It’s the first season of the Todd Boehly-Clearlake Capital ownership of Chelsea and the Blues are already on the hunt for their third manager of the campaign.
Thomas Tuchel was dismissed early in the season, with the new owners keen to find somebody who better aligned with their vision for the club. In came Graham Potter, who was seen as the perfect long-term manager.
This idea of a ‘project manager’ – somebody who does not need immediate success and instead wants a rebuild which could last a number of years – is partly what sold Potter to Chelsea. The former Brighton boss had spent time building the Seagulls up to a genuine Premier League force, so just imagine what he could do with the riches of Chelsea!
Six months later and the Potter project is over in disastrous fashion.
No further bashing of Potter is needed. The statistics speak for themselves and tell the story of a manager who, despite being given the sort of time none of his predecessors would have received, was not the right fit for the job, and now the search is on for a replacement.
A new ‘project manager’ is the dream, but in reality, that type of manager does not exist at the top level in 2023.
Seen as the antithesis to the win-now bosses that former Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich loved to fire as much as he loved to hire, a ‘project manager’ is supposedly somebody patient and ruthless enough to make big changes over a number of transfer windows, all while knowing that silverware is little more than a pipe dream for at least the first 12 months.
That describes Potter, for sure, but it also defines nearly every manager who has been towards the top of the Premier League in the last decade.
Pep Guardiola, for example, had been in first-team management for seven seasons by the time he joined Manchester City in 2016. He rocked up at the Etihad with six league titles from a possible seven. That’s about as win-now as they come.
And yet, Guardiola struggled in his first year in Manchester. There was no Premier League title in 2016/17, with City finishing 15 points adrift of eventual winners Chelsea and Guardiola facing significant questions about his suitability for the role.
The only difference between 2016/17 Guardiola and 2022/23 Potter is the former had a clear plan, both on and off the field, and gave plenty of reasons why he deserved trust from fans and owners alike.
Even Blues favourite Jose Mourinho, the ultimate win-now boss, described Chelsea as the ‘little horse’ in the 2013/14 title race, knowing victory in 2014/15 was more likely once he had finished shaping his squad. He openly admitted his team was not good enough but, like Guardiola, had shown why he deserved another season to walk the walk.
The Premier League is not a division which allows for cut-throat winners anymore. The level of competition is too high and continued success, the kind of which is enjoyed by Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain in Germany and France respectively, is not feasible. Instead, every manager signs on for a ‘project’.
Most managers at the top of the game are realistic enough to understand that winning title after title after title is not realistic. It’s a long-term game and, while they need patient owners, they also have a responsibility to prove they merit that patience each and every season. It’s why Jurgen Klopp almost feels guilty about still being in a job at Liverpool.
On this edition of Son of Chelsea, part of the 90min podcast network, Daniel Childs reacts to Graham Potter’s dismissal & looks at who could be the next manager.
If you can’t see this embed, click here to listen to the podcast!
The illusion of ‘project managers’ like Potter has already deceived Chelsea once. The Blues must find a strong-willed boss who knows what they want and, above all, is capable of implementing that on the pitch. The ultimate goal is domestic and continental silverware, and the candidate who can offer the best plan to get there should be hired, regardless of who they are.
If Chelsea’s decision-makers believe Julian Nagelsmann is right for the job, hire him. If it’s Luis Enrique, Mauricio Pochettino or whoever else, then so be it. Proven top-flight coaches can be just as much of a ‘project manager’ as the hipster alternatives.
There can be no romance associated with Chelsea’s next decision. The best candidate should get the role and can then sign on for the Blues ‘project’ of rebuilding towards success.