October 2, 2022

IIt’s still relatively early. There is still a month until the Premier League resumes. There is plenty of time for a club to make signings. Chelsea started from a position of unusual chaos. There is no reason to panic yet. Everything might be fine. But that might not be the case and it’s fair to say that if you’re planning a major overhaul of your team, it’s easier if you haven’t just lost a bunch of personalities from the recruiting department.

It may be unreasonable to expect too much this summer, so soon after Roman Abramovich retired. Todd Boehly didn’t officially complete his takeover until May 30. As others began to set themselves long-term goals, Chelsea began to shed their executives. Bruce Buck stepped down as chairman, Petr Cech quit his role as technical and performance adviser and, perhaps most important of all, Marina Granovskaia, who had actually managed the club for Abramovich, stepped down. None of this was particularly alarming – indeed, it may have been a necessary part of the club’s desabramovichisation – but it did make recruiting more difficult.

It would have been a tricky summer anyway. The flaws in this Chelsea side, masked to some extent by Champions League success in 2021, have become very apparent over the past season. Not only was Romelu Lukaku not the final piece of the puzzle, his failure exposed a host of problems elsewhere.

Thomas Tuchel worked with Neymar at PSG and perhaps he could inspire a renaissance in a player whose career is in serious danger of peaking. Photography: François Nascimbeni/AFP/Getty Images

Timo Werner, willful runner that he is, has shown nothing like the finishing ability that earned him 28 Bundesliga goals in his final season at RB Leipzig. Hakim Ziyech, despite his quick feet and technical ability, didn’t seem able to hurt his opponents. Christian Pulisic continues to struggle with his fitness and is yet to convince that he is much more than a straight line runner.

Raheem Sterling may be so familiar to the English public that his signing was met with almost indifference, but he is reaching his peak, being an England regular and playing successfully under the tactical godfather of modern football, Pep Guardiola. Yet for all Mason Mount’s subtlety and Kai Havertz’s promise, there is a need for a major overhaul of the forward line – the part of the team that, given recent investments, should have been sorted.

The midfielder was always going to demand attention given that N’Golo Kanté is 31 and Jorginho is 30. And at the back, Antonio Rüdiger and Andreas Christensen have both left when their contracts expire, leaving Thiago Silva as the only senior centre-back – and at 37 is hardly a long-term option.

This probably meant that at least four and possibly as many as six additions had to be made, a major project for any club. For a new owner with no previous footballing experience, undertaking the job on a caretaker basis may not be possible. The fact that Boehly initially seemed interested in the type of player swap common in American sports, in which players have much less agency, did not suggest anyone fully understood the new role he has. assumed. Which begs the question of why he does it. Why didn’t he have a sporting director ready to intervene? Or was losing Granovskaia not part of the plan?

When Boehly was planning his takeover, he was talking about ambitious investment plans. After the largesse of the Abramovich regime, he may feel the need to buy big this summer if only to convince fans that he won’t be an American owner in the manner of Stan Kroenke or the Glazers, who are seen as investing. just enough to spin the club while pulling it for the dividends.

An environment in which spending becomes an end in itself is rarely happy – as the example of Barcelona demonstrated when they felt Neymar’s money burn a hole in their pocket. As the owner of the LA Dodgers baseball franchise, Boehly favored signing big names, such as Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, and it largely worked.

As owner of the LA Dodgers, Todd Boehly favored the signing of stars like Mookie Betts, but football is very different from the NBA.
As owner of the LA Dodgers, Todd Boehly favored the signing of stars like Mookie Betts, but football is very different from the NBA. Photograph: Gary A Vasquez/USA Today Sports

But baseball is a very different game from football: a great individual can make a huge difference to a team and, other than the player he replaces, doesn’t really make a difference to anyone else. Improve a place in the team and you improve the team.

Football is not like that. A team is not made up of 11 individual units but, at best, is a single unit whose 11 component parts positively interact with each other. The temptation to sign celebrities is strong. They bring glamor and prestige. They probably help the club market itself. For a swaggering new executive, there’s probably a dopamine hit in being the man who brought a megastar to your club. But they don’t necessarily help you win football matches.

And this is where the role of Thomas Tuchel will be so important in the coming weeks. There have been rumors linking Chelsea with moves for Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo. Tuchel has worked with Neymar before and perhaps thinks he could inspire a renaissance in a player whose career is in grave danger of anticlimaxing his immense talent unfulfilled. At 30, there may be one last chance for Neymar to achieve greatness after years of self-indulgence in Paris; there were days in his Barcelona pump where he proved he could sacrifice himself to the system and pressurize as Tuchel would surely demand.

Ronaldo is an entirely different matter. With the exception of centre-backs, no outfielder in Europe’s top five leagues pressed less than him last season. He scores goals, but reduces his team’s overall goal production. And the immensity of its status is bound to be disruptive. There may be a call for the commercial department of Boehly and Chelsea to land one of the greatest players in football history, but if Lukaku was too immobile for the Tuchel system, there’s no way Ronaldo could. be the answer.

Tuchel is expected to play a major role in Chelsea’s recruitment process. After living through the ego-filled nightmare of Paris Saint-Germain, his job now is to stop Boehly from turning Chelsea into PSG-on-Thames.