At the beginning of the season, Andre Villas-Boas was handed the impossible task of achieving big success with an aging squad, while retooling that squad to continue their success over the coming years. Even success in the form of trophies has not protected Chelsea managers in the past, so it was no surprise that the struggling
Villas-Boas was sacked on the heels of a 1-0 Chelsea defeat to West Brom. With the sacking of AVB, owner Roman Abramovich is now looking to find his eighth manager since taking over the club in 2003.
Throughout his time at Chelsea, AVB was given perhaps the toughest test of all when compared to his predecessors. In just his second full season of top-flight management, Villas-Boas was expected to win meaningful games with a squad full of players close to his own age. Ten squad members had their beginnings with the squad come during their most successful stretch under Jose Mourinho, and as the squad grew old together they reverted to the tactics preferred by their former manager, rather than those AVB was attempting to implement.
In his eight months on the job, Villas-Boas was only allowed to bring in a handful of new players to the squad, with five of his signings breaking into the Chelsea first team. His signings have also largely been successful with Juan Mata quickly becoming one of the fan favorites at the club and Oriol Romeu turning in performances impressive enough to capture the attention of his former owners Barcelona. With the signings of Romelu Lukaku, Thibault Courtois, Lucas Piazon, and Kevin de Bruyne, seen largely as deals for the future, it appeared that AVB’s plan of developing a younger squad was in progress.
In the end, AVB was let go for £9 million in compensation and a squad largely responsible for his exit is now left to fight for next season’s Champion’s League spot. While the short term success of the club has been sacrificed, it is hard to imagine that Abramovich has a comprehensive idea of where the club goes from this point. Uncle Roman’s most influential purchases with the club have been largely regarded as two of the club’s worst, Andriy Shevchenko and Fernando Torres have combined for 12 goals in 84 matches.
Uncle Roman has also failed to address the failure of the youth system which has failed to produce a consistent first team player since John Terry’s debut in 1998. This has to be seen as the biggest failure of Abramovich’s tenure. Despite investing heavily in the new Cobham training facility, a similar investment was not made in creating an academy system that has been successful at clubs like Barcelona. Abramovich has also failed to spend money at crucial times, notably during Carlos Tevez’ transfer saga with West Ham and a reported done deal with Sergio Aguero that fell through at the last minute. For an owner that has made an impact through his spendthrift ways, it was surprising to see resistance in the face of these relatively small investments for the club.
In order to succeed going forward Chelsea need to improve in several areas. First of all, Chelsea cannot be afraid to continue spending money on big name players. While their most recent big signing Fernando Torres has continued to befuddle managers and pundits alike, this trend will not continue as long as future purchases are panned and supported by both management and ownership. Secondly, Chelsea must hire a manager for the long term and stick with him. This trend of extreme managerial turnover has not brought the highest level of success desired by the club and this trend will continue under the guidance of managers with limited time to succeed.
Thirdly, an investment in young talent must be made across the board. The most immediate way to revitalize the team would be by signing a big name young player along the lines of Neymar or Ganso. Investment must also be made in the academy system and Chelsea must use their considerable resources to attract the most talented young players around the world. Considerable investments in youth coaching and talent could go a long way towards making Chelsea successful in the long run.
Finally, Chelsea must now begin to phase out their “Golden Generation.” Despite the high levels of success achieved by the likes of Terry, Lampard, Drogba, and others, they have become far too comfortable in their positions. Their permanent status in the squad has become a distraction for all incoming managers, who are forced to compete with their dominating locker room presence while installing new tactics that may take time for a new team to adapt to. Their past contributions to the club cannot be denied, but their continued contribution has to come into question now that the club is in danger of finishing the season without a trophy and out of Champion’s League qualifying.
Overall, Chelsea is at a crossroads where a decision is necessary. They can continue to hold their managers to impossible standards and possibly achieve limited success with their current aging squad, or they can make a full re-investment in the club while giving an incoming manager their full support. Ultimately, Uncle Roman cannot expect the same level of success experienced under Jose Mourinho, unless he is ready to make a similar investment in the club. Regardless of what short-term moves are made, Chelsea must invest heavily in their academy system if they want to build the type of club that enjoys long term success.