Chelsea didn’t embarrass themselves against Barcelona in the Champions League first knockout round. The Blues were excellent in the first leg, playing well, hitting the bar on two occasions. They gave the Cules everything they could handle. Few sides can do that. Unfortunately the second leg reminded everyone how much work Chelsea has to be able to play at that level consistently, to again rank among football’s elite clubs. A Lionel Messi masterclass at the Camp Nou eased Barca past the Blues 3-0. The defeat may have heralded the end for Chelsea boss Antonio Conte.
The maverick manager is expected to vacate his seat at season’s end. Incessant complaining about the board not supporting him in the transfer window has left him isolated and unwanted. Conte is Italian. He knows Rome’s history. While the bridges burned the Eternal City was sacked. Having set his own fires he will be treated no different. There is no way back for him after falling out with a number of first-team stars including Thibaut Courtois, Eden Hazard, and David Luiz.
The Belgian duo have dallied over signing new contracts at the club. Speculation is they believe the club’s ambitions don’t match their own. After winning the Premier League in fantastic fashion last term it was expected the club would strengthen and become a force to reckoned with in the Champions League. With the board and coach on different paths that hasn’t happened.
Names such as Luis Enrique and Carlo Ancelotti have been bandied around as potential successors. Whether that will convince Courtois and Hazard to stay is debatable.
Fans believe Chelsea must spend big, attract the best players available, and fix the administrative angle that has bedevilled Conte this season. The club’s hierarchy is rigid. Marina Granovskaia is perhaps the sole power broker as Roman Abramovich’s eyes and ears.
The Russian is no longer so ready to sign blank cheques. There is always friction between the manager and owner when it comes to player recruitment. Economic decisions to let Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic leave have been questioned. So has the quality of their replacements, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Alvaro Morata. Neither has made anyone forget their predecessors.
Abramovich made Chelsea the club it now is. That said, he can’t match the spending power of the Manchester clubs or Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Paris Saint-Germain. Chelsea look like a club in decline. They can arrest that slide by trusting more in their loan policy, promoting more players from their academy, and ensuring managerial stability in the dugout. Given the success he has enjoyed doing exactly the opposite it’s difficult to imagine the oligarch changing tactics now.
Chelsea is planning to expand Stamford Bridge. It will be a monumental project. Abramovich may open the door to joint ownership. His finances are not what they used to be. It would be a shame to see Chelsea become a team content with making the top four and winning the odd cup. There’s already a club in London that does that.
No new manager can work wonders without funding. It shouldn’t have come to this but Chelsea’s future isn’t bright.