Chelsea have spent a reported £274 million on new players and changed managers since the end of last season, yet they somehow contrived to make their team worse. That is some achievement by the club’s new owners, a consortium led by Los Angeles Dodgers part-owner Todd Boehly. But for now at least, it is manager Graham Potter who is shouldering the brunt of the criticism for poor results and uninspiring performances.
That’s how it always goes, and Potter, whose team are eighth in the Premier League, seven points behind fourth-placed Manchester United, will be under no illusions that his fate will always be directly linked to results on the pitch. Right now, the results are grim (two wins in seven, including four defeats) and with two games against Manchester City this week — in the Premier League and FA Cup — it could get much worse before it gets better.
When Potter arrived from Brighton as the successor to the sacked Thomas Tuchel in September, the Chelsea hierarchy, led by co-owner Boehly, sold him their vision of a new Chelsea. It was a club that would look to the long term and plan accordingly, which would embrace a more collegiate approach and allow the bright young coach time to impose his methods on the squad.
The old Chelsea of Roman Abramovich, which saw managers hired and fired as often as they won big trophies, had apparently been consigned to the past. But perhaps that idea was as naïve as Chelsea’s recruitment has been since the change of ownership. That naivety is now beginning to make Potter’s job so much harder. The 47-year-old is struggling to get a grip of the challenge of managing a club as big as Chelsea and he needs help, but he is not the only one learning on the job at Stamford Bridge.
Boehly has overseen Chelsea’s player recruitment and the change of manager personally since taking control of the club in the summer, and even his biggest fan would struggle to suggest the team are in a better place following his six months in charge.
The recent hiring of former RB Leipzig technical director Christopher Vivell to a similar role at Chelsea should bring expertise to the football department, but in the immediate term, Potter is still having to deal with the hand he has been dealt by Boehly: an imbalanced squad which is overloaded with defenders and desperately short of goal scorers. The manager can be blamed for failing to get many of his players to perform to expectations, but it is debatable that he would have signed many of them in the first place.
Mark Ogden worries for Chelsea’s season after a disappointing 1-1 draw at Nottingham Forest.
During the 1-1 draw at Nottingham Forest on Sunday, Chelsea looked like a team that had been thrown together with no coherent plan or strategy. And that isn’t far from the reality.
Potter had nothing to do with the club losing Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen as free agents to Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively during the summer. Boehly was also helpless to stop the defenders leaving the club, but the new owner did sanction the loan departure of £97.5m striker Romelu Lukaku to Inter Milan and Timo Werner‘s £25m permanent return to RB Leipzig. That left Chelsea without a recognised goal scorer until the last-minute decision to sign 33-year-old Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for £10m from Barcelona at the end of the summer transfer window.
Boehly also oversaw the £171m outlay on defenders Kalidou Koulibaly (£33m), Marc Cucurella (£63m) and Wesley Fofana (£75m) after launching his regime with the £47.5m signing of England winger Raheem Sterling from Manchester City.
The club are now hoping to sign RB Leipzig forward Christopher Nkunku and defender Josko Gvardiol, though sources said Chelsea have already agreed a £32m deal to land 21-year-old centre-back Benoit Badiashile from Monaco. They also are prepared to trigger 21-year-old Enzo Fernandez‘s £106m release clause at Benfica after the Argentina midfielder starred at the World Cup.
Under Boehly, Chelsea have overpaid for the majority of their signings, and none of them have yet done enough to justify the outlay. All of the above suggests a new owner playing fantasy football rather than a club having a clear strategy of what is needed in the transfer market. Potter has kept a dignified silence on player ins and outs so far, but with Chelsea having a goal difference of plus-2 and Sterling and Kai Havertz their leading scorers in the Premier League with just four goals each, it is clear where Chelsea’s priorities should lie during the January window.
Potter has been hired to coach the team and leave the player recruitment to others, so he will have to work with what he has and what those above him believe he needs. But there are too many question marks over this Chelsea squad and too many players who aren’t delivering. Potter must take some responsibility for that, and he simply has to do better with the tools at his disposal, but his bosses also need to do better.
Football is littered with clubs and owners who think that throwing money at a problem is the quickest way to success, but those that succeed are usually the ones who get value for money with smart signings, not expensive ones. Potter will inevitably pay the price if Chelsea don’t learn that lesson, but he won’t be solely responsible if it doesn’t work out for him at Stamford Bridge.