Chelsea’s conflicting priorities sabotage club’s long-term success – ESPN FC (blog)

Posted: August 18, 2017 at 12:44 pm

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Alison Bender and Liam Twomey look back on the latest from Antonio Conte, as he endures a tough start to the season.

There is not a single doubt that Roman Abramovich's reign as owner has seen the fortunes of Chelsea Football Club soar to unknown heights. Every conceivable trophy has been won while the club's global profile has been elevated to sit among the cream of football's aristocracy.

But no relationship is without its flaws and one of the common threads throughout the last 14 years has been the quest for something beyond merely winning. After Jose Mourinho led Chelsea to their first English title in half a century in 2005 and backed it up with another the following year, the need to win in a certain style suddenly became all-important.

The vanity purchases of Andriy Shevchenko and Fernando Torres each came soon after a title was claimed, but instead of ushering in a period of dominance the team's top-flight supremacy was undermined on each occasion.

In the past few years the focus has switched to winning trophies while also turning a profit. Ostensibly the route towards this is by buying young players with potential who will either make the grade at Chelsea or be sold on for a tidy sum.

While this policy looks good on paper, in reality it presents a paradox. Trying to climb the summits of the Premier League and Champions League without constant reinvestment is like trying to scale Everest without crampons. It just isn't going to happen.

Financial prudence and the nurturing of young players is a noble pursuit though the Chelsea board are kidding themselves if they think it will lead to sporting nirvana at the same time. Either trophies or youth development can be realistically targeted, not both.

The last two decades have seen Chelsea supporters experience an extraordinary roller coaster of a journey. Given the relatively scant amount of silverware in the Stamford Bridge trophy cabinet prior to the last 20 years, most fans that remember what it used to be like should be able to accept the odd fallow period now and again.

But Abramovich does not do fallow, so whenever standards start to slip the fall guy is inevitably the unfortunate manager. Carlo Ancelotti was the first under the Russian to start genuinely blooding young players with Gael Kakuta and Josh McEachran featuring. But the crime of finishing second a year after securing the club's first and only double saw him summarily dismissed in the players' tunnel at Goodison Park.

The start of Mourinho's second spell at Chelsea seemed portentous after it was made clear that part of his brief was to provide a pathway for youth products to graduate to the senior side. Indeed, in 2014, he even asserted that so promising were Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Lewis Baker, Izzy Brown and Dominic Solanke that they were destined to play for England.

Within 18 months, Mourinho had been sacked by the club for a second time with none of those players having been provided sufficient opportunity to make an impact on the first team.

The aims and practices of the club seem to continually conflict. Instant success is targeted that precipitates significant outlay on major signings such as the arrival of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa in 2014 and N'Golo Kante, David Luiz and Marcos Alonso in 2016.

When success is subsequently acquired the club board then tighten the purse strings and demand that the team's exploits are repeated under completely different conditions.

The same seems to be happening this summer. True, Chelsea have spent the substantial figure of 130 million on Alvaro Morata, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Antonio Rudiger. But given the 60m received for Oscar in January and the 40m for Nemanja Matic, as well as the proceeds from the sales of Nathaniel Chalobah, Nathan Ake and others, the actual investment is not all that high. In any case, that trio have essentially just replaced the exiled Diego Costa, the departed Matic and the ageing John Terry.

Neither the first team nor the wider squad have been materially strengthened. At the same time, Chelsea'a brightest prospects such as Loftus-Cheek and Baker have once again been loaned out, making a mockery of their policy of promoting youth. The consequence is that Antonio Conte has been stripped of the resources to successfully defend the title, whether via his preferred route of signing experienced campaigners or by fielding homegrown talent.

In Friday's news conference ahead of the trip to Spurs, Conte was asked whether he regretted the club's decision to sell Chalobah and loan out Loftus-Cheek. His long pause and refusal to answer the question spoke volumes.

If history has taught us anything it is that Conte will be the one to carry the can if Chelsea's house of cards collapses. Everyone will know, however, that it is not the Italian that is ultimately to blame.

Phil is one of ESPN's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @PhilLythell.

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Chelsea's conflicting priorities sabotage club's long-term success - ESPN FC (blog)

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August 18th, 2017 at 12:44 pm

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