Chelsea Football Club are now a club of infinite wealth, not only in finances, but in personnel, opportunities and location. Yet it hasn’t always been this way, but they were never in too bad a state. Lets be honest, hosting a club in the most affluent part of the busiest city in Britain will always have its financial rewards. Even if the boroughs upperclass residents fail to attend a sport which is predominantly played and watched by the working classes, and has been since the Football League’s founding in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the club will never and has never failed to attract investment. But why is it only in the last decade that that investment has turned into on-field success? And how have Chelsea, or any other London club for that matter, failed to win the European Cup until just last season. Maybe the answer lies in the clubs, and the European Cup’s, history.
Chelsea were the English First Division champions in 1955, and along with Hibernian were the first British side to be invited to compete in the inaugural European Cup the following season. Gabriel Hanot, a writer for the French sports newspaper L’Equipe, is quoted as first suggesting the format that was to become the world’s most watched football club competition. But the Football League failed to see the potential of the European game.
Alan Hardaker, Secretary of the Football League, made famous for his incredibly derivative line, ‘I don’t like Europe. Too many wops and dagoes!’, had the success of the English domestic game at the forefront of his plans. Hardaker forcibly persuaded Chelsea to decline the offer to play in the European Cup, instead convincing the West London club to play in his less glamorous brainchild, the newly formed League Cup. Chelsea suffered in the following years, falling short of Matt Busby’s Manchester United side, who by now were ready to compete in Europe.
There is no evidence to suggest that Chelsea’s downfall was due to their failure to compete in European competition. And this claim would have been confronted by the fact that United breezed to a more than comfortable 12-0 two-leg victory over Belgian champions Anderlecht in their very first European tie. It would have seemed that competing in Europe provided no extra knowledge or experience to its participants, and simply made the United players tired from the extra travel. But how wrong they were.
There was a learning curve that English teams had to undergo. Including United, whose first win in the tournament didn’t come until 1968, a success that acted as a type of redemption for the loss of the original Busby Babes on a fateful night ten years earlier.
Busby, although ill and wounded by the air crash, managed the team to success in Europe, but retired soon after. Wilf McGuinness, Frank O’Farrell and Tommy Docherty failed to control the new United team and build upon Busby’s success. And United dropped into the second tier of English football just a few years after European triumph.
This may prove that a team and club needs continuity to have continued success. A state that United have gone back to whilst playing under Sir Alex Ferguson. A state that Chelsea have never been in. They came close to it under Mourinho, but the type of club ownership shown under Abramovic has up until now shown no or little continuity.
Roberto Di Matteo has a vision and structure of how Chelsea should play and act. And the clubs owners need to respect that. Chelsea have made a blistering start to the current season, and are playing more attractive football than ever before. But the club is fragile. Even though Di Matteo guided them to their first European title, there is still talk of who will succeed him at the helm of one of the world richest clubs.
Chelsea have the potential to be the next Barca. But does the club want this?
Football is the same as every other industry. Success is built upon taking a copy of your opponents successful structure and adding to it. The same as Formula One, massive multinational corporations, fashion eat cetera.
Barcelona built La Masia whilst under the management of Johan Cruiyff, who played under a similarly functioning youth and senior team set-up. La Masia has all it’s teams from the under-10’s to the reserve or Barcelona B team playing the same formation and same tactical style. And all this is not a hidden secret. Any manager can copy it. And maybe Di Matteo will.
United lost their continuity in the late 60’s and early 70’s and consequently lost success. And found it again when Fergie told the helm at Old Trafford. Chelsea have arguably never had continuity, and have never had a long period of success. Liverpool had continuity under Shankley, Forest under Clough, Milan under Anchelotti, Barca under Guardiola (with the help of their La Masia youth system).
Di Matteo might not win the league, and will almost certainly fail to win the Champions League again this season. But Chelsea must hold tight. This is their time. Not Manchester City’s. They are still in the honeymoon of their takeover. Chelsea need to continue their success by continuing to trust the guile of the Italian at the top.