Tuesday 16 July 2019

Miguel Delaney: 'Chelsea lack Man City's vision and Maurizio Sarri could be next to pay the price'

Chelsea's Eden Hazard looks dejected after the match. Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine
Chelsea's Eden Hazard looks dejected after the match. Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine

Miguel Delaney

While Maurizio Sarri this time didn’t say much to his humiliated players in the privacy of the Etihad dressing room - because he's pretty much said all he can - Pep Guardiola was publicly raising what might be the most relevant point in all of this.

The Manchester City manager offered a predictable defence of his friend after subjecting him to a 6-0 humiliation, and insisted Chelsea should stick with Sarri, but then more unpredictably began to elaborate on why he is in his own job.

He thereby also pinpointed utterly crucial differences between the clubs.

“People don’t understand how difficult the first year can be,” Guardiola said. “People need time. It needs owners to really believe in that. The main reason I came to Manchester City is because I don’t have to convince [director of football] Txiki [Begiristain]. He knows me.”

City also knew exactly what they wanted. The appointment of Guardiola was the ultimate objective of a supremely organised - and lavishly funded - long-term plan. It has so often felt that everything at the club was put in place specifically to suit the Catalan. Much of the football has ended up just as seamless, just as co-ordinated.

This is the consequence of a grand vision. It is all the more pointed given the old fears about what Chelsea could have ended up doing, when Roman Abramovich came in with his first wave of unprecedented spending back in 2003. City have effectively done what Chelsea didn’t. They showed how to really spend money intelligently, how to spend it with specific plans. There is the source of so many problems at Stamford Bridge.

Compare Guardiola’s situation to what Sarri walked into. In contrast to the clear structure at City, and the huge amount of football knowledge - much of it almost directly transposed from the Apple of the sport in Barcelona - Chelsea do not even have a director of football. Their last one, Michael Emenalo, has actually already got and left another job at Monaco in the 16 months since departing Chelsea.

That makes the fact Abramovich has so craved Barcelona football all the more ironic. Little is in place below him to bring it. The issue here is not whether Emenalo was good at his job, but that a role crucial to the vision of any club has for so long gone unfilled; a role crucial to the type of players you sign.

Do Chelsea even know what they want to be, beyond vague ambitions about being successful? And while many might point to the persistent return of so many trophies - especially as they reach another final in the League Cup - the reality is still that have regressed, and fallen behind rival clubs.

That will inevitably happen when you have a squad that has been put together without such unifying vision, when you bring in players of such different profiles, and few of them guaranteed stars even in the mould of Eden Hazard 2012.

Hazard and other players like him specifically picked Chelsea around then because they were so impressed with the long-term plans the club spelled out to them, tailored to individual players. It was similar when they almost persuaded Neymar to sign a few years ago, when a huge pitch was made to him in New York about how he could be the Michael Jordan to the club's Chicago Bulls.

With some figures having left from the football side, these accounts aren't heard as much any more. The hope is Christian Pulisic kick-starts this, and he did represent a coup, but he comes into a squad that needs significant surgery.

This is not to absolve Sarri. A good manager with few political agendas who just wants to get on with the job, he now has to face fair criticism of his ability to get a response out of those players, and the execution of his tactics. No matter the wider arguments about persisting with a philosophy that he needs these players to learn, it was surely madness to persist with it for this game. Antonio Conte’s words from last season come to mind. “I'm not so stupid to play open against City and lose 3-0 or 4-0.”

Try 6-0, and everything that entails, including some difficult conversations with the hierarchy. It is the very idealism that caused it, though, that cuts to the core of much of this.

Is the Chelsea squad even able to play Sarri's football?

Some players have privately started to complain that everything is “too tactical” and that there is now an overload of instructions that they can’t keep up with. Others wonder whether this squad is actually tactically intelligent enough to really learn this.

Again, compare to Guardiola. City began to buy such players for his football even arrived, most obviously in Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne.

But that just brings us back to the wider vision, and planning.

Maybe the way this Chelsea squad has been constructed means they actually need short-term coaches who can apply easily-applicable ideas quickly. Maybe Sarri was never going to fit.

One football figure who has worked with the club quipped: “Chelsea are a football superpower, but they’ve employed an idealist Che Guevara figure.”

So will Chelsea cut their losses, or keep the faith?

The early indications after the City match were that, despite the humiliating scale of the defeat - and even Sarri’s surprising comments about finally getting to talk to Abramovich - there would be no immediate action. The feeling is there are still too many big games in February, and too many variables.

That would represent a patience not often associated with the club.

Others feel it’s still just thinking month to month, and season to season, in a way they now need to really break from.

They need to start thinking about what they really want the team to be.

Online Editors

The Throw-In: Kerry back to their best, Connolly’s return and Cork’s baffling inconsistency

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport