Where Now For Chelsea?
Where were you when the news of Scolari’s sacking broke this afternoon? I saw it on facebook, followed by a text message from a friend who works at ESPN. I can honestly say that the decision by Roman Abramovich and the Chelsea board has stunned me, after only 7 months in charge at Stamford Bridge. Did I see it coming? Not all, I commented last month that Chelsea weren’t playing well in my opinion and had little chance of catching Manchester United and Liverpool in the race for the Premiership but to remove Scolari so soon caught most people I know by surprise, even the Chelsea fans I know were shocked over the events. I don’t think anyone expected Aston Villa to be surging past them as we entered February but thats the state of the top 4 in the Premeriship come Sunday evening. I know the fans were booing the Chelsea team, for about the third home game in row but lets be fair, Chelsea should be destroying teams like Hull City and Stoke City, no offensive Tigers and Potters fans, but for you both to have almost stolen wins at Stamford Bridge is unthinkable in modern Premiership history.
Only gaining 3 wins in the last nine Premiership matches is surprising, but to only score 9 goals in that period too tells you a lot about what Chelsea’s problem is. This is an old team, with very little quality in depth if any of the first 11 get injured. Of course the first team is, on paper, one to rival most sides in Europe but I shudder to think what the current Barcelona side would do to them on present form. A team with no real wingers, only two top quality strikers one of whom clearly doesn’t want to be there, 8 central midfielders and no young players banging on the door of the first team squad. Scolari seems to have to have had his hands tied with no new players coming into the side since Deco’s arrival in the summer until Ricardo Queresma joined on transfer deadline day. Quite what he makes of things right now, heaven only knows.
The loss of Michael Essien became a major burden, his effervescent performances have been the driving force for Chelsea over the last 3 seasons and the midfield failed to sizzle without his power and strength to take games by the scruff of the neck. To chase games, Scolari consistently turned to Belletti, a wing back who occasionally filled in at Defensive Midfield. Chelsea have the most expensive youth and scouting network in the world but it hasn’t delivered any players of any note coming in, unlike Manchester United and Liverpool. John Obi Mikel has shown he is no Essien, or even a half fit Claude Makelele. Teams had worked out how to stop Chelsea by pushing on to Bosingwa and Ashley Cole and packing the midfield, narrowing the playing field even more than normal. Once Manchester United had gone to Stamford Bridge and stopped Bosingwa and Cole pushing forward, the rest of the Premiership realised that if you could do that, Chelsea had no Plan B under Scolari.
Chelsea, lacking players comfortable on the wings, were suffocating themselves with an overloaded midfield and running consistently in to dead ends. Steve Clarke has never looked more important to Chelsea’s recent history as he does today, if anything the reason Chelsea did so well last season after Mourinho left was Clarke’s presence on the training ground in the majority of Avram Grants time as manager. Clarke’s hunger to move onward saw Chelsea lose a major asset that they probably didn’t appreciate in the boardroom as much as the players did on the training ground and in the dug out.Over recent weeks, his importance to the Chelsea cause shouldn’t underestimated.
So where now for Chelsea, who can come in a give this team a lift. The team needs a major overhaul, this is an aging side that needs extensive surgery in most areas of the team if they want to compete at the top end of the European football table. I would rule out Guus Hiddink immediately as I can not see Abramovic testing his popularity in Russia by stealing the national team manager, He may be joint favourite with the bookmakers but the Russian connection would rule him out for me. Sven Goran Eriksson is another one I can’t see coming back to England from Mexico, though he would have the experience to deal with the ego’s of the dressing room after his time at Lazio when they were throwing money around like confetti at the turn of the century.
The two big contenders for me are Frank Rijkaard and Roberto Mancini, both recently employed at two of the biggest clubs in Europe at Barcelona and Internazionale respectively. Neither has a contract to break, can start immediately and can cope with the massive burden of expectations from thousands of fans. Mancini took over at Europe’s most consistently underachieving side with Inter and Rijkaard took over the worst Barcelona side in living memory in the Summer of 2003. Both are used to big players and their ego’s and entourages, big demands from fans and chairmen and consistently challenging the biggest sides in Euope for the top prizes. Both delivered in the following seasons but both saw their reigns snatched away from them, Mancini was cruelly treated for Inters failure in Champions League whilst Rijkaard lost the dressing room war between the Ronaldinho and Eto’o camps. That shouldn’t detract from either mans suitability with the job but I’d wager a couple of pounds on a cheeky flirt with Jose Mourinho in this season of comebacks and returns!! Ultimately though, the key to Chelsea’s problems lie with the Chairmans willingness to sanction a wholesale clear out in the Summer. They need hungry young players to add to the likes of Ashley and Joe Cole, Bosingwa, Lampard and Anelka, get some width to the side and get them playing football with a bit more canniness to it, to have more than a plan A. For Chelsea to succeed again, Roman Abramovic has to fall back in love with the Chelsea blue.