As Rafa Benitez recorded the first loss of his Chelsea tenure this weekend, after a deserved 3-1 defeat at the hands of London rivals West Ham, the Spaniard’s derisory popularity at the Bridge is set to wane even further. With the Blues supporters seemingly unlikely to have a wonderful Christmas time and Benitez having little time to implement new tactical regimes, it is a worrying time at the Bridge.
An even more disconcerting issue that has reared it’s head in the press over the last month, is the apparent exodus of Chelsea players that is set to occur at the end of this season. With Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, Daniel Sturridge and many more all being linked with moves away from West London, Roman Abramovich’s decision to terminate the leadership of a manager who had a settled group of players seems more ridiculous with each passing Chelsea transfer rumour. The question that now must be asked of the Russian owner and the Spanish ‘manager’ is whether they can halt the impending evacuation of Stamford Bridge or be faced with a backlash of hatred as the club moves in a direction where the fans will not follow.
Chelsea may be only one of a few Premier League clubs who have not made mammoth changes to their squad over the past few seasons. Keeping a relatively similar spine to the team with Petr Cech, John Terry and Frank Lampard ever present throughout the last 9 seasons. This has assisted the Blues in various ways, with consistency and confidence two obvious strong points of the club. However, when Didier Drogba departed for the Far East this summer, it felt as if a part of Chelsea went with him. The Ivorian was as much a veteran at the Bridge than any of the three aforementioned Chelsea legends. The loss of the imposing striker may have foreshadowed the changes that are occurring and have yet to occur under the rule of Abramovich. As well as Drogba waving goodbye to his beloved club, Roberto Di Matteo, adored by Chelsea fans, was given the boot despite winning the FA Cup and the Blues Holy Grail, the Champions League in his short tenure as boss. With all of these alterations, it is no surprise that some of the old guard would consider leaving for pastures new. Who knows what other stunts Mr. Abramovich has in his locker. He should be desperate to hold on to the elder statesmen in the squad rather than concerning himself with fruitless labours like making it quite apparent that he wants the misfiring, overrated, visibly unhappy Fernando Torres to start every game. If the owner truly holds all the cards, then the players must surely be concerned. Will they be dropped from the team after a couple of average performances? Will they be placed on the transfer list for no apparent reason? Will vast amounts of Ruble’s be spent on a new player whose arrival demotes current players to the sidelines? With uncertainty comes unrest and that is quite blatant at Chelsea.
Despite Roman’s Revolution and his tyrannical hand overseeing much of the outrage at the Bridge of late, there are certainly other reasons as to why Chelsea players could want to leave the club. For the likes of Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole, the invitation to see out their footballing career’s in sun filled, financially beneficial scenario’s may be impossible to resist. With the former receiving offers from China and the latter reportedly interested in a more Parisian lifestyle, the veterans could be excused for looking elsewhere.
Maybe it is time for transition at Chelsea. With players like Oscar, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata now the leading lights of the side, it could well be the best time for some of the old guard and fringe players to make their way down the Kings Road and out of sight, leaving their legacies behind and passing the metaphorical torch to the new blood at the Bridge.
Despite this, it still seems that the owner is treating the club as his project; a ‘football manager’ style scenario, with complete disregard for fans or player welfare (apart from El Nino). While it may be the right time to revamp the squad in places, allowing a mass exodus would be an abhorrent decision that will only put more pressure on Abramovich as well as a certain Spanish manager who is hardly the most popular man in West London at this moment.