With Matic sold and Costa in Brazil, it's far from clear who calls the shots at Stamford Bridge
What’s amiss at Chelsea? At the end of last season they had just walked away with the Premiership and under the impressive aegis of Antonio Conte, seemed set for further success in the new season. Instead all at the moment is chaos.
Suddenly we find a Chelsea squad deprived of the towering midfielder Nemanja Matic, whose forceful presence in central midfield has quickly been shown to be badly missed. He has gone to a grateful Manchester United, but seemingly to the displeasure of Conte, who for some reason, not easily apparent, has been overruled by the powers that be.
Since Chelsea are bankrolled by one of the world’s richest men in the shape of Roman Abramovich, surely there could no question of financial pressure. With the season barely begun it already became plain that Chelsea are missing him badly. So why was he sold; and over the head of an aggrieved manager?
Then there is the case of Diego Costa. In this case, Conte is surely far from blameless. He has made it known that long before last season ended he had decided Conte would be on his way. But why? Clearly it was because relations between them had broken down; since Costa had ended the season with no fewer than 20 league goals, the top scorer, it could scarcely have been for tactical or technical reasons.
In the event, Costa has been left in limbo – and in his native Brazil – having unsurprisingly refused the offer of having to train with the juniors.
It has also become quite clear that senior members of the Chelsea team are very much on his rather than on Conte’s side which clearly means a potential breakdown in relations between star players and manager. Bookmakers with their odds have plainly decided that Conte is in danger of dismissal. Something that happens all too often and all too quickly to Chelsea managers under the regime of their Russian owner.
Mind you, the Chelsea team that lost to a Burnley side with an abysmal away record last season was without one of its star turns, Eden Hazard, but on his return which Hazard will we see? The dazzling attacker who terrorised last season or the Hazard of the season before who seemed to be a burden rather than an inspiration?
You do wonder who is really calling the shots at Chelsea. A formidable Russian lady stands high in the hierachy. Then there is Michael Emanalo, once a Nigerian International footballer, years ago appointed as a coach by Chelsea although it was reported at the time that the only such job he had so far occupied was as coach to a women’s team in the United States. It was reported that Chelsea’s Italian manager at the time, Carlo Ancelotti, sitting beside him in the dugout, simply ignored him. Yet there he is, having climbed high up the hierachy.
This was never going to be the easiest of seasons for Chelsea anyway, since they are engaged in the European Champions Cup with its midweek demands. Last season there was none; not even in the lesser European competition. Chelsea’s dismal failure the previous season had arguably worked in their favour. Ah, football, with its infinite unpredictability.
Television money continues to pour into the Greed is Good League, so much of it going into the deep pockets of foreign players, let alone foreign managers. There are only some 30 odd English players in the Premiership, yet last summer the achievements of England’s junior teams, best of all the triumph in the World Cup Final of youngsters in South Korea, suggests there is no lack of native-born talent. But an acute lack of places for them in Premiership teams.
Club managers inevitably, not least when they come from abroad, are fixated on their own positions, recruiting foreign stars who ensure they stay in office. How strange to think that for so very long a foreign manager of an English club seemed almost chimerical.
I don’t find Gareth Southgate an inspiring England manager; the last two performances of his team were abysmal. But how can he promote even the most promising of English players when they are denied a place in their clubs’ first team.
Here again we come to the phenomenon of Chelsea with their splendid scouting and coaching systems; leading where? This summer Conte has sent out a host of gifted youngsters on loan. Boys who no doubt joined the club with stars in their eyes. What waste!