Last week, Chelsea defeated Manchester United by a lone goal and all is right at Stamford Bridge, at least until the Premiership resumes this weekend. The hammer that hangs over manager Antonio Conte’s head will never really go away. Yes, he won the league title for this team last season but in this campaign, he has to outperform or at least equal last season’s achievement to keep his job. That is the managerial life at Chelsea and the reason is simply this; the club has spent good money to get trophies and that amount of money spent has not cohered with the time it requires to build a consistent winning system.
Chelsea has spent about £2 billion since Roman Abramovich bought the club. When you spend that kind of money, you can’t simply entertain bad days or mood swings. Both the fans, the investor and yes, the media demand that you win no matter what. Winning is evidence that you are successful but success, elusive as it is, is not a destination, it is a journey. It takes the process of time to be successful. It is that process that nobody wants to wait for any more and that is why Chelsea have hired and fired eleven Managers since 2004 (well, about that number. Some have had second comings and reincarnations).
A new manager will bring his own style to the club and a few players that would suit it. This change, especially with the quality of players coming in, can get you results but what happens is that other teams study and imitate your style after a while. If you get a run of bad results, your style is questioned, even when you won a trophy with it. The players start to question you, and at dawn, you are out of a job. Ancellotti, Mourinho , Di Matteo all won trophies but their styles were questioned the season after successful campaigns and they were fired. They were given no time to recover from a bad patch, especially after spending something like £117.3 million in Ancellotti’s case, proving that time honoured rule that whatever you throw money at to get, will always demand more money.
The time when teams were ‘built’ seems to have ended, most teams are bought now – complex assemblages that rival the imaginations of many a fan who is familiar with creating his dream team on Football Manager or FIFA ‘17 – and that is why the crazed European transfer market currently seems to defy the conservative whims of economics. What is even crazier is that football followers seem to be pining for successful teams which, history suggests, takes time to evolve, where they have only created result oriented teams which simply requires a cash splashing bonanza. Chelsea is the case study for the time being but other clubs have caught the fever, most notably Manchester United – fans demanding for the “United way” of playing football when Jose Mourinho, a man who seems to be the logical conclusion of the Football Manager generation, is the manager.
If you want results, throw money at it. If you want a successful system, give it time. Managers are going to keep getting fired for bad patches in form until football returns back to its process oriented roots and not simply seek ‘results.’
In a way, the current reality in football is a symptom of wider trends. This is the jet age and we want everything instantly, food, money, social status, so it is probably wishful thinking to hope that the current state of things change anytime soon.
While this fast lane football living goes on, we will enjoy the banter.
Tega is Nigeria’s top female sports journalist, and can be found doing analysis on NTA, Supersport and Smooth 98.1 FM in Lagos.