The more things at Chelsea change, the more they stay the same. It is fair to say personally the previous few weeks supporting our club have been the weirdest of my life.
For the first time in a while, it feels there is clarity at Stamford Bridge. For some that clarity may be inspiring, for others add the “un”. Thomas Tuchel’s swift arrival one day following the pretty brutal sacking of Club Icon Frank Lampard, which then was followed by a Premier League encounter with Wolves was enough to give any Chelsea supporter whiplash. The Wolves game seemed to play it in such a manner of a club still reeling, 90 minutes did happen but for some a sense of pure disconnection in a
game that left many feeling nothingness. In all honesty reader – I was one of those people. I didn’t enjoy the Wolves game, simply for the fact for the first time in my life supporting Chelsea, I felt nothing.
As I run a YouTube channel covering the club, it is my job to watch the games and give my conclusion at the end of them for my audience. This of all night’s felt like a chore, I did not want to watch a game, I was not ready to move on, and despite what social media may lead to believe, I was not alone in this way of thinking.
In the final weeks of Frank Lampard’s tenure, social media became pretty toxic between fans of opposing views on the current Head Coach. Following Maurizio Sarri’s departure, there was a hope that the rift his time in SW6 had caused would be soothed by the return of a beloved figure – that was naïve. In fact, if anything the divide this time was more brutal because at the centre of it involved a figure which not only got the club but represented the best of it. You soon came to the pretty damning realisation that if Frank couldn’t unite us, nothing would.
Another consistent remark aimed at supporters wanting Lampard to stay was telling them to remove “sentiment” from the situation and to “separate the player from the Manager”. It became an accepted argument because you heard it daily. On the day Lampard was sacked, the simplicity of the argument was revealed, and you realised that asking Chelsea supporters to treat Frank like “any other” Head Coach was not just naïve, but just plain barmy.
After being told for weeks to take sentiment away from the club I love, I experienced the effect of that the outcome against Wolves and it wasn’t nice. It felt like my emotional interest in the second half of Chelsea’s campaign had been completely ripped out and I was in a mind that didn’t care if the club finished 4th or 14th – I wouldn’t lose much sleep. There was a sense of exhaustion of here we go again. Another reset, another grand new project, another set of principles and ideas to unite, or likely fight over. The face of Tuchel plastered over social media only brought visions of how it would end. The eventual fallout with the board, the eventual fall out with fans – the toxic social media divide that forces people into “sides” and then… RESET, we start again with someone else.
I cannot say that in all honesty, that sentiment has left me, it is just with less emotion invested in it is a serious point of contention at the club. Since 2018 it has felt like the club has been in a state of limbo and confusion on what it actually wants to be. Despite being vastly different characters, both Sarri and Lampard provided the club with an opportunity for a different route. For the Italian a chance to back a vision of progressive football over a period of time, and for Lampard the chance to back a vision of deeper meaning with young players at the heart of it. On the 26th of January 2020, we all learned definitively that this was all a story we’d created in our heads.
The concept of a new start at Chelsea that would back a manager for longer, see a vision to its endpoint rather than cut it short given the pitfalls and growing pains were as fanciful as tales of the Loch Ness Monster. Being someone who believed in a longer-term plan and patience, I feel like my words over the past three years have been for nothing, they’ve been baked up theories like the Earth is Flat or the Moon Landing never happened. Being someone who believes Chelsea are going to have a Head Coach for more than 18 months should now be categorized as lunacy.
There is some relief in Lampard’s sacking. I think the emotional investment a lot of us had in it succeeding and the pain of every defeat was having a toll. I cannot deny seeing my hero be disrespected, having his name dragged through the mud on a daily basis was not pleasant, and the toxicity was allowing an untouchable icon to be slandered by some pretty nasty stuff. Going into games now, I do not feel the same level of nerves or stress in it working out – which is of some comfort. It all does make those press briefings to prominent journalists in the Summer of a “Three-Year-Plan” behind Frank Lampard all the more ludicrous. It’s quite refreshing to see Tuchel being so transparent about what the club are actually demanding and not this obscure idea of a bold new vision and plans. The demand is simple – win us the Premier League title ASAP or goodbye Tommy.
The words “Project” and “Process” get banded about a lot nowadays ad nauseam and whilst it now feels comical to refer to what Chelsea do as anything close to a deeper meaning philosophy, the mindset is clear and that’s just simply winning at all costs. And cynics in and out of the club have mocked the upset of supporters with Lampard’s dismissal as fools for expecting anything else from their club.
The harsh reality is – they are right.
Fans as well have had a gut check under Lampard as to how serious they are in terms of backing “the project” and many expectedly retreated back to the comfort of the two-year-cycle. It was like watching someone give up on a fitness regime two weeks into the new year. The irresistible lure of instant gratification in the taste of a greasy Pizza was better than sticking with healthier trends that would improve their long-term health. Chelsea Football Club have become the guy who tells all his friends, this year “Will be different” – only for that new mindset to be binned for old ways at the first sign of trouble.
And listen – do not mistake my incredulity as ungratefulness to our wonderful owner who has overseen the most glorious years in this fine club’s history. Roman Abramovich is the greatest owner in modern football and every Chelsea supporter should be grateful that his continued investment not only saved this club back in 2003 but helped it transcend to heights many couldn’t have imagined. The titles, the triumphs, the glitz and glamour, none of it is tarnished or regretted. This is the trade-off for the wonderful
For Roman, his ruthlessness has paid off. Despite a mid-season sacking not happening since December 2015 when Jose Mourinho had the then reigning Champions languishing in the relegation zone, several of his brutal chops have resulted in an upturn in form and fortune. When Luiz Felipe Scolari was dismissed in January 2009, interim Guus Hiddink arrived and took the Blues to an FA Cup triumph four months later. When Andre Villas-Boas was dismissed in March 2012, interim Roberto Di Matteo arrived and took the Blues to another FA Cup triumph and the club’s greatest day in Munich, by winning the Champions League. When Di Matteo was given the chop in November that same year and Rafael Benitez arrived with tons of fan scorn, Chelsea would end the campaign with the Europa League win in Amsterdam and a respectable third-place finish in the Premier League.
Despite the landscape of Premier League football being vastly different from 2013 to 2021, in the thought process of Chelsea Football Club, Lampard being sacrificed for Thomas Tuchel was a perfectly reasonable one.
I could spend my time arguing about how our squad doesn’t contain the World Class talent of 2012, or that there are better teams, better coaches, and more money around England’s top tier now – but I’m tired of making these points, because even if I make them in defence of Tuchel the outcome won’t change and I’m not going waste my time buying into something that the club is clearly not interested in, and why should you?
Social media is utterly bizarre at the best of times, but the days following Lampard’s dismissal it becomes a home for the completely deranged. The highly respected and reliable Matt Law’s name was tarnished when his report delved into the behind-the-scenes story of how Lampard was eventually dismissed, citing player fallouts and friction within the first-team squad. Soon – as social media does, the worst of human behaviour reared its head with Antonio Rudiger being racially abused like many other high-profile footballers continue to be on a daily basis. When players showed public support to their teammate, this
became proof to many that Law was no longer reliable and his report branded as “FAKE NEWS”.
Ironically enough by the same accounts who are desperate for the latest transfer rumour and were more than happy to share all of his scoops surrounding the transfers of Timo Werner and Kai Havertz last summer. You can already bet when the Blues are in for another big target in a couple of months, Law’s name will suddenly revert back to reliable because he is now writing something they want to hear.
Thomas Tuchel on his own has handled this complete mess with class and dignity.
Tuchel has just started.
His first press conference struck the right tone and aimed to get on board a fractured fanbase with different feelings about the sacking. Tuchel’s words about what Lampard meant to the club hit perfectly with those of us who didn’t agree with his dismissal, and his bold statements detailing his intent to make Stamford Bridge an exciting place for fans to come to are impossible not to get behind.
Personally, feeling emotionally done at the time, his words added a spark back to my interest in the club and the willingness to invest in him, his vision, and how he wanted to transform Chelsea – the Tuchel way. It also helps when over 9 days into your tenure you win away at Tottenham Hotspur. Probably Point A or B on the PowerPoint presentation on how to get supporters behind you from the off. There is a fresh feeling of momentum in the squad which was undeniably lacking in the late Lampard days. There is a lot of early Antonio Conte about Tuchel’s arrival.
The enlightening and educational way he talks about the game, the pedigree of managing top talents and winning domestic titles across the continent and an excitable demeanor on the touchline will inspire supporters watching on. If Tuchel achieves anything close to what Conte did in his first full season, then it will be impossible to argue the decision to dismiss Frank – as painful as it was – was the right one with the ruthless Chelsea eye. I am fully behind Tuchel, I love listening to him talk about the game and you can only be intrigued by where his time goes in west London given the clear coaching acumen he has demonstrated in his previous roles at Mainz, Borussia Dortmund, and Paris-Saint-Germain. Tuchel and Chelsea are at least being quite honest about what they are, what they see out of this relationship, and how it will likely end.
Chelsea fans should enjoy it for what it is and hope Roman’s old ruthless streak returning sparks the club to return to its older glory rather than drift further and remain locked in the yearly slog for Champions League qualification. None of us should be complaining if our club is winning, it’s why we give up so much of our time to support them.
I can’t lie to you reader who has gotten this far through my rambling that the emotion is at the same level. I’m not celebrating goals like I used to and that disconnect is not out of apathy for the coach or players, or a warped desire to see it fail for selfish reasons, it is just the way I currently feel watching my club and I hope it changes. My 7-year-old self, hell even my 21-year-old self would be disgusted in my behaviour towards the club I adore, devote so much of my life to, and consider it a religion to be this dismissive and non-plussed would be impossible to consider as realistic even 2 months ago.
Time heals all wounds and compared to my mindset watching Wolves to watching our recent wins against Spurs, Sheffield United, and Barnsley it has improved. I do wonder if Lockdown fatigue and not being able to be at Stamford Bridge is helping that rift between me and the club and when I’m able to sit in my East Upper seat once more, this distant feeling will evaporate. I’m not sure.
Many of the retorts to my belief in Frank was down to the instant results, but even arguing down that route loses the point for many of why fans wanted to give him more time than any other. Because the dream of Frank Lampard winning an FA Cup would mean as much to some as a Premier League title because dealing with more struggle and hardship with Frankwould mean more than 2 years with another coach and short-term gratification we have experienced before. I’ve been privileged to witness the
greatest years in this club’s history and was happy to deal with leaner years to build something long-lasting that could create special memories. Unfortunately, we have to accept that is a complete fantasy and is incompatible with the modern Chelsea and stop falling into the trap of believing it will any different.
It’s the struggle of gratitude and frustration with the way the club is that is hard to explain without coming across as ungrateful or entitled, but it’s the reality I face looking at the club as I write these words and until I see evidence of that culture-changing, we shouldn’t treat Tuchel any differently. He’s expected to win titles instantly and if he doesn’t, he’ll be gone. In 18 months or less, I’m not going to expend energy arguing over what the club’s identity is because there’s little point – or crying about how this is a chance for something different because it isn’t. You can all waste your energy on that toxicity, it is not for me
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