The club is not short of heroes to recall to a new role
Michael Emenalo wasn’t always the most popular figure with fans behind the scenes at Chelsea but his departure for Monaco earlier this season has left a vacancy that is yet to be filled.
Before the Nigerian took on the role as technical director, the Blues looked to hire established figures to take care of strategy above the dugout. Frank Arnesen was an early appointment for Roman Abramovich and oversaw the arrivals of Salomon Kalou, Florent Malouda and John Obi Mikel.
Yet there is a growing desire from supporters to see the club bring in more of their former players into the fold, and not only as coaches and ambassadors.
Hiring a director of football from the pool of ex-Chelsea stars and recently retired legends has a few obvious and immediate drawbacks. Without the experience of the role, there would need to be a period of adjustment and learning, but that would be acceptable given the potential prize at hand.
Chelsea are a club that is sorely lacking football knowledge outside of the dressing room and coaching staff. Fans are desperate to see someone in power capable of setting a direction that represents their team’s true identity on the pitch and through every layer of the squad, from the manager’s best XI down to the academy.
This is not to say those in charge do not understand the game, but there are details that football people understand inherently and matters that will not be prioritised by directors more inclined to focus on the bottom line and other agendas.
If the club want to re-establish themselves as a major competitor, walking along the same path as before seems fraught with its own risks. Establishing some semblance of a Chelsea culture predicated on qualities often associated with the old guard is paramount.
Ex-Blues are already involved at every level with the youth teams. Given their unprecedented success at academy level perhaps there is something in putting more ex-players at the technical heart of the club, capable of fostering an identity they know from their time on the pitch, and supporters can recognise as an authentic future for Chelsea.
But who would be the right names for the job?
The most obvious candidate is perhaps the least suited. Unquestionably Lampard’s standing at Chelsea and within the game makes him a potentially game-changing figurehead for the club. However, there are certainly a few reasons why Chelsea’s record goal scorer may be more of a hindrance than a help.
Lampard is currently working through his coaching badges and often can be seen at Cobham assisting Jody Morris (and others) with training. It does not require a degree in psychology to see the joy Lampard extracts from coaching.
Super Frank seems destined to become a manager somewhere down the line. In many ways parking him in a technical director role feels unfair to whoever potentially manages the club next season.
Imagine the situation that Conte is facing now, with uncertainty swirling around his every word and mannerism. Then add to that cocktail a fully qualified Frank Lampard sitting there waiting, thinking.
The clamour or temptation to push him into the hot seat would be almost too delicious to avoid. Manchester United fans can still hear the cries of “give it Giggsy until the end of the season” from the David Moyes and Louis van Gaal era.
There is little doubt that Lampard has the profile and intelligence to make the role work. What is in doubt is just how long Lampard could go before making his bid for the Iron Throne at Stamford Bridge.
For many, Drogba is the greatest player to ever wear a Chelsea shirt. Arguably the biggest of all big match players, this is a man synonymous with success at Chelsea and who delivered the greatest moment in the club’s history.
The affinity he enjoyed with fans is something that transcends his time at Stamford Bridge. He is a leader and a man capable of improving the world around him. You only need to see what he has achieved in his home country to know Drogba is a man worth listening to.
Like Lampard, there are drawbacks to appointing someone like Drogba to such a fundamental position of responsibility. The Ivorian marksman’s interests in football now extend to owning the Phoenix Rising. He may well be the first every player-owner in football history.
With his continued focus on supporting worthy causes in Abidjan, is there space in Drogba’s calendar to reinvent Chelsea? In many ways he feels almost too big a figure for the job. As an ambassador and a general director, there are few more perfect, but as the man to rebuild the Blues there would be doubts.
A name that surfaced recently was that of Chelsea cult hero Juliano Belletti. This appears to be an attempt to form a very diet coke version of Pep Guardiola and Txiki Begiristain with Lampard taking on the role of the current Manchester City manager, former Barcelona boss, in this combination according to some rumours.
With the former England international still working through his badges however, a move to bring Belletti back to the club would do little to quell the talk surrounding Antonio Conte’s future, given the almost weekly developments over Luis Enrique and his potential arrival in the summer.
On the face of it there is little to suggest Belletti would excel in the role. Then again, Michael Emenalo also had little experience of the position before taking it up full-time.
Chelsea’s captain before the John Terry era, The Rock, does have some applicable experience when it comes to operating a football establishment. Desailly founded the Lizzy Sports Complex (named after his mother) to give back to Ghana. Amongst other things the LSC runs a very successful football academy based on the principles of Desailly. The former French captain is also the CEO of MD Investment Ltd.
Desailly has also been public in his support of the current manager. Importantly he realised the need for further squad additions back in the summer.
“We need more,” he said. “We need more if you want to compete on these two different competitions, Champions League and Premier League, so we are hoping for more, we are really hoping for more.”
Would Desailly promote a more aggressive transfer strategy that is aligned entirely to what a coach wants? His popularity among the Blues faithful, and determination to reinforce the squad, might make him a risky proposition for Abramovich to consider.
A potential threat to the owner’s preference to play it smart in the market these days – an approach that has not sat well with some supporters who believe the club is suffering through under-investment.
One of the best pundits around, Pat Nevin is equally adept at digging out an obscure band to play during his now famous DJ sets as he once was at breaking down whatever defence was put in front of him.
He is also one of the only ex-Chelsea people to have had real experience in a similar role. The former chief executive of Motherwell, he can also add writer and broadcaster to his CV. Unlike many contemporaries, Nevin is characterised by his intelligent and perceptive take on football.
Nevin would certainly be able to promote a style of football that characterised him as a player. The Scot can espouse the virtues of an excellent defensive display and extract the finer points of a holding midfield performance.
However, you only need to look at his Team of 2017 to see where his philosophical compass points. His view on young players is particularly interesting to Chelsea fans who are keen for the club to start using the talent in the academy more regularly.
“Young players in particular can’t afford to waste too much time in the reserves when their development relies on them learning how to play in a proper match,” according to Nevin. The romantic’s choice.
A hero to many who grew up watching Chelsea in the late 1990s, Vialli was the epitome of continental style. Part of a core group of players who lifted Chelsea to the top of the Premier League pile in the mid-1990s, he would go on to manage one of the most attractive Chelsea sides in history.
The Italian comes across as an intelligent and wise thinker on football and other matters and given his knowledge of what it takes to be a player and a manager at Stamford Bridge, his familiarity with the club could potentially mark him out as an ideal candidate.
The man who gave John Terry his Chelsea debut, and who openly regrets having not played him more, would have little issue promoting from within. In his biography he lamented the failure of football to provide ex-players an easier route into the upper positions of power within the game, and his evangelism for the idea of ceding control to ex-pros could motivate him to get involved.
Another former Chelsea manager with all the attributs to lead a back-to-front revolution at Chelsea. Having come through the Dutch system, he has personal experience of their methodology and the importance they place on youth development. As a player, Gullit was utterly exceptional; even at Chelsea, while in the twilight of his career, Gullit oozed class and his ability helped elevate the club.
Having come through the Dutch system, he has personal experience of their methodology and the importance they place on youth development.
As a player, Gullit was utterly exceptional; even at Chelsea, while in the twilight of his career, Gullit oozed class and his ability helped elevate the club.
Gullit is clearly in touch with the modern game from a coaching perspective and his punditry is often insightful.
An incredibly huge fan of Loftus-Cheek, who he described as “technical, strong, […] a fantastic player. […] the one who has the brains”, Gullit has an affinity with Chelsea’s academy production line and would likely promote the use of them to the board and coach.
If Chelsea can no longer compete for the absolute elite in the modern game, then someone who intrinsically believes in the production of young talent is a plausible alternative to this problem.
Conceptually, Gullit’s vision of football has always been one many people admire. An advocate of fast, attacking football, his Chelsea side were fondly remembered for being a great team to watch in the late 1990s.
Gullit even coined the phrase “sexy football” and given his own combination of physical and technical traits, I would imagine these are the types of players Gullit would like at Chelsea.
Perhaps the most common name associated with Chelsea fans and a technical or sporting director role. The German midfielder was an imperious player at Chelsea in a period where the club were revered in Europe.
Michael Ballack once said in an interview with SPIEGEL: “I want to play well and I want to win”. As a starting point for a footballing philosophy he embraces the basic concepts, while always suggesting that his teams need to be more “aggressive” in and out of possession.
Ballack seems to favour high-tempo, aggressive, front-foot football. He also recognises the different challenges presented by English football: “it’s a completely different type of game in the Premier League, more physical, played at a faster pace.”
While his lack of experience at an executive level is palpable, his understanding of the Premier League hs a value all its own.
There is weight in his opinion regarding which players may succeed in the Premier League and those who, despite being talented, may suffer. Philipp Lahm recently made the point about Bayern Munich’s success being down to having people “who have played the game at the highest level” as directors.
Bayern rarely get sporting decisions wrong and this feels like an opportunity to create that kind of culture of excellence at Chelsea FC. There is also a lot of conceptual knowledge that he inherently understands that would apply to the role.
His thoughts around building a long-term project at a club are interesting: “If you want to work as a coach for longer term you need consistency, trust in the club and also the environment around the club.”
The “environment around the club” is something he could potentially improve.
A slightly left field selection in Andriy Shevchenko. The Ukrainian centre forward is currently a coach for his national team, having arrived there via a slight political detour. He counts Roman Abramovich among his personal friends and clearly carries the respect of those who matter in the Chelsea hierarchy.
If anyone has the political capital to engender the sort of changes Chelsea likely need to return to Europe’s top table, it is Shevchenko.
Given this standing Shevchenko is uniquely positioned to create something in his own image. Would the challenge of rebuilding Chelsea tempt him into moving into a directorial role? There is also an element of unfinished business at Chelsea.
To say his time as a player was underwhelming is kind. Despite this, he does remain a welcome figure amongst Chelsea fans. He has also called up eighteen players who are U25 in the last twelve months.
Shevchenko said: “as a young player, (Dynamo Kyiv coach) Valeriy Lobanovskiy taught me the importance of attention to detail and consistency. Nothing was too small or minor in our preparations – everything counted towards getting the right result.
“In Italy, I was able to gain great tactical experience. Teams would often change their tactics and their formation several times during a single match.
“My time with Chelsea in England provided me with a better understanding of ‘playing for the supporters’. The passion of the fans is a very important and emotional element of British football.”
This is the type of experience and understanding that could make an incredibly good technical director at Chelsea.
Shevchenko brings a pedigree as a player, a current coach, part of a historical AC Milan side and most importantly an already trusted member of the inner circle. The key to his success would certainly reside in his ability to withstand any politicking and have a direct line of communication to the owner.
Whether he would have the kind of views that could be translated into an actionable direction is another question.