Chelsea’s temporary vision has led to shopping in the Championship aisle

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Seriously, Behdad: I’m fine. Don’t worry, Todd. Everyone knew the plan from the start. Fire the man who won you the Champions League, fire the promising young coach you hired to replace him, fire the experienced top coach you hired to replace him it, hire a championship man, raise ticket prices for the first time in 13 years. This is the process. We understand it. We see that it works. In the meantime, all the best in next season’s Conference League.

And as surely as night follows day, Enzo Maresca will eventually be fired as well. Possibly. Even as he unfolds his club shop scarf and smiles at the photographers, even as he moves his belongings into his new office in Cobham, a whispering shadow follows him through the corridors and across the training pitches. That may not happen next season. This may not happen again the following season. It can even be dressed up as “mutual consent” for the website. But it is fate that ultimately awaits them all.

Related: ‘A dream’: Enzo Maresca appointed Chelsea head coach on a five-year deal

Either way, best get to work. And yet, if we’ve learned anything from the small sample size of Maresca’s managerial career – which spans a total of 67 games, all at second-tier level – it’s that Maresca teams like to bide their time. In 2021, he was sacked by Parma just three months into the season with his team just outside the Serie B relegation zone, later insisting that everything would have worked out in the end. “With a little more time and a few corrections we would have gotten there,” he said later. “I had identified three signings in January and I am confident we would have made the play-offs.”

At Leicester, his team have enjoyed a stately path to the top of the Championship this season, securing promotion, gaining almost 100 points and yet at times incurring the frustration of fans due to their slow, labored, passing football. They ranked 20th out of 24 in terms of the average speed at which their ball moves around the field. They failed to beat either of their main promotion rivals, Ipswich and Leeds, in four attempts. And all this after leaving behind a Premier League-quality squad with nearly 400 international caps, including Golden Boot winner Jamie Vardy. By all accounts, many Leicester fans aren’t too sad to see him go.

Of course, all this in itself means nothing to you. Like: what happens when you apply Maresca’s methods and tactics, honed under Pep Guardiola as one of his assistant coaches at Manchester City, to better players? What happens when you give him €250 million worth of central midfielders, one of the Premier League’s deadliest midfield scorers, a fit Christopher Nkunku, a confident Nicolas Jackson and Mykhailo Mudryk at full strength? preseason and good support during the transfer period? What happens if you give him time?

Okay, we were joking about the last one. But in fact, this is the calculation that co-owners Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali, together with sporting directors Paul Winstanley and Laurence Stewart, will have made: that Maresca is a young and developing talent, available relatively cheaply and yet with high potential ceiling. . Does this sound like a familiar pitch? Perhaps it should ultimately come as no surprise that Chelsea eventually started signing managers the way they sign players.

The other advantage of a new coach is that they are easier to mold and influence. Thomas Tuchel became grumpy. Mauricio Pochettino slipped little poison pills into his press conferences. Ultimately, neither was comfortable with a business model in which players were signed for their valuation, sold to balance the books, with decisions made by a gilded circle convinced they had discovered the one weird trick to unlock football. Maresca can grumble and grumble all he wants. But he can’t say he wasn’t warned.

There is of course an irresolvable paradox here, which is that Chelsea are a club trying to attract the kind of manager they have mercilessly dismissed over the past two decades. The irony of the Roman Abramovich era is that he actually wanted two contradictory things: immediate and permanent success, and a team that played with the kind of technical sophistication that only time and space bring, by being given the room to recover from mistakes. to learn. .

During his time, these two visions continued to battle each other. Good luck! But now less robotic, more attractive! Bag! Style, energy, vision! But now, with fewer losses, more trophies! Bag! Victories, silverware, domination! Do it now on a budget with younger players! Bag! An academy paradise! Resale value! Now for a title challenge! Bag!

These forces are now even more exaggerated, infused with obnoxious American disrupter vibes, where a coach’s vision is essentially a temporary enabler, a necessary level of administration between the tycoons at the top and the entertainers on the field. A man who can work within the existing structure. A man who does what he is told. But also a strong, ambitious man with a vision, a man who never compromises. But also a man who takes the players he gets to the Champions League.

And this – in an admittedly lean market – is how you ultimately end up on the Championship path. Let’s be honest: no one really knows if Maresca is the best man for the job. But we do know this: since Abramovich’s arrival, Chelsea have won 21 major trophies and the vast majority of them have been won under essentially pragmatic coaches, coaches who could adapt and mold, coaches who could compromise. José Mourinho, Tuchel, Carlo Ancelotti, Guus Hiddink. Maurizio Sarri’s Europa League in 2019 is perhaps the only real exception.

Perhaps the reason so few uncompromising coaches have achieved success at Chelsea is that going to Chelsea is, in a sense, the first compromise. The ‘impossible work’, ‘uncontrollable club’ stuff is a bit exaggerated at times. But whether it’s a restless dressing room or a feverish fanbase, a quixotic board or simply the cold reality of vampire capitalism, Chelsea is essentially the place where principles go to die. And the coaches who succeed are the ones who learn that lesson the fastest.

Maybe the coach Chelsea actually wants doesn’t exist. For his part, Maresca is perhaps the next best thing: a man who auditions well yet is eternally grateful for the opportunity, a clear vision that you can sell, one of the new generation of football fundamentalists whose most affordable quality is the ability to Selling 4-0 defeat as progress. And most importantly, a coach that no one will mourn if he is ultimately fired. He may not succeed. But perhaps the nicest thing we can say about Maresca is that he might just get the chance to fail in a new way.

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