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However, what was once a truism of the Blues, has gradually become outdated as Chelsea are actually one of the better run clubs in the Premier League.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.