Hire & Fire: A look into Chelsea’s managerial policy under Abramovich

Certain things in life are set in stone. The earth is a sphere, the sky is blue and a manager at Chelsea Football Club not sustaining after a maximum of three seasons. That has been the story of the West London club since Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2004. Chelsea’s hire and fire policy has become such a natural phenomenon that terms like “legacy” and “empire” are spoken in hushed tones at Stamford Bridge.

Knowing all this, the Chelsea fans still hope that their club will have its Manchester United legacy when one day a manager will go on to create footballing history for a decade. After winning the Premier League trophy last season, many felt that Conte is the perfect man to stay at Stamford Bridge for long term but the 2017/18 season has been a different story. Recently, Conte has been seen silent on the sidelines, players with their heads down after matched, and a general lack of positivity at Stamford Bridge. This is not a new phenomenon at Chelsea and such an atmosphere usually ends up with the manager walking out of the door.

With the wheels spinning in the same direction with the current manager of the club, Conte’s predicament at the moment is not surprising at all. When talking about ex-managers at Chelsea, Jose Mourinho still is the first name that comes to mind. The Portuguese tactical genius is still the most successful manager of the club winning three Premier League titles along with domestic cups and is also the only manager who took full-time charge of proceedings twice and ended up being sacked on both occasions.

The ruthlessness of Abramovich and the Chelsea board can be judged by Mourinho’s stints as the manager. If the board is not afraid to sack the club’s most successful manager and that too twice then it can be said with certainty that no one else is safe in the hot seat. In perspective, when Mourinho came back to Chelsea from Real Madrid in 2013, he often made the intent that after traveling to different destinations he was ready to settle at the West London club and work out a long-term plan.

In the 2014/15 season, he won the Premier League after the club was not performing well domestically. However, in the 2015/16 season when the title defence started to crumble, the Chelsea board, being trigger prone as they are, sacked Mourinho. It was something which the Chelsea fanbase couldn’t believe and left them in utter shock and contempt for the management. It was out of the realm of possibility that the board would let go of their most successful manager, a second time.

Italian manager, Carlo Ancelotti’s dismissal is another example of how short-minded Chelsea’s management are when it comes to success. A three time Champions League winner and a master at man-management, he was appointed as the manager of Chelsea in 2009 after a torrid time under former Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. Till then, Chelsea were known to be a team who played counter-attacking football and whatever accolades Chelsea had won, it was based on an impregnable defensive display and fast counter attacks.

Ancelotti made the team more fluid and during his time, Stamford Bridge saw one of the best attacking football. He led the team to a domestic double in his first season. In the Premier League, Chelsea scored a massive 103 goals and won the league in the last fixture of the season against Wigan Athletic with the scoreline being 8-0.

However, the following season did not go as well and Chelsea ended up being second in the table, 9 points behind Manchester United. Some would say this is not the worst title defence when considering the fact that Chelsea ended up in 10th place in 2015/16 under Mourinho, after winning the title the previous season. But this did not change the end result. Ancelotti also got the boot for not being at par with the board’s expectations.

Avram Grant who took over the club for only one season, 2007/08, took Chelsea to the Champions League finals and a second place finish in the league. After losing the final to rivals Manchester United in Moscow, Grant left the club. Scolari took over the club for the 2008/09 season. The Brazilian had a wealth of international experience winning the World Cup with Brazil in 2002. Prior to the time of his Chelsea appointment, he was managing the Portugal national team. However, his Chelsea tenure was forgettable as Chelsea once again ended up in third place in the league.

During the campaign, defeats to Manchester United and Liverpool at home, which ended the Blues’ 86-match unbeaten streak at the Bridge, did not go down well and he was sacked after 244 days since the day of his appointment. Roberto De Matteo, even after delivering the holy grail that is the Champions League in 2011/12, did not earn the trust of his employers. The same can be said of Rafael Benitez after he won the Europa League the season after. Including Conte, a total of 10 managers have been appointed under Abramovich.

It can be very well understood that winning silverware in a particular season is merely not enough for the Chelsea management. For them, the manager has to win consistently and even a blip of inconsistency will see them cut the chord. There are debates and arguments regarding the fact whether the methods that Chelsea adopt are viable in the long run. To give the management the benefit of the doubt, this methodology, like it or not, has contributed towards Chelsea being one of the most successful clubs in Europe and definitely in England.

Under Abramovich, Chelsea went from being a club which was trying to enter the elite, to a club who are regularly in contention when it comes to winning trophies. The oligarch’s money has got Chelsea to where they are now and brought an unquenchable thirst for trophies to the club. A case can be made that this kind of hire and fire method could be justified in the early days when Abramovich bought the club. At the time, Chelsea needed a way in which they could make their mark on the Premier League. They have already passed that stage. With the elite club status already being established, Abramovich should focus on constructing a stable environment around Stamford Bridge and not go for quick success.

However, seeing the current mood in West London and Conte’s current situation at the club, it does not seem that things will be changing anytime soon. It is not only the board who are contemplating whether he should stay beyond this season or not, but the Chelsea fans are also calling for a new manager come next season. Falling outside the top 4 this season after winning the title last year is nothing short of a catastrophe for the club management and the fans.

Managers who have fared better than Conte have been sacked before. The trigger-happy culture has fortunately or unfortunately seeped into the fans who are equally impatient when it comes to success. Sure, they cried out in unison for a legacy when Conte won the Premier League last season, but those voices are silent today.

The board seems to have made it clear from their actions that they are not willing to take the tough path towards building a dynasty at Stamford Bridge. What is expected are trophies and on a consistent basis. Fourteen years is a long time and it can’t be argued that in these 14 years, the current system did not benefit the club. From winning the Premier League back to back under Mourinho to lifting the Champions League in Bayern Munich’s backyard, Chelsea fans can hold their heads up high because the club has gone through an unprecedented period of success regardless of the way the club was run. The board is unforgiving and cold-blooded when it comes to managers, but till now the case can’t be made that this method has been a failure.

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