Chelsea’s consistency at being able to win silverware in the Roman Abramovich era is often met with bafflement.
A club whose direction lies within their strength in the transfer market; spending inordinate amounts of money from one season to the next while chopping and changing managers with equally reckless excess.
That method shouldn’t work: there are too many moving parts, both within the personnel of the squad and in the dugout, to ensure any kind of sustained presence at the top.
However, what was once a truism of the Blues, has gradually become outdated as Chelsea are actually one of the better run clubs in the Premier League. Abramovich’s patience will always err on the thinner side because he’s a demanding individual, but structures are in place to soften the blow of removing the man in charge of day-to-day team affairs with such regularity.
The concept of a Director of Football still sends shivers down the spine of many football followers in England; an alien idea originating from somewhere in deepest, darkest Europe that has no place in the traditions of the “country that gave the world football”.
As a result, Michael Emenalo’s (above) existence at Chelsea will always be viewed with suspicion. Except the last four Premier League champions have all had directors of football – Emenalo, Jon Rudkin (Leicester) and Txiki Begiristain (Manchester City). Without delving into the relative merits of each individual, it is becoming clear it’s a prerequisite for success in the modern game.
Just one of many reasons why Arsenal fans must wince when Arsene Wenger makes such mocking declarations as, “Is it someone who stands on the road and directs the players left and right? I never understand what it means.”
Further casting the Gunners into the past after once being one of the great forward-thinking coaches. To answer Wenger, what a Director of Football does is to ensure continuity at a club: from the academy through to the first-team and even the manager, there is consistency in recruitment.
That then ensures that no matter who the coach is in the dugout, the club is moving forward, rather than starting from scratch with each new appointment.
With the financial might of each Premier League club, it’s borderline irresponsible to hand sole control to a manager who may not last more than a season in charge. They rarely have long-term interests at heart, and why should they when their position is so uncertain.
In Chelsea’s case, with Abramovich’s track record in terms of his managers, providing a safeguard against the Russian’s whims and constant upheaval is proving invaluable and enabling them to stay at the top, in a domestic sense at least.
Different clubs have different needs but remaining on a stable footing financially and in a sporting sense is a common goal everyone can relate to. Such joined-up thinking has also been the case in a transfer market where the Blues once resembled Floyd Mayweather at his local Bentley garage.
'I hope we can surprise people, that there is a small flame flickering that can grow into a blazing inferno.’ - Antonio Conte, July 2016. pic.twitter.com/XyPycxfJ5S— CHAMPIONS! 🏆 (@ChelseaFC) May 13, 2017
Chelsea are third in terms of expenditure over the last five seasons (£507m) but no club in England has recouped more in player sales during that time (£320m) with their net spend of £186.8m less than City, United and Arsenal.
Compare that with Abramovich’s first five years where £377.6m was spent, £85.4m raised in sales, leaving a big red number of £292.2m.
There are murmurings of disquiet in the British media between Antonio Conte and Emenalo over summer transfer targets: Alvaro Morata v Romelu Lukaku being an apparent bone of contention. Conte favours Morata due to his time spent with the Spaniard at Juventus, and Emenalo, Lukaku.
Not apparently because he is the more obvious direct replacement for China-bound Diego Costa but because it’s apparently a personal mission by the DoF to prove to Jose Mourinho he was wrong to cast the Belgian aside. (Note that time-honoured tradition of media spin against Emenalo, even in the event of further success).
But, if it should be true, disagreement and discussion is an inevitable consequence and precisely what Abramovich should want in order to reach a compromise and what is best for the football club.
It’s all common sense management, and something Chelsea will continue to reap the benefits from.
Sergio Romero is ready to fight to be Manchester United No1 – and finish his career at the club.
The Argentine keeper was brought in by former boss Louis van Gaal in 2015, but his first-team opportunities have been limited.
But, with David De Gea linked with a summer move to Real Madrid, Romero could have a chance to prove he can be first-choice, just like he has been for his country where he is Argentina’s most-capped keeper with 87 caps.
Real Madrid want two of these galacticos: Mbappe, De Gea, Griezmann, Lewandowski or Dybala. Long summer ahead... pic.twitter.com/R0W8HNBVIO— Guillem Balague (@GuillemBalague) May 6, 2017
Boss Jose Mourinho has promised to play him in the Europa League final against Ajax and plans changes for games against Spurs today, Southampton on Wednesday and then home to Crystal Palace next weekend.
And Romero, 30, would welcome the chance to impress as he said: “I work every day to play and when I arrive in the weekend and I don’t play, I go to my house [feeling] down.
“But I have, inside, the power to continue, to fight every time because I am the No1 in Argentina, this is my position, this is my mentality, my level.
“For David, when my level is high, David’s level is high. I have confidence in David, David has confidence in me and this is really important for us. We fight together for the best for Manchester United.
“I came here for the No1 position, but I know what my reality is now. I am the second goalkeeper and I work every day for my possibilities.
“When I can play, I prove and show and demonstrate how capable I am, that I can do this job.”
With just five Premier League appearances, Romero has been restricted to cup games.
But he added: “I never considered leaving, no. Because this club is so big and I am very happy to stay at this club.
“When van Gaal called me in 2015, I was in Argentina and he said ‘do you want to come to Manchester United and be the first or second goalkeeper?’ And I said yes, it’s a big club and I want to go there and want to win with this club. I have two more years left on my contract and I am here.
“But I want to stay here for 10 years, I want to finish my career here.”
While he has won Olympic gold with Argentina in 2008, and taken part in successive Copa America final losses and the World Cup final defeat to Germany in 2014, Romero says people in his homeland are surprised.
“People are surprised I am here at Manchester United, never mind being the No1 or No2,” he said, reflecting on a career that has seen him play at Dutch side AZ Alkmaar, under van Gaal, and Italians Sampdoria.
“Because when you play in the small teams like I have done all my life, I am surprised.
“For a long time I am the keeper for the national team, but I am happy with my life. I have my wife and my two children and this is my power you know, and I fight every day to be in the team on a Saturday or Sunday. I want to continue like this for the rest of my career.”
Romero admits he is “really happy” to hear Mourinho will stick with him for the must-win Europa League final with the victors gaining entry to next season’s Champions League.
But he is also conscious that he needs to be playing regularly to ensure he remains Argentina’s custodian for crucial World Cup 2018 qualifiers in August – and then the finals should they claim a spot in Russia.
At the 2014 finals, he kept his spot despite similarly not starting for Monaco.
“Yes, I know it’s the World Cup next year and I am here and know I need to work a lot for my confidence, for the team’s confidence and the next year I don’t know what will happen,” added Romero.
“I want to go to the World Cup with the national team to Russia, but it’s one year [away].
“I have confidence in me and when I play I am searching for the confidence of the manager and the players. And when I arrive after the match in the dressing room all the players say ‘well done Sergio, fantastic’. This is my mentality. I am strong with this. Maybe I don’t play for two months, but I am ready for this match.
“To win the Europa League will be the best present to celebrate a successful year. It’s like a badge of distinction, a badge of honour.”
Even if De Gea goes, though, United will bring in a top-class replacement. But Mourinho also believes United have another talented stopper on their books in Joel Pereira and is ready to give him a game before the end of the season.
He said: “We need three good goalkeepers. We have two good goalkeepers, experienced. Spain national team goalkeeper, Argentina national team goalkeeper, and we have a young boy that for me is going to be the Portuguese number one [Joel Pereira]. He is just 20, born in the club, made in the club.
“Joel is fantastic and I am going to give him a chance to play in the Premier League this season. In one of these three [remaining] matches I am going to play Joel, so we have three fantastic goalkeepers, two plus a young one. But a club of our dimension cannot gamble, we cannot have one good one and one ordinary one. That is what top teams have to do.”
But as he vowed to rest players for the final game against Palace – ahead of the Europa League final – he was not concerned about the prospect of punishment from the Premier League even though his actions could affect the relegation battle.
“No,” he said. “I really hope that everything is decided so we are not part of that because if we are, I am so sorry. I am going to rest.”
Riyad Mahrez’s penalty slip ensured Manchester City did not take a tumble of their own in the Champions League race, moving third with a 2-1 win over Leicester at the Etihad Stadium.
On the fifth anniversary of their first Premier League title win their 2012 hero Sergio Aguero was restricted to a late cameo but a penalty from his heir apparent, Gabriel Jesus, and David Silva’s opener left City with the points.
Shinji Okazaki gave the Foxes hope with a stunning volley before half-time but when Mahrez had the chance to level from the spot 13 minutes from time, he lost his footing and touched the ball into his standing leg.
The effort somehow still ended up in the top corner but referee Robert Madley spotted the infringement and chalked off what would have been a fitting reward for Leicester’s unexpected comeback.
Below is how we rated both sets of players.
Willy Caballero 6
Vincent Kompany 7
Nicholas Otamendi 6
Gael Clichy 6
Yaya Toure 7
Kevin De Bruyne 6
David Silva 7
Raheem Sterling 7
Leroy Sane 8
Gabriel Jesus 6
Sergio Aguero for Sterling 78′, Pablo Zabaleta for De Bruyne 82′, Jesus Navas for Jesus 90′
Kasper Schmeichel 7
Danny Simpson 6
Yohan Benalouane 5
Christian Fuchs 6
Ben Chilwell 7
Riyad Mahrez 6
Wilfried Ndidi 5
Andy King 6
Marc Albrighton 6
Shinji Okazaki 8
Jamie Vardy 6
Daniel Amartey for King 68′, Islam Slimani for Okazaki 73′, Demarai Gray for Albrighton 80′
Faced more defensive duties in the second half, but was an attacking spearhead in the first, creative, cunning and cavalier. Getting better with every game.
Guardiola says he won’t change the way his team plays, but maybe they need to be a bit more streetwise and know when to slow down the pace.
Cruising, confident, they were cantering to an easy victory at 2-0. Instead, another defensive lapse allowed Okazaki the space for his stunning strike and City were rocking after that.
Had Mahrez not slipped on the penalty, they would have let slip a two-goal lead and the loss of two precious points. They were also fortunate Kompany was at the back to keep his side focused in a nervy closing stages.