Ahead of tomorrow’s second encounter of the season with ‘top six’ opponents, I had the pleasure of chatting with one of my broadcasting heroes, Andy Jacobs – one half of the legendary Hawksbee & Jacobs. And, God bless him, he was ever so nice to the stuttering, sycophant on the other end of the phone…
Last time we spoke, before our FA Cup tie in January 2018, you were confident that Antonio Conte was the man for the job, and with good reason to be fair. Where did it go wrong for him, and how did we get to young Frank via Maurizio Sarri?
Andy: Good question. Well, as I’ve said before, Abramovich does have this pattern of backing his manager to the point where he wins the title and then almost steps back the following season and doesn’t give him the funds to make the squad even stronger. It’s weird, almost like he doesn’t want to see that manager succeed for a second season.
In the case of Conte, the summer after winning the league, for example, he wanted Lukaku and ended up with Morata. He wanted a world-class midfielder and ended up with Danny Drinkwater, and basically, instead of spending really big on a couple of £80 million players, he ended up bringing in four £30 million-pound players who didn’t improve the squad at all.
Conte is far from daft, plus he has this massive ego, and he could see what was happening. Even with Hazard in the side, the form suffered, and Conte became this embattled figure. Sadly there was only one outcome.
And then, of course, we had a season of Sarri, and the problem there was the football was just so dull. It was possession-based football with no real purpose. Some people commented on how tight Chelsea were defensively under Sarri but when you have the ball 70 per cent of the time you won’t concede that many goals! The problem was the football was so slow we didn’t create much at the other end despite having a squad of great players.
It got to the point where the football was so poor, the excitement had just gone. There was no fun in turning up to a game. Ironically, the best, most entertaining half of football Chelsea played all season was the second half of the Europa League Final – his final half in charge of the club. Left us all thinking, if only…
Your point about Sarri and the style of football strikes a chord here too. In the early days of Farkball, before most of us had fully bought into ‘the project’, it felt like possession football for the sake of it, with little purpose, but now we’ve been educated we can see those were just the early days in the players’ own learning of this system.
So, is Frank the man for the job? And would he have been if there was no two-window transfer ban?
The question here is, who else could they have got? The club was in the first window of a two-window transfer ban, they had sold their best player [Hazard], and were left with no option but to go with what they have and bring through some of the talented young players they have.
You’re going to miss the likes of Hazard, it’s obvious. He’s been the Premier League’s best player for several seasons, and it’s unfair to expect someone like Christian Pulisic – who’s only 20 and may go on to be a great player – to step in and have the same impact. It’s just not going to happen.
But Frank is a Chelsea legend and the supporters love him, so it made perfect sense. I just hope though that even if things don’t kick on as we all want them to, the fans acknowledge the position the club is in and they show patience. That’s just so key.
He’s a really intelligent bloke with a brilliant footballing brain, he knows how the club works, has surrounded himself with some really good people and he just needs time. He also needs to be able to make the squad his own and he won’t be able to do that until he gets a transfer window to work in.
What this ban has done has allowed others, like Arsenal, to edge ahead of Chelsea. Emery has identified the areas he needed to strengthen, has gone out and spent over £100 million on the likes of Pepe and Ceballos (on loan), and they’ll be better as a result. We haven’t been able to do that.
As I said though, Lampard is far from stupid and he knows that regardless of all this, it still comes down to results, and already some in the media are focussing on the lack of wins rather than the improved performances and style of play.
There have been some good signs and there have been some worrying signs. They played well at United for 45 minutes on opening day (they were terrible for the second half though) and played well in Istanbul against Liverpool in a game they should have won, but all some people saw was two defeats.
And then, of course, on Sunday they were leggy in the second half against Leicester as you would expect them to be having played 120 minutes in the humidity of Istanbul. If they had been three or four up at half-time as they should have been it’d have been game over, but they weren’t and unsurprisingly Leicester came on strong in the second half.
The margins have been fine too. If Abrahams’ shot at Old Trafford goes in instead of hitting the post, who knows if that would have made a difference. And we hit the post a lot!
What really needs to happen is for Lampard to get a tune out of the five really exceptional young players he has to work with – Callum Hudson-Odoi, Reuben Loftus-Cheek, Mason Mount, Tammy Abrahams and Reece James – although it hasn’t helped that Hudson-Odoi and Loftus-Cheek are currently injured. But if he can get those five fit and in the team, it could be the start of something.
In the short-term, Lampard just needs a win to kick-start the season and it may come on Saturday although we know what a tough game it will be, with Norwich having the momentum of promotion and that win over Newcastle.
We do have momentum and the promotion buzz is still in the air, but most of us are acutely aware that we’ve so far played against the two extremes – Liverpool, European Champions, and Newcastle, bit of a shambles – and Chelsea will be somewhere in between but at the upper end of the spectrum. We knew before it all began that any points of the top six would be a bonus. That hasn’t changed just because of your slow start.
Off the field, has Abramovich’s exile affected how the club has been run?
Glad you asked this because it’s a popular misconception that he’s lost interest in the club and is no longer bothered. It’s simply not true. It doesn’t help though when people like Graeme Souness keep pushing this narrative with no foundation at all.
He’s as committed as ever… he goes to all the games they play overseas, he was at the Europa League final in Baku, he was at the Super Cup Final in Istanbul and basically, it’s not his choice that he’s barred from entering the country because they refuse to renew his visa.
The whole thing is politically motivated and is ridiculous, especially when you think of the millions he and his organisations have paid in tax in this country. I honestly think the person in the Home Office who made this decision was an Arsenal supporter!
So, looking forward to Saturday, what have made of our Poundshop rise to the Premier League? We’re quite proud of the fact we’re self-funded even though it is through necessity.
I just think Norwich is a brilliant club run by some great people and you have now got yourselves a brilliant manager. I love Delia and respect what she’s done for your club and know a few people like Mick Dennis – who’s a top bloke – who are connected with the club and love it.
And I think you play great football, which will make Saturday’s game a really open, entertaining one. I like how you’ve started – you were never going to get anything at Liverpool – and everything I’ve seen so far suggests you have a realistic chance of staying up. Only two games in, and you never know what’s ahead, but Newcastle already look likely to struggle and I think you’ll be fine
Thanks Andy… I’ll hold you to that one.
Finally, standard question I’m afraid… score prediction?
Such a hard one to call, it really could go either way, and you can make an argument for all three results. If Chelsea play well, they should win because they have better players than Norwich, but it also needs the fine margins to go Chelsea’s way. I just know it’s going to be an attractive game of football. If I have to predict, I’ll go 2-1 Chelsea.