Determining what’s wrong at Chelsea
Chelsea's Florent Malouda, left, and John Mikel Obi, right, vie for the ball with Newcastle's Yohan Cabaye. AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
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During the past few weeks it’s been obvious the overall vibe at Chelsea has been somewhat toxic.
The stalemate between the fans, the club’s hierarchy and manager Rafa Benitez has created a rift which has caused disunity at Stamford Bridge.
To add fuel to the fire, the media has not exactly been discreet about the current issues and it does not appear that these daily reports will stop in the near future.
It is difficult to grasp what exactly is wrong at the club and there seems to be a number of causes of these problems.
Some say Roman Abramovich is the cause, others say it is technical director Michael Emenalo.
Most fans say it’s Benitez, whereas the media believes it is the Chelsea supporters that are to blame.
The context of the situation makes it difficult to formulate a solution to the problems.
Since Abramovich purchased Chelsea Football Club in February 2003, the billionaire has invested more than AU$1.5 billion into it.
His money was invested in all facets of the club, both on and off the pitch, and as a result the club won league titles, cup titles, FA Cups and recently the much coveted Champions League.
It is without a doubt that it has been the club’s most successful period in its 108 year history and Abramovich is the sole reason for that.
His self imposed media ban often leaves the Russian misunderstood by the media. He is very much loved by Chelsea fans and rightly so, though along with the triumphs, the club has certainly had its fair share of controversies.
Abramovich’s lack of respect towards the game has been evident throughout his tenure as the Boss.
The way he has handled “business” at Chelsea in regards to manager dismissals, lack of disciplinary actions for certain players and the possible move from Stamford Bridge have been questionable and is a reflection of the negative reputation of the club.
Inappropriate behaviour by players, controversial refereeing decisions, along with racism and fidelity problems are only some of the issues that have marred the perception of the club to the public eye.
With these concerns along with the context of Abramovich’s wealth, the press would repeatedly portray the club in a negative light, often exaggerating their problems and depicting them in the media as the ‘enemies of football’.
In regards to the matters on the field, the main negative issue was the coaching carousel. The club has experienced nine different managers in the last ten years.
A Chelsea manager’s average tenure of twelve months makes it quite difficult to leave their impression at the club. Abramovich is quite ruthless with them and often a few losses on the board or no success at Champions League level will lead to their demise.
Some say he has every right to do what he wants for it is his club while others say it is ridiculous.
Each dismissal more often than not has been unjustified which has left many onlookers wondering what goes on in his mind. Most Chelsea supporters disagree with some of the managerial dismissals but have collectively defended him.
Roman’s passion for the club is matched by his investment and the fans acknowledge the importance to support him, until now. His latest managerial appointment has caused unrest with most Chelsea fans.
Yes Abramovich was ultimately the person that hired Benitez, but to be fair he does not control the Spaniard. The way he has handled himself both on and off the pitch at Chelsea is a testament to the man’s arrogance.
The hatred that blues fans have for Benitez dates back six or seven years when the two clubs duelled in heated Champions League encounters. At the time Benitez named the Chelsea faithful ‘plastic’ and has stated that players like Lampard and Drogba were overrated. He also further stated that he would never coach at Stamford Bridge.
In his first press conference as Chelsea manager, journalists gave him countless opportunities to apologise to the fans.
Benitez did not take the initiative and issued no apologies for his past comments, instead saying that at the time he was very passionate about being coach of Liverpool and he would not hesitate to say the same thing now, under the Chelsea banner.
The way he handled himself in that press conference solidified his arrogant personality. A two sentence apology could have made the difference between support and hatred but once again his pride was in the way.
Furthermore, Benitez showed his lack of sensitivity towards the issue when he stated that all he needed to do was to win and the fans would turn around and support his appointment.
True, the points would definitely have helped his cause with some fans but it seemed that all he was trying to portray to the media was that the supporters could be ‘bought’ with the illusion of winning.
More importantly, on the field he has showed no tactical prowess often with substitutions that have made people wonder if he knew what he was doing.
Furthermore losses at home against teams at the bottom of the table, a draw against a third division side in Brentford and the loss against Corinthians at the Club World Cup has obviously contributed to why the fans think he is simply incapable of being the manager.
The most important facet of football management is something that Benitez lacks the most. It’s the ability to get the players to trust him and to play for him which separates good managers from great ones.
Some managers might have lack of tactical experience or lack of talent in their squad but if they can inspire their players to believe in themselves and the cause it can eventuate to winning trophies.
Robbie Di Matteo is a perfect example of this. He won the Champions League and the FA Cup with possibly the least talented Chelsea team in the last six years, but he inspired them to glory.
Benitez is a man that does not show emotion, he’s a man that does not like to get close with his players and leaves the relationship strictly professional. It seems the way he manages the squad is the opposite of what the team needs at this point.
It has been noted in the press that the players know that his dismissal is imminent therefore the care factor towards him and his methods are low. Though still the problem does not lie solely on Benitez as he can only control the issues on the pitch and not off it.
As technical director, the role of Michael Emenalo is primarily football related. Issues such as managerial changes, player acquirement, selling players and contractual conditions are decided by him.
Even though it is Abramovich that ultimately approves these decisions, it is the responsibility of the Technical Director to advice him correctly so that Abramovich (who is not a football person) can make the right decision to benefit the team on the field.
Therefore Emenalo must be held responsible for lack of knowledge and mismanagement.
His experience to get to where he is today is very limited which raised questions as to how he obtained that position in the first place.
A former Nigerian international, Emenalo spent his years prior to Chelsea coaching an under 12′s girls side in Tucson, Arizona along with a volunteer coaching role at Virginia Tech University.
He was then hired by Avram Grant to be a scout and was promoted to Assistant First team coach when Ray Wilkins left the club which then led him to his current post.
His lack of experience has resulted in many issues for the team. The players are exhausted through the strenuous schedule because the roster is very thin. There are currently twenty three players out on loan and the manager seems to think that lack of personnel have reflected on the clubs negative results this season.
These loan moves were all approved by Emenalo.
Furthermore, the weekly debacle about player contracts for some senior players along with the lack of recruitment proves that this man is incapable of his position. When a player is unhappy whether it is because of the manager, club condition or their contractual situations, performances on the field will ultimately suffer.
It is important that when the player is on the pitch or training paddock that his mind is clear, this is the primary role of Michael Emenalo.
Simply, the facts show that he does not have the ability to handle his responsibilities.
Success in football is measured by the results on the field. For this to occur there are a number of factors off the field that need to be corrected.
Clearly the major problem at Chelsea is that they are not performing as well as they have been through the last decade, and for this, the Technical Director must fall by the sword. Though through the tough times it is the fans who provide positive support and passion that helps the players and the club to redeem itself.
But according to the media it is in fact the fans that are the cause of all the unrest at Stamford Bridge.
Through the past Chelsea fans have been known for their great passion through their chants, the atmosphere they create and most importantly the way they support the club through tough times. For most supporters seeing the club right now is barely comprehendible.
They have never seen this type of disunity before. Looking from the outside in, it seems that each negative result does not affect them as much as it used to.
The press blame the section of fans that are against Rafa Benitez for creating the negative atmosphere during games.
Though it is important to state that there are also a number of Chelsea fans who have chosen to see past the appointment and instead support the team on the field and not lash out.
These two sets of fans have caused conflict among each other and their disagreements contribute to the negative vibe at home games. The pessimistic support along with insulting songs and boos influences the mind of each player which in turn affects their way of play.
The underlying factor is that most of them feel betrayed by the Chelsea hierarchy. Most fans labelled the handling of Di Matteo’s dismissal as classless and the hiring of Rafa Benitez was seen as unforgivable.
It is no secret that Abramovich is the sole person that makes these decisions which in turn has caused some fans to aim their disgust at him as well.
Aside from what Benitez and the executives might think, it is not only wins that will solve this problem with the fans. They must feel part of the club, the passion must come back and they should feel included in the decision making.
The hierarchy knows who the supporters don’t want and not taking their opinion into consideration has proven to be the most toxic pill to swallow. The fans are the bread and butter and their support is imperative to Chelsea’s longevity and therefore they cannot be blamed for their ill feeling against the club.
Lately, the events at Stamford Bridge show a disconnection between the board and the supporters. There is no definitive answer to what is wrong at Chelsea at the moment. Right now the club is in a transition phase where old players and the old culture are being phased out for the next generation.
Proper leadership both on and off the pitch is vital to the success of this transition and at the moment the club has it all wrong. To ensure success at Stamford Bridge, Abramovich needs to assemble a team both on and off the field that can work as one.
First, the club needs a manager who can extract the best out of the players, who is tactically great and is able to inspire the team and the supporters.
Also they need a Technical Director with credible experience that is able to handle the issues at the club with professionalism and class.
Most importantly, once the correct people are acquired, Abramovich needs to trust in them and create stability at the club. This will get the fans on his side again and re-create the passion that they are known for.
It is time to create a new identity at Stamford Bridge and unite the club once again.