Revolution at Chelsea! Blues will build on appointing new boss Graham Potter to a five-year deal at Stamford Bridge with an overhaul of the club’s key roles following a summer spend of £250m in bid to catch Manchester City
- The decision to sack Thomas Tuchel was made before defeat by Dinamo Zagreb
- Graham Potter was brought in to replace the German on a five-year contract
- Potter’s appointment is intended to bring upon a period of long-term stability
- Chelsea will revamp their backroom staff to accommodate the new philosophy
The discussion in the Chelsea boardroom on Monday was fraught. There was a nagging concern. Chelsea were facing Dinamo Zagreb in their opening Champions League game the next day and would likely win. Quite possibly, they would win well. Yet the decision had already been taken to sack Thomas Tuchel. How would it look, the board pondered, to sack a manager after a decent, victorious start to the Champions League?
They need not have worried. Chelsea continued in the same vein as they have done all season, following on from the defeat against Southampton and the fortunate win against West Ham, where VAR was their saviour, with a 1-0 defeat in Zagreb.
The following morning the deed was done and yet another Chelsea manager was sent packing. At least he lasted 15 months after his Champions League victory, seven months after winning the Club World Cup. Roberto Di Matteo only got six months after his Champions League win in 2012.
Graham Potter had been shortlisted as the next Chelsea boss before Thomas Tuchel’s sacking
Tuchel, despite his short time at the club, had become a Chelsea legend. But one of the reasons for acting quickly was that Graham Potter was unlikely to be available for long. Chelsea felt that, should Gareth Southgate leave England after the World Cup in December, Potter was the shoo-in candidate. ‘You can’t keep getting the results Potter is getting and not get snapped up,’ said one source.
Yet whoever you talk to around Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali, they all insist that this is not the way they want to do business. Indeed, what they are aiming for is something distinct from the Roman Abramovich era: long-term stability with a manager who buys into their project. It is just, at present it seems as though they have an odd way of showing it.
Chelsea under Potter is intended to be a different model. Best-laid plans and all that, especially with the new head coach being untested at the top level, but the appointment is intended to be measured in years rather than months. Hence the five-year deal when a more judicious approach might have been three years with a break clause. But the Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola tenures are the aim, rather than the 18-month rise and repeat cycle of the Abramovich era.
Tuchel was sacked just 15 months after bringing the Champions League to Stamford Bridge
The initial first 100-day analysis of the new regime is that, despite the 2021 Champions League win, they are far behind Manchester City and they want to catch up. The £250million spent this summer is designed to accelerate that.
But there is more work to be done. Commercial and sponsorship departments are being strengthened, co-ordinated by the Tom Glick, the new president of business, whose previous job was president of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, where he helped upgrade the impressive Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, a trick he will now be expected to repeat at Stamford Bridge. He has also been chief commercial officer of City Football Group and was CEO of Derby.
A sporting director will follow soon. It is less likely to be Michael Edwards, the former Liverpool sporting director. He had been in discussions with Chelsea but seems to favour taking more time to plot his next move. Paul Mitchell at Monaco is the kind of candidate the club might go for but interviews are ongoing. The relationship with Potter will be key and the new executive will have to work with Kyle Macauley, who has been Potter’s eyes and ears as his own head of recruitment since his time at Ostersunds.
Owner Todd Boehly is implementing a series of reforms behind the scenes at the club
The club will have balance the needs of the coach with their own long-term desires. They are clearly hoping those two visions will coincide. But the necessity of the sporting director appointment is fully appreciated by Boehly, who stepped into the role in the summer but is said to have no desire to continue.
Though Tuchel might have thought at times that Boehly was the archetypal American owner playing Championship Manager — it seems this was at the heart of the relationship breakdown — those who know the man insist this is not the case. Glick is expected to build the club’s structure in other areas where Chelsea have been lacking. There will be an elevated role for data, with an executive akin to the role Ian Graham has at Liverpool as director of research.
The Premier League clubs most admired by the Boehly team are those that have a full grasp of how to use data with coaching and football knowledge to allow teams to punch above their weight.
Unsurprisingly, Brighton is one such team and Brentford is another. Both have owners with backgrounds in professional gambling in Tony Bloom and Matthew Bentham, so analysing statistics is what they do. That is not far removed from Boehly and Eghbali’s background in asset management and investment.
On taking over in June, Boehly and Eghbali were excited about teaming up with Tuchel. But a ‘palpable discord’, to use the phrase once employed to describe Jose Mourinho’s relationship with club executives, was apparent early on. ‘Maybe he just wasn’t Todd’s kind of manager and Todd wasn’t his kind of owner,’ said one source.
Pre-season should have been a launch pad for the new executive team and manager, but instead proved an aborted take-off. The 4-0 defeat by Arsenal in Orlando, followed by what seemed to be a grump from Tuchel — ‘It’s the same players, so why should everything change?’ — was said to have been received terribly by the board. They felt they had an adversary rather than a partner.
Boehly has assured on-loan midfielder Callum Hudson-Odoi that he still has a place at the club
Now it remains to be seen whether Potter is the man they think he is. Certainly Boehly and Eghbali want to invest in youth and Potter would seem ideal for that. When Callum Hudson-Odoi — another cast aside by Tuchel, pushed to go out on loan — Boehly met with him to explain that he would not allow a buy-on clause in the contract with Bayer Leverkusen.
Hudson-Odoi might have been forgiven for giving up on his Chelsea prospects under Tuchel, but Boehly made it clear that Chelsea had not given up on him. They see the academy and young players as integral to the model.
That is also why they have invested in youth, in Carney Chukwuemeka, 18, and Cesare Casadei, 19. Look beneath the surface and they have built-up their collections of young prospects. Goalkeepers Eddie Beach, 18, from Southampton and Gabriel Slonina, 18, from Chicago Fire, left-back Zak Sturge, 18 and striker Shumaira Mheuka, 15, both from Brighton and Omari Hutchinson 18 from Millwall have all joined to supplement the Under 23s.
Despite having risen through German academies, Tuchel did not appear to be a committed believer in the Chelsea academy, Mason Mount and Reece James’ successes notwithstanding. Tammy Abraham was sold and, £110m later Chelsea, are on their second centre forward.
The aspiration to connect the academy and first team is nothing new. The disconnect between the dream and reality of the need for Premier League points now has been a graveyard of many a manager there.
Now Potter takes on that challenge. He is most definitely Team Todd. Whether their unity will survive the pressures of the Premier League and Champions League is moot point. Watching them try to make it will, though, be fascinating
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