Chelsea: Sarri seems to be the hardest word…

With Chelsea in managerial limbo, are we seeing signs of a fundamental change in how the club is run?

REUTERS/Toby Melville

There is a different feel around Stamford Bridge than we have grown accustomed to. 

A topsy-turvy season culminated in an FA Cup trophy for Antonio Conte’s Blues. However, with his uninspired side sliding to a fifth-placed finish in the league – subsequently missing out on Champions League football for the second time in three seasons – Conte’s end-of-season departure has been the worst kept secret in football.

His days looked number from as early as January. A poor run of goalless games were underlined by back-to-back thrashings at the hands of Bournemouth and Watford in the league, with Conte displaying the characteristics of a man who knew his days were numbered. The passion had gone, with the Italian looking a shadow of the man who lifted aloft the Premier League title eight months previous.

So, the season ends on a high and the media await the news of Antonio Conte’s departure. One day passes after another with no announcement coming from the powers that be at Chelsea. 

Most peculiar.

Peculiar in the sense that Chelsea have always been a side keen to make quick, snappy, often cutthroat decisions. Keen to move from manager to manager in order to climb the next mountain. 

So what is different this summer?

You put your Sarri in, your Sarri out...

The most obvious reason why Conte's departure has been stalled would point towards the contractual tussle occurring between Chelsea, Napoli and Maurizio Sarri. 

Sarri looked set to take the reins at Stamford Bridge with bookmakers pricing the Italian as short as 1/4 to be named as Antonio Conte's successor. However, money has proved to be the ultimate stumbling block in gaining the signature of the 59-year-old. 

A £7 million release clause binds Sarri to Napoli even after they announce their successor, leaving Chelsea with no option but to stump up the cash if they want to bring the Italian to West London.

Take this £7 million and add on the £9 million that it would take to terminate Antonio Conte's contract at Chelsea. It's already turning into an expensive decision.

Reuters/Andrew Couldridge

Since Roman Abramovich's arrival in England just under 15 years ago, Chelsea's managerial hirings and firings have been simple - if not ridiculous. Each manager has either been sacked during the season or on the last day of the season - paving the way for their successor so seamlessly slip into the hot seat. 

Payouts including £6 million for Claudio Ranieri back in 2004 have set the tone for how Chelsea have decided to do business in the Roman era. This season, however, sets a whole different precedent.

Sure, £16 million for a Conte-Sarri swap sounds a lot, but it's what we have become used to as Chelsea fans - why should it stop now... 

Chelsea's age of austerity

Under Abramovich's reign, Chelsea fans and the media have often been left to do their own sums and own research in order to fathom what on earth is going on behind closed doors.

With this in mind, when we are given a snippet of information, we are justified in jumping to conclusions surrounding the health of the club as a whole.

Let's take a look at the recent facts:

  • Chelsea are unwilling to depart with £7 million for their desired managerial choice.
  • Chelsea are waiting on another club to sign Conte (Real Madrid), in order for them not to pay the £9 million compensation.
  • Chelsea have halted the building of their new reported £1 billion stadium due to “current unfavourable investment climate”.
  • Chelsea's net spend over the last four seasons has plateaued.

Chelsea fans shouldn't take for granted the amount of money that has been pumped into the club since 2003. With mounting debts and the club on the verge of falling down the English ladders, Abramovich has transformed this club into a super-power with unlimited potential.

However, after years of repeated success (1 European Cup, 5 Premier Leagues, 5 Fa Cups, 3 League Cups, 1 Europa League), does now seem the perfect time for Roman to begin to balance the books?

Understanding Chelsea's financial situation in detail would require unprecedented access, multiple degrees and a week in a darkened room. However, with the Manchester clubs and Liverpool setting the pace for spending over the past few seasons, Chelsea's approach may have to be reconsidered, with expectations lowered.

Roman's troubles

Since buying Chelsea Football Club in 2003, Roman Abramovich has been a revelation in West London. 

Investing close to £1.2 billion during his tenure at Stamford Bridge, the Russian oligarch has paved the way for foreign investment in British football clubs, treading the path for a majority of the Premier League to be gobbled up by foreign money.

15 years is a long time, however. Are we finally seeing a spat in the successful love-affair between Chelsea and their Russian owner?

REUTERS/David Klein

It would appear not, even though Abramovich has been forced to hurdle a number of stumbling blocks in recent years with his current UK visa issues proving the hardest of them all.

The Russian is moving to Tel Aviv after gaining Israeli citizenship with his British application taking a beat seat for now. This will allow him to visit up to six months at a time, without being allowed to work in the UK legally. 

This isn't the issue - the issue is Roman's desire to invest further in Chelsea Football Club is this distance in further enforced. 

The £1 billion stadium plans have been shelved for now, but who's to say it won't be put on the scrapheap forever if Abramovich is continually refused a UK visa?

A blue future

So what happens next?

Over the next season or so we should be able to gauge the health and future of Chelsea Football Club as one of the biggest names in world football. 

Contracts of some of their star names are running out - talk of Thibaut Courtois and Eden Hazard leaving are never far from the back pages - and as long as this managerial Merry-Go-Round continues there doesn't seem to be a direct solution to growing issues.

A year without Champions League football next season should allow Chelsea to have a better run at toppling Man City in a race for the title. 

However, already behind in signing players this summer - Arsenal, Liverpool, Man United and Man City have already added artillery to their growing squads - Chelsea may have to swallow the bitter pill of mediocrity for a few years to come.

Do you think Conte will still be Chelsea manager at the start of next season? Comment below...

  1. Poll: Who will be Chelsea's manager in August?

    1. Antonio Conte
    2. Maurizio Sarri
    3. Luis Enrique
    4. Laurent Blanc
    5. Other
    134 votes
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Lewis Watson


London-based football writer and former boxing editor, with a specialised eye for sports betting. Featured on Betfair, BetVictor + others.

A Munich pilgrim to witness Chelsea winning their maiden European Cup.