With the team high flying at the top of the Premier League, Toby Webb considers the culture of turnover and change at Chelsea FC
Chelsea are undoubtedly the most exceptional team in this season’s Premier League. While the Premier League was briefly paused for the FA Cup this weekend, their most recent match, a 2-0 away win at West Ham, epitomised the Chelsea of this season. It exhibited their impervious defence combined with a deadly clinical attack, ultimately illustrating the exceptionally-high performance level they have produced and re-produced all season. N’Golo Kante symbolises this performance level, Eden Hazard humorously commenting that Kante’s work rate fools him into believing he is ‘playing with twins’.
Chelsea’s success so far this season is not unexpected. Since Roman Abramovich took over the club in 2003, they have won four league titles, with many expecting them to make it a fifth this season. One of the main reasons for their continued success since the takeover is the level of personnel turnover, at a player and coaching level.
As a club, Chelsea have a simple, but incredibly effective, model. They largely work on the basis that players are valuable assets, to be both bought and sold. Assets are never allowed to devalue too much and always recover value when sold. Similarly, they are harsh in determining which assets are surplus to requirement.
A consideration of recent transfers illustrates this model. Over the last two windows, Chelsea purchased the likes of David Luiz, Marcus Alonso, Kante and Michy Batshuayi, while offloading Branislav Ivanovic, John Obi Mikel, Oscar, Loic Remy and Radamel Falcao. While bringing in players that have become immediate 1st team stalwarts, they sold off players that would still be considered an asset to many teams. It is a cut-throat policy, but it pays dividends.
David Luiz is an interesting example. Deemed surplus to requirements by Jose Mourinho, PSG bought him for £50million from Chelsea in 2014. Yet, in the summer, Chelsea’s new boss, Antonio Conte, brought Luiz back to the club for a mere £30million. When Luiz wasn’t wanted, Chelsea moved him on; when he was wanted, he was re-bought. This austere policy resulted in Chelsea generating a net profit off the player.
Juan Mata and Petr Cech were also victims of the Chelsea model. Mata moved to Manchester United for £37.1million in January 2014 while Cech, who had been superseded by Thibaut Courtois as 1st choice goalkeeper, was allowed to move to London rivals Arsenal for £10million in June 2015. These were further examples of valuable assets deemed surplus to requirement by the club. The club has a clear model, believing in the need to continually refresh the squad by buying and selling.
This model has been incredibly successful. Since Abramovich took over, Chelsea have won 13 major trophies. In that time span, only United have won more. The model’s success has relied on several key players, some that have been present since the 2003 takeover. For much of the last decade Cech, John Terry and Frank Lampard formed the Chelsea spine, supplemented by the likes of Didier Drogba and Ashley Cole. However, the constant turnover of players enabled this spine to highly successful. More recently, the spine has been replaced by Courtois, Gary Cahill, Kante, Hazard and Diego Costa.
While it is clear the Chelsea model relies on the spending power provided by Abramovich’s riches, the net spending stats illustrate the benefit of selling players that still have value. Although Chelsea have spent £507.45million on players over the last 5 season, they have generated £315.5million in sales of players, resulting in a net spend of a £192.3million. This net result is paled by that of Manchester City (£402.55million) and Manchester United (£368.65million); London rivals Arsenal’s net spent is more too, coming in at £205.89million. While United and City can rival Chelsea in spending, neither has mastered the ability of selling players for significant financial gain.
The level of personnel turnover is paralleled at the managerial level. Since the start of the Abramovich reign, 13 people have managed, or acted as interim manager, of the club. While continuity at the level of coaching staff is often praised in football, Chelsea have demonstrated there is another way, proving that the constant influx of different coaches, bringing with them different ideas, can result in a consistent level of success. I believe the success of the Chelsea model is maximised by regular change in the coaching staff. It is easier for a coach to mould players new to the club, rather than those that have played under the previous manager’s program.
The Chelsea model is unique to the Premier League. Currently, top clubs, such as United and City, are held back by the need for a ‘mass clear out’; they have squads bogged down by a cluster of ageing players, devalued assets, resulting in the inability to successful challenge Chelsea for this year’s league title. Clubs like Tottenham and Arsenal have the converse issue: their squads require a mass influx of talent to enable a title challenge, something against the culture of both clubs.
The 2015/2016 campaign was a bad season for Chelsea. However, I blame managerial incompetency and a mass drop-in-form amongst personnel for this, not the model: it was an anomaly for the system, this season’s return to form proving this. While perhaps generalising, the failure of the big clubs to challenge Leicester for the league title last year was indicative of club models that fail to deliver a consistent level of performance. At the moment, it is safe to say that Chelsea are the best run club in England.