As an Arsenal supporter, there is something to be said about the measure of joy many of us are feeling watching Chelsea struggle out of the gates in the early doors of the 2023-24 Premier League campaign.
Certainly, despite my best impersonation of Jim Harper snidely peering through half-opened blinds and marveling at his handy work, the reality for Chelsea is a difficult question to answer, and an even more tricky situation to project regarding just where the English giants can go under Todd Boehly and Blueco after falling to a shock 1-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest while banking just one win to begin the new season.
On the surface, it does not require a panel of astrophysicists to analyze where the club’s new owners hope to take the Blues in the long term, and to their credit, they certainly were upfront regarding their desire to bring a brand of North American ownership that is far more familiar to fans of the NBA, NFL, or MLB than a top-flight footballing club across the Atlantic.
From the off, Boehly and Behdad Eghbali immediately targeted some of the brightest youngsters in world football, while preaching the need to massively overhaul the entire senior setup in west London in conjunction with changing the entire transfer landscape (for the second time in Premier League history) to the point where new rules have been instituted to counteract how the club found a loophole via amortization to maximize spending power.
All told Chelsea has splashed a ludicrous £1bn-plus in less than two seasons, with a veritable laundry list of talent that, at the very least, boats a very high ceiling on paper. And with a squad that now has an average age of around 23 years old, making it the youngest in the Premier League. In that sense, time is certainly something that the club is banking on in relation to the players that now call Stamford Bridge home. If this works, the club has made out like bandits while having a pool of talent that absolutely could be capable of dominating the footballing landscape on English shores and on the continent.
But just as much as how time will hopefully be Chelsea’s biggest ally should these decisions pan out under Blueco’s guidance if time can be considered a metric capable of being analyzed, it is also fair to say that the club has already massively fallen well short of the mark even before kicking a ball in anger this season.
The 2022-23 season, which featured three managers, none of whom were truly capable of getting the beginnings of the new squad online in terms of performance for one reason or another, was already an iceberg warning that potentially has been passed over in favor of steaming at high speed to beat the morning fish rag and arrive in New York harbor with a bang.
After spending £600m in both transfer windows last season, it became clear early on that, with said spending, came expectations from ownership that even though young players were being stockpiled as if Normandy was on the verge of being invaded for a second time, an immediate return on their massive investment was duly required.
This very aspect is what caused the likes of both Thomas Tuchel and Graham Potter to meet Boehly’s executioner.
The German tactician was not inherently a poor choice to head up operations, but his Modus Operandi has long been established; give him carte blanche, or he won’t last long. Indeed, that very dynamic is precisely what played out at the club before Potter was plucked from the south coast and thrust into a scenario that he was never truly suited for, which ultimately concluded in the same demise. And there certainly is no rational discourse to suggest that calling up iconic former midfielder Frank Lampard made any sense at all.
In this aspect, time was not an ally of Chelsea, but rather an adversary that has already come away victorious, and questions must be levied if that same result will rear its ugly head once more when it comes to Mauricio Pochettino.
As a manager who has indeed done well when it comes to molding young players at both Southampton and Tottenham while guiding Spurs to the final of the Champions League, Pochettino seemingly gives Chelsea just the man for the job as the club persisted with the spending habits from 12 months ago as they, once again, purchased another horde of young(er) player profiles to further pad the senior ranks.
However, fans already have been left frustrated and divided, as many booed the club off the pitch at full-time earlier today, while others took to social media to note frustration but also beg for perspective regarding how long a rebuild could truly take. Once again, the enemy of time has begun to bubble to the surface.
It is hard to say that Chelsea deserves much more of it, and certainly not five years, either. To spend to the level that Chelsea has, anything less than a finish in the European places in consecutive seasons would be inexcusable at the very least. Indeed, players take time to gel in various ways; from a new country, new club, new manager, and a new approach. But the biggest concern, at least from my perspective, is the clear lack of identity in the swath of new arrivals apart from their age profile and the hope many of them develop into world-beaters.
To compare to league rivals Arsenal, the difference is clear (and yes, I note a small amount of bias here, so you will have to forgive me).
When it comes to the ongoing progression under Mikel Arteta and Edu Gaspar, the Gunners have been so much more than just going after young(er) profiles that have talent, but recruitment at London Colney has been far more pointed and specific rather than casting a wide net on young stars in the hopes that enough will “bang.”
Arteta was not given a squad by management, instead, he and Edu were ultimately trusted and supported in a vision that could truly be defined, developed, and pointed to as a hallmark of how the club intended to finally move forward in the post-Arsène Wenger era.
Arsenal has evolved under Arteta by modeling to his preference over time by buying specific player profiles that could be implemented into his tactical vision while also developing collectively down the line. This is what we affectionately have dubbed “the process.” Though the club has not won the league, evidence of progress was clearly on display last term as the club pushed Manchester City to the limit before finishing second in the league for the first time since 2015-16.
Is there any such defined vision at Chelsea? At the moment, no one can say there is. This is due in part to the fact that the club has yet to put faith in one man longer than a season - or less than, really - under Boehly, who thus far is sacking school masters at a clip that supersedes his predecessor. Recruitment has been at the behest of the club’s backroom staff as well as its owners, but in order to achieve true longevity and a greater chance of a project coming off brilliantly, the core of it must focus on the vision of its command structure in the technical area.
There is no foundation at Chelsea, and though Pochettino could certainly be the right man for the job while becoming the club’s master mason, will he be given enough time to build a lasting framework the club can turn to? If Arteta ever leaves Arsenal, at the very least, KSE has a blueprint for who the next man in line should be; someone who has principles that are close to, if not identical to the former Gunners midfielder.
As ever, balance is necessary. It is indeed unfair to suggest that Chelsea should be winning major honors this season, or even in 2024-25, regardless of the money they have spent. They certainly do need time for everything to come together harmoniously, but it is hard to envision a reality where ample time can coexist with the expectation that comes along with £1bn in rampant spending, and that does not include any further financial muscle being brought to bear.
Time is defined as “the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole.” If that is to be applied to Chelsea, the club no doubt will continue to exist, but the notion of progress is still a very long way away from becoming a reality. In that sense, Time may be an ally for now, but it won’t be forever.