500 days: Chelsea wanders aimlessly while not replacing Michael Emenalo

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - APRIL 08: Michael Emenalo, Technical director at Chelsea is seen prior to the Premier League match between AFC Bournemouth and Chelsea at Vitality Stadium on April 8, 2017 in Bournemouth, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - APRIL 08: Michael Emenalo, Technical director at Chelsea is seen prior to the Premier League match between AFC Bournemouth and Chelsea at Vitality Stadium on April 8, 2017 in Bournemouth, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images) /
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Chelsea have been without a technical director for 500 days. Even if you didn’t know this, watching the club operate over the last year and a half would reveal their headless operation.

Both of our regular readers will know we have a recurring aside where we note the number of days Chelsea have had a vacancy at technical director. Since Michael Emenalo resigned on November 7, 2017, Chelsea’s football strategy has been led and executed by everyone and no one at Stamford Bridge. At one time or another, Maurizio Sarri, Marina Gronovskaia, technical directors around Europe and perhaps even the loudest segments of Chelsea fans (and supporters) have wielded direct influence over the club’s transfers and loans. We may have to retire our little gag, then, as 500 days might be long enough to declare a new normal.

Michael Emenalo’s departure is not felt in any one decision. No one loan in or out, nor a transfer made or missed, betrays the absence of a technical director. It’s the picture that has emerged over the last 500 days. Even if you found his decisions incomprehensible or infuriating, they were of a piece. If Chelsea’s personnel policy under Emenalo was surrealist or Dadaist, without him it is Jackson Pollack.

Any aspect of the club illustrates the rudderless ways. An outsider looking at Chelsea last summer would be hard-pressed to understand why the club would buy Jorginho for £57 million when they had Cesc Fabregas and Danny Drinkwater in the squad. A visitor doing an audit could not make sense of the club bringing in Gonzalo Higuain on loan while Michy Batshuayi, Alvaro Morata and Tammy Abraham are out on loan.

Regardless of whether you think Chelsea need a change of playing philosophy and whether you think Maurizio Sarri is the man to lead it, that is not a project communicated from the owner to the coach. That is the purview of the technical director, because he balances the football and business requirements to make it happen over multiple coaching tenures.

The loan army was Michael Emenalo’s most controversial project and legacy. Yet under his watch he rarely had players with as much experience as Kurt Zouma, Tiemoue Bakayoko or Batshuayi on loan, let alone three at one time.

Emenalo spent years improving the overall quality of Chelsea’s loans, placing more players in the Premier League, the Championship and Europe’s top five leagues as time went on. This season, Chelsea’s loanees are scattered willy-nilly across Europe, with players in England’s League One and Two and the occasional player in a second-tier continental league. Those days seemed behind us by Emenalo’s last season.

The Blues’ most successful loans this season required absolutely no thought from anyone inside Stamford Bridge. If Frank Lampard and John Terry say they want loanees in their first season coaching in the Championship, someone at Chelsea knows enough to nod their heads and make it happen.

None of this is to exonerate Michael Emenalo for his many missteps, mistakes and too-clever-by-half maneuvers over the years. Andreas Christensen is still a major outlier in his pathway from academy to loan army to first team. Emenalo sat on Loftus-Cheek for too long, allowing him to linger when he should have been out playing somewhere, anywhere, in his late teens. The recognition spreading amongst the youth players like Jonathan Panzo, Harvey St. Clair and Juan Familia-Castillo that they had no future at Chelsea indicts Emenalo’s system.

We certainly spent much of our first two years at this site criticizing Michael Emenalo. But over the last 500 days we have eaten our share of crow as we realized that some of his plans had a much longer-term horizon than we had given him credit for. More than anything, though, we realized that things could be much worse than Chelsea having Michael Emenalo as their technical director: they could have no one.

Academy players know Chelsea views them as second-class Blues. light. More

The saying that bad leaders don’t make bad decisions, they make no decisions, holds true here. Chelsea are in a worse spot now than they were on Michael Emenalo’s worst day simply because at least then they had a vision, a strategy to achieve it and someone to execute it, however flawed the vision, strategy, execution or person might be.

Chelsea are moving players in and out of this club with no vision and no strategy, only blind execution by whoever is around to make a call and sign a few papers at any given time. The most short-term person at the club – the coach – and the most football agnostic people – Gronovskaia and the board – are doing things to get things done now, without any thought or concern for what has gone before, the broad view of the present and what the consequences of those actions tomorrow, next week, next year, the next five years.

Chelsea were a more functional football club with Michael Emenalo. As with the coaches, whoever comes in next will spend the first spell on the job cleaning up and putting things back in order before he can start making progress.

Next. Mateo Kovacic still out of place at Chelsea and with Real Madrid as ban looms. dark

Five hundred days of disorder creates quite a mess. Hopefully we won’t be writing the sequel to this piece in 500 more.