Five league titles, five FA Cups, three League Cups, one Uefa Champions League title and a Europa League honour; Chelsea’s trophy haul since their 2003 takeover by Roman Abramovich has been impressive. In fact, it makes them the most successful side in England over that 15-year period, just edging Manchester United.
They won’t be the best team in England over the next 15 years however, and given that they had a head-start of five years over the team that will — Manchester City, who were taken over by Abu Dhabi owners in 2008 — you have to ask yourself if the South London club should have done even better with their lot.
Any success story will tell you it takes time and stability to reach your true potential, and over those 15 years Chelsea have had 15 different managers, no thanks to their rash Russian owner.
Trophies can mask a whole host of inadequacies, and you may say coaches today are lucky to get two or three seasons, let alone the 20 to almost 30 we’ve seen endured by Alex Ferguson at United or Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. However, if only Roman had given at least one of those 15 coaches a fair run, Chelsea would not only have been twice as dominant in the past, but also far better set up to take advantage of the future — especially during that window of opportunity where Fergie’s reign was coming to an end at United, and Pep Guardiola’s was just beginning at City.
Chelsea’s 3-1 defeat away to Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday says it all.
The immediate reaction from Chelsea fans is that Spurs are a finished article, with coach and players having been together five seasons, whereas Chelsea are still a work in progress under new coach Maurizio Sarri.
Spurs have come close but haven’t won anything in their time together under Mauricio Pochettino, that’s true, whereas Chelsea’s last trophy came just six months ago with the FA Cup under Antonio Conte.
All this may be relevant, yes, but when will Chelsea fans stop comparing themselves to their half-baked London rivals, and stop using that perennial ‘work in progress’ line? They should have been a behemoth of a club by now, but instead they are forever taking one step forward, two steps back.
The season Roman bought Chelsea, City were just arriving back in the Premier League with Kevin Keegan and Shaun Goater after a seven-year low that had seen them reach their lowest ebb of third tier football. Chelsea by comparison had been up and buoyant since 1989, but despite a five year head start on investment, Chelsea have since been out-lapped by City, who are now the team of the future, with their entire set-up moulded around Guardiola’s long-term rule.
Chelsea by comparison are a sob story, a tale of what might have been if only they’d married patience with sense. As much as Abramovich has been a blessing to Stamford Bridge, he has also been a curse for his inability to let anyone work under him without untenable levels of interference. The seven point gap that has now opened between both clubs — and widening — stands as an example for which path future owners should take.