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“Will it be the same mistakes, Mr. Abramovich (or can we interest you in something else now)?”

March 7, 2012

The project didn’t even last a season. With Andre Villas-Boas’ departure comes another opportunity for Roman Abramovich to hover over the heads of high-profile coaches hoping that they’re tempted by the Chelsea Champions League challenge and the opportunity for greater wealth. The spoiled brats still remain and while Roberto Di Matteo will be the man to try and steady the team enough to qualify for next year’s UEFA Champions League, it will be interesting whether the new boss will inherit them or whether Abramovich removes any prior to a new arrival. Roberto Di Matteo may surprise and take Chelsea forward but in truth, such an idea is limited to an active imagination as Abramovich will likely eye up another big-name coach to bring success to Stamford Bridge. The ultimate success is the Champions League trophy which is craved by the club hierarchy but Chelsea would appear some distance away from having genuine evidence to back any belief that they could win Europe’s biggest prize anytime soon.

That’s not all that Chelsea wants. Not only do they want to accumulate trophies like Piers Morgan accumulates insults, they want to do it with a style, not just any style but one of panache and true footballing virtue. Andre Villas-Boas was hired with such ideals in mind. Having risen to prominence in double-quick time winning everything possible at Porto, he possessed the brain and perhaps more importantly, the image to front a bright and exciting new era at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea had already witnessed his meticulous planning first hand when he was a key member of Jose Mourinho’s backroom staff and he came with praise from all sectors for his man-management skills. The one question that was asked on multiple questions was his age and whether he would be able to command the respect of the senior players. This question never really went away. His CV was promising but it lacked the one thing that Chelsea craves: a winners medal of Europe’s premier competition. He had won the Europa League of course but Stamford Bridge is aloof these days. It’s all about that big jug, not the vase.

Of course, such an element is not the only reason why Villas-Boas didn’t seem to have the backing of the whole team. For a stronger perspective, you have to go back a few seasons.

Don’t worry, it is not going to be an in-depth history lesson. The simple thing is that Chelsea are now presented with a scenario they’ve already faced before. The departure of Mourinho undoubtedly had a deep impact although its depth has only appeared more apparent as the years have gone on. His approach saw Chelsea enjoy a level of success they had not had before, club or players. Avram Grant came in and effectively rode that a little further but it was never going to last without the required strength of character.

Abramovich appointed Luis Felipe Scolari, a man with ideals who would symbolise a new way for Chelsea. This gradually began to spin in a negative fashion and with poor results come doubt. The players inevitably were reticent to such different methods in the first place primarily because they had had relative success with the prior methods. Scolari did not wish to be a pragmatist and carry along with a similar style and therefore confrontation and disharmony was the inevitable consequence.

When Scolari left, the players were brought into question but with a pragmatic boost provided by Guus Hiddink, intense analysis was avoided. One of the great pragmatic coaches, Carlo Ancelotti took charge. A successful first season validated the players’ approach. The second season was the telling sign. Ancelotti tried but struggled to get out any more from the long-standing core of the squad. Andre Villas-Boas has unfortunately suffered the same fate as Scolari. It would appear evident now that Abramovich needs to apply the same ruthlessness he’s displayed towards coaches to players.

Villas-Boas was described as a “calculate gamble” and a “possible breath of fresh air”. It hasn’t paid off for him on an immediate level of impact but now Chelsea are presented with the chance to identify a style and identity. AVB’s short tenure may prove to have been an accelerant for this.

They have some players who will clearly play large parts in the sporting development of the first team: Juan Mata and Oriol Romeu are indicators of a fashionably attractive playing style. They alone are not enough but there are a fair few young players, the likes of Nathaniel Chalobah, Todd Kane and Nathan Ake, who will hopefully play big parts in the long-term future. The handling of Romelu Lukaku and Josh McEachran raised many an eyebrow (not an Ancelotti reference) but they will hopefully be afforded more game time over the coming years.

The next permanent manager will have an undoubtedly difficult task with having to bring through the next generation of the first team while maintaining the level of success that Chelsea have been accustomed to since the Russian billionaire bought the club. Roberto Di Matteo has the immediate challenge of guiding Chelsea to a top-four finish and maybe a trophy (the FA Cup seems certainly within reach). The former is vital to the club as when looking to who will be in charge for next season, should the reins not be kept in the hands of Di Matteo, they will target a big name. A big name coach will think twice before going into a job that is minus Champions League participation.

This season cannot be written off whatsoever in what frame of mind the future of Chelsea is perceived in by those involved with the club. However, the summer will see the biggest evaluation that the club has seen in a long time. This summer gives Chelsea the opportunity to go back to the drawing board and finally make a clear decision for the long-term: not what do Chelsea want but what do Chelsea need.

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