For those concerned about the sanity of Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali, rest assured. There is some humility 10 months into their ownership of Chelsea, in the week that saw Graham Potter sacked and Frank Lampard reinstalled.
‘It’s a f***ing mess, of course it is,’ said someone close to the executives this week. ‘No one is pretending this was the plan.’
The leadership at Chelsea are not so insulated from reality in their respective Santa Monica and Connecticut billionaire lairs that they are unaware of the perception of them in the European game, that of big-talking Americans strolling into town and flashing the cash.
The old Bundesliga acronym for dealing with the Premier League — SEM (Stupid English Money) —may have been replaced by SCM (Stupid Chelsea Money) yet the ownership are unperturbed, notwithstanding that they recognise this short-term crisis and wish things had turned out differently.
Their judgement is at stake, given that they decided, with the wealth of data at their disposal, that Potter was the coming man in coaching terms, a generational talent. That he now appears not to be leaves them back at the beginning as they consider the merits of Julian Nagelsmann and Luis Enrique. They will be aided by a plethora of technical and sporting directors in Christopher Vivell, Paul Winstanley and Laurence Stewart. Chelsea should coin a collective noun for directors of football.
Behdad Eghbali and Todd Boehly are not so insulated from criticism of their spell at Chelsea
A loss on the road at Wolves will be immediately followed by a tough test in Madrid
The attempt to reinvent the wheel has needed some adjustments. Boehly and Eghbali came into their new sporting franchise convinced that it was better to get a coach on the way up than a more experienced hand who had been spat out by rivals. Now they acknowledge it may be better to take a coach who has been there and done that, even if it means the shortlist might not look any different to Tottenham’s.
Nagelsmann will appeal because he has big-club and Champions League experience as well as looking like the best 30something coach in European football, despite his patchy form at Bayern Munich this season. Enrique has been around a bit more, overseen a treble of Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League at Barca and either overachieved massively or failed dismally with Spain, depending on your take. Either of these still look the smart choice for the summer.
Nevertheless, Lampard is admired and not just because of his revered status at the club. It is felt he was harshly sacked before, though it would take a Roberto Di Matteo-like charge to a Champions League win to get him the chance to oversee next season. Up against Carlo Ancelotti and Real Madrid buoyed by their 4-0 Copa del Rey semi-final win against Barcelona, that seems unlikely.
There may also be fringe benefits with Lampard. Chelsea want Mason Mount, their academy poster boy, to stay but can’t agree terms and he has to be sold with one year left on his deal. If anyone can convince Mount it is surely Lampard, who immediately promoted him to the first team when he took over at Chelsea in 2019.
Frank Lampard’s reinstallation took many by surprise but may yet have fringe benefits
Graham Potter ticked many boxes for the club, but in the end, there were too many bad results with too little direction
The story of how Chelsea came to invest so much in Potter and then ended up selling right at the bottom of the market perhaps stems from trusting the advice of others rather than having their own team in place. Though criticised for Thomas Tuchel’s sacking, the relationship between coach and owners had become pretty toxic.
With Potter, that was never the case. He ticked all the boxes in terms of developing young players. This week’s decision is said to have been stressful simply because he has been such a good colleague. Ultimately, though, the Chelsea chiefs began to feel like they were the only people at Stamford Bridge arguing that the manager should stay. However, the new owners recognise the need to take fans with them on the journey and clearly, with Potter in charge, they appeared to be travelling in divergent directions. The only thing that bound the ownership to Potter was that to sack him would be to admit a mistake.
They would have ridden that out had their confidence in him remained. You can take bad results if the direction is right. By the end, it felt as if they had the former without the latter, though Potter would say that if you spend £600m and are left to deal with a first-team squad of 35 players, it may take time to fashion something beautiful. It is possible Chelsea have banished the artist just as he was grounding the canvas to prepare a masterpiece. But Boehly and Eghbali could no longer see the bigger picture he was painting.
Yet they believe the rest of the takeover revolution is going to plan. Despite Chelsea losing £121m last season — and £600m spent since — Boehly and Eghbali insist the club will comply with UEFA’s and PL financial fair play rules.
Chelsea expensive and bloated squad – featuring also-rans like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – has set the club hierarchy up for a necessary fire sale in the summer
As desired as Mason Mount is by Chelsea and their fans, selling him might be good business
And they will need to sell in the summer. Rivals anticipate a fire sale, knowing Chelsea have to balance their books. How well the new sporting directors hold their nerve may well determine the success of this venture or not. The easiest players to move on for good money would be Mount and Conor Gallagher.
They insist this isn’t a retreat from their commitment to the academy but if those two leave, along with Callum Hudson-Odoi, it will mean that 19 years of hard work building up a youth policy under Roman Abramovich will have been cashed in, adding to the sales of Fikayo Tomori and Tammy Abraham for £60m. Hard cash trumps romance. And Levi Colwill will be back next season to play alongside Reece James.
The strategy of buying young talent in the hope of future dividends is undimmed. Chelsea believe that market is undervalued and they don’t need all their young starlets to become superstars to reap a reward. Whether they need 60 or 80 per cent to come good is a moot point.
Seasoned scouts suggest the hit rate on talented 19-year-olds becoming world-class is more like 25 per cent. Awarding eight-year contracts really isn’t a trick to get around Financial Fair Play rules. Initial salaries are low, so those that don’t work out will be relatively easy to move on. That said, one of football’s oldest adages is that it’s easier to buy big than sell big.