. It wouldn’t be a surprise, though. It would simply be another short-sighted decision.
Take the eleven which started against Everton, for example. Three were signed with Sarri at the helm. Five were brought in under Antonio Conte. One is a memento of José Mourinho’s second stint in charge. And two arrived while Roberto Di Matteo basked in the glory of a Champions League win.
These four coaches all have different styles, different football philosophies. A player that works for one, may not for another. And that is the problem with Chelsea in 2019.
Sarri, for the most part, is a craftsman working with someone else’s tools. He is far from blameless for Chelsea’s failings – Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi are constantly and bizarrely omitted from the starting XI – but the Blues have bigger issues.
Chief of which is their inability to squad build. It is a fine art, especially for a club on a budget, which Chelsea undoubtedly now are. There needs to be a constant voice, a firm hand on the wheel. Coaches can come and go but the plan doesn’t change.
Of course, all three were chewed up and spat out by the Blues and Emenalo resigned at the end of 2017. He wasn’t replaced, however, with club director and trusted Abramovich aide Marina Granovskaia placed in charge of transfers.
Granovskaia’s power at Stamford Bridge is unmatched. She is the deal maker, the contract negotiator, both in a commercial and footballing sense. What isn’t clear, though, is who identifies the talent she then attempts to bring to west London.
Take the case of Christian Pulisic. The American was signed by Chelsea from Borussia Dortmund in January but won’t arrive until the summer. It was not a deal done at Sarri’s behest. The Italian made that clear.
“I didn’t know anything about Pulisic until yesterday,” Sarri told reporters the day the deal was announced. “The club asked my opinion about him around a month ago. My opinion was positive. Today I have found out that the deal is done… but I didn’t know anything.”
Who then made the final call to sign the 20-year-old? Granovskaia? It’s unclear. At least there was some dialogue between the Blues hierarchy and Sarri but if the Italian is dismissed at the end of the season – and that is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility – there is no guarantee a new coach will fancy Pulisic.
The same can be said for Marcos Alonso and, to a lesser extent, César Azpilicueta. Both Spaniards signed new long-term contracts this season – the former is tied to Chelsea until 2023 and the latter until 2022 – and Granovskaia, not Sarri, was the voice of the club when the deals were announced.
Yet again, though, there is mystery over who deemed their pair worthy of new contracts, especially given Alonso’s failings at full-back and Azpilicueta’s clear decline.
What it means, though, is that either Sarri or a new coach will be stuck with the pair and a talented youngster’s path, such as Reece James, may be blocked.
And this all feeds back into the art of squad building. Decisions cannot be made on a whim. Players should not be signed as quick fixes. Contracts must not be handed out without careful consideration.
There must be a clear path clubs follow, a way to navigate through transfer windows effectively to build a squad that suits the coach in charge. Liverpool have this with Jürgen Klopp and Michael Edwards. Manchester City with Pep Guardiola, Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano. Tottenham with Mauricio Pochettino and Daniel Levy.
Chelsea don’t have that structure in place and haven’t done for several years. It’s why the squad is a mismatch of players from previous managerial reigns.
And until a long-term plan is put in place and an individual charged with overseeing it – in all likelihood after the club’s transfer ban – the Blues will continue to struggle. It’s that simple.