Chelsea must break out of transition

Posted by Phil Lythell

Frank Lampard, Eden HazardPA PhotosFrank Lampard and Eden Hazard represent the changing face of Chelsea

With the end of the 2012/13 campaign a matter of weeks away, Chelsea are approaching a crossroads in terms of their immediate future.

How they finish this campaign will obviously have a huge bearing on their summer activity with a new manager on Roman Abramovich's shopping list along with a few new faces to continue the development of the first-team squad. In that regard, Champions League qualification is essential. After all, somebody of the ilk of Jose Mourinho that sits on top of the managerial tree simply does not do the Europa League. That competition is left for those seeking to forge a reputation (see Andre Villas-Boas) or those trying to restore one (see Rafael Benitez). The Champions League is where it's at and a failure to return among Europe's elite would incur significant repercussions on the club.

The last two campaigns have been designated as being part of the transition between the old team and the next generation and as a result it has brought a scattergun array of highs and lows. For all the sixth-place finishes, provocative managerial appointments and home defeats to QPR there have also been the victories in the Champions League and FA Cup as well as the arrival of Eden Hazard and Oscar's world-class talents. These peaks and troughs are part of a transition - even Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United occasionally go a season without a trophy – though one thing that must be avoided is allowing bloody mindedness to ensure that the club is constantly in the midst of such a period. In other words, Chelsea cannot be allowed to turn into Arsenal.

With Abramovich's desire to see Stamford Bridge illuminated with silky skillful football in the image of Barcelona, there has been a slight loss of identity; the same identity that brought the club three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two League Cups and, of course, the European Cup. The ideal scenario is for the team to remain successful while serving up the type of fare to make fans and neutrals drool. The problem with that – as we have seen at the Emirates – is that often the emphasis can weigh too heavily on the side of style at the expense of substance.

Beautiful football is worthless unless it is converted into silverware. If that seems churlish, consider that Pep Guardiola – while still manager of Barcelona – conceded that he only instructed his team to play in their distinctive 'tiki-taka' style because it won football matches. Had it not served that fundamental purpose he would have sought another route to glory.

What Chelsea need to take on board is that aesthetics must not take precedence over results. Arsenal have suffered through Arsene Wenger's fanatical desire to conquer the pace and physicality of English football with his cast of impish ballerinas while simultaneously proving to his free-spending rivals that it can be done through astute purchases rather than with the help of a bulging wallet. It hasn't worked. Arsenal have not even got close to the team they used to be in the immediate years either side of the millennium and their stagnation should be a salutary lesson to everybody at Stamford Bridge that compromising success comes at a price.

Despite the warning signs, there are thankfully few similarities between the DNA of the two clubs. In West London, for all the talk about entertaining the owner, Abramovich has shown that when push comes to shove he will err on the side of results. No manager is bigger than success and while his trigger-figger has been a little too itchy on occasion at least he has not chosen to indulge a loyal servant out of sheer sentimentality. Equally, it is the trophy cabinet rather than the balance sheet that preoccupies the minds of those that stalk the corridors of Stamford Bridge. A positive bank statement is not celebrated and neither is finishing fourth. That might sound like short-termism but football – to the fan at least – is about glory not fiscal responsibility.

The one aspect that might change Chelsea's thinking is the advent of Financial Fair Play which will indirectly govern how much clubs can lavish on transfers though with the latest figures showing that Chelsea earned €30 more than their London rivals perhaps that will not be so much of a problem. Of course, those numbers include the glorious and money-spinning march to Champions League victory which will not be repeated this year however with the right acquisitions in both the playing and coaching departments there is no reason why it cannot be repeated in the near future.

But therein lies the point. Those acquisitions must be the correct ones and a certain degree of stability must be instilled or otherwise Chelsea risk ripping up yet another template and going back to the drawing board. Another season of turbulence will only confirm the club as a madhouse and one that nobody with serious ambitions would be willing to join. It would undermine any chances of attaining major silverware and as a consequence could persuade the likes of Hazard and Juan Mata that their futures lie elsewhere despite the roubles on offer.

The Gunner's trophy drought has seen each one of their stars – and Alex Song - eventually leave in order to add a medal to their collection and it will continue to happen there as long as the status quo is maintained. If fundamentalism takes hold among the Blues' hierarchy the same thing could happen in West London and Chelsea could become the new Arsenal.

Now there's a terrifying thought.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell

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