It’s always the way, you go away for a week and all hell breaks loose, the inbox is full, the list of things to do hasn’t been done and you spend a week playing catch up – still the holiday was nice though.
It felt like coming back to the good, the bad and the ugly.
It wasn’t quite that way at Stamford Bridge but it certainly has that feel to it; first of, the good – a fantastic performance against a title rival, and an old foe in Manchester United and Jose Mourinho sent everyone into the international break with an extra spring in their step; the bad – David Luiz banished to the stands, following reports over the defender questioning Antonio Conte’s tactics after the catastrophic second half performance in Rome; the ugly – the morning after the Manchester United victory, it was announced that Michael Emenalo was to step down after ten years at the club.
Quite an eventful start to November you would say, fireworks are usually set off in this month and this is certainly the case in SW6.
Let’s start with Michael Emenalo, for a number of years, a large section of Chelsea supporters have had an axe to grind with Emenalo, whether it be from replacing Ray Wilkins as Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant when the Italian was having his ‘difficult period’ in October/November 2010, the lack of talent coming from the club’s highly successful youth academy or the infamous ‘palpable discord’ interview given to explain the sacking of Jose Mourinho in 2015.
From the outside looking in, it seemed that Emenalo was everything that was wrong with the club, but those within the corridors and boardrooms at Stamford Bridge, valued Emenalo very highly, you do not become a trusted associate of Roman Abramovich without getting things right, getting the trust of the Russian and becoming a part of his inner circle is like trying climb Mount Everest barefoot and without any safety harness – difficult to say the least, but Emenalo achieved that feat.
From the moment Emenalo was brought through the door at Stamford Bridge by the much despised Avram Grant, it was clear that any good feeling towards him would have to be earned, and it was in short supply with supporters disdainful of his, or lack of qualifications and disheartened at the damage caused by his swift rise within the club, however that would prove to be a poisoned chalice until his departure.
His growing influence within Stamford Bridge was confirmed and rubber-stamped in July 2011 when, just weeks after the controversial sacking of Carlo Ancelotti in the Goodison Park tunnel, Emenalo was given the formative title of technical director. Quite what the role was and what responsibilities it entailed was a source of bewilderment for most supporters.
While a large number won’t shed any tears following his departure, it is widely reported that Emenalo’s departure, rather than strengthen Antonio Conte’s hand, it could actually see the Italian lose a vital ally, as it is, or was, Emenalo who mediated relations between Conte and the Chelsea hierarchy, in particular, Club Director Marina Granovskaia. It may be Emenalo and others who identify the players, it is Granovskia who finalises the deals, and who has been integral in Chelsea’s transfer policy over the last few years.
This transfer policy led to this summer’s, summer of discontent, with Antonio Conte and supporters frustrated with the club’s perceived lack of summer spending, which led to the Italian becoming ever so prickly when asked in press conferences. Quite how the reported tensions between Conte and Granovskaia will play out over the coming weeks and months, particularly with the January transfer window fast approaching, the timing of Emenalo’s sudden departure does raise questions.
Michael Emenalo will depart Stamford Bridge with few friends among the supporters, but a look at some of the players brought in under his watch – Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Alvaro Morata to name but a few, and the amount of trophies – three Premier League titles, a Champions League, a Europa League, should be looked upon as a success, while Emenalo didn’t get everything right – the depatures of Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Mohammed Salah are testament to this, he could point to Tammy Abraham and Ruben Loftus Cheek’s elevation to the England squad and the significant amount of Chelsea youth players contributing to the U17’s, U19’s and U20’s success this summer, as the fruits of labour of the much-maligned youth academy over the last six years finally reaping its rewards, only time will tell on that one I guess.
While Chelsea look for his successor; wouldn’t it be nice for Frank Lampard, John Terry or Didier Drogba to fill this role; it promises to be a turbulent time in the upcoming weeks and months, but isn’t that the way it has been for the last ten or so years, we wouldn’t have it any other way would we? Don’t answer that.
So it’s West Brom on the horizon, The Hawthorns has not been a happy hunting ground for under fire Chelsea managers in recent times, as Roberto Di Matteo and Andre Villas Boas can testify. Antonio Conte does not appear to have this worry quite yet, and this fixture, remember, has extremely happy memories for the Italian, it was the ground in which Chelsea secured and regained the title in Conte’s debut season. Tony Pulis has come under increasing pressure in recent weeks from the West Brom faithful for recent results and a perceived lack of entertaining football, quite what they were used to under Gary Megson, Pepe Mel and Alan Irvine beats me but it certainly wasn’t Barcelona in their pomp that is for sure.
Antonio Conte will be looking to build on the feel-good factor surrounding the Manchester United result and laying down a foundation on which to build for the rest of the season – quite where this leaves David Luiz remains to be seen.
The shock omission of the Brazilian did raise some eyebrows before kick-off against United, particularly if reports are to be believed that it was Luiz who questioned Conte during the manager’s dressing down days after defeat to Roma. How Luiz gets back into the fold is down to himself, and he could face a wait on the sidelines, as Andreas Christensen has looked impressive whenever he has been called upon.
The fallout of the David Luiz affair has only strengthened the view that Antonio Conte is his own man, and will do things his own way, if he is to fall on his sword, he won’t fall or be pushed on it by sulking players as it was the way of Jose Mourinho. Conte, as it was after the Arsenal defeat in 2016, will look to change elements within the team, if that is to be at the cost of a sulking big name player then so be it, and what it does spell out to the players is, no one is bigger than the club.
So the players will be filtering back after a worthwhile round of friendlies – ok that wasn’t called for – it is shaping up to be a busy November with, bar Liverpool at Anfield, a month of very winnable fixtures. With December and the busy Christmas period fast approaching – seven games in 28 days – it is vital that Chelsea hang on to the coat tails of Manchester City; it may be fruitless to say now, with City looking like sweeping all before them, but titles are not won in November, and City are due a wobble at some point, so it is important that November can be navigated in the right manner.
So it’s on to the Hawthorns, a notoriously tough away ground, as it was last season, but renewed confidence within the squad and important players coming back from injury can see The Blues over the line, and then it is on to Anfield – more on them next week.
For while it has been an eventful week at Stamford Bridge, as Chelsea supporters, we wouldn’t have it any other way, let’s face it, it could be worse – we could support West Brom – that wouldn’t be like it has been this week; the good, the bad and the ugly – that would be more a case of the bland, the bad and the bloody boring.
Until nexf time.