Year of change at Chelsea with performances on the pitch suffering

Chelsea Football Club had a tumultuous year after owner, Roman Abramovich, was forced to sell the West London club in May 2022.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Thursday February 24th, 2022, led foreign government’s, including Westminster, to weaken the Kremlin’s power abroad by placing sanctions on close allies of Vladimir Putin.

Following Abramovich’s departure after 19 years in charge, fans and critics alike have highlighted how off the pitch politics have transferred into match results and performance on the pitch.

The above bar chart presents the outcomes of all 38 Premier League matches in the 2021/2022 season where they finished in third place with 74 points.

In contrast, the bar chart below presents the outcomes of the 14 Premier League games Chelsea FC have played in the 2022/2023 season until the Qatar World Cup break.

‘Don’t kill my club’: A game of two halves at Chelsea FC

The club had a win average of 55.26% last season, compared to just 42.86% this season, seeing a 12.4% decrease in victories.

Chelsea currently rank tenth in the table having lost their last two matches.

While it is important to recognise that direct parallels are not possible between the two seasons because the 2022/2023 campaign continues through till May, Chelsea’s position was undoubtedly stronger after the same amount of matches this time last year.

The disruption of management, negative media portrayals and financial sanctions have destabilised the dressing room, which the data on the pitch has cemented.

At the heart of the debate is what this data is telling us and whether the fans agree.

To answer this question, I spoke to life-long Chelsea fan, Patrick, who grew up just ten minutes from Stamford Bridge in 1960s West London.

Patrick’s first memory of the club is, perhaps fittingly, a painful one; the 1967 FA Cup Final saw Tottenham Hotspur lift the famous silver ware with a 2-1 defeat to their cockney rivals.

Yet, just three years later, Patrick, then aged 8, remembers his elation as Chelsea reigned victorious at the 1970 FA Cup.

Fast forward to more recent times and Patrick believes: “The days of wine and roses could well be over for Chelsea.”

Since coming to The Bridge in 2003 Patrick described Abramovich as a guilty pleasure.

He said: “While his associations with the Kremlin are awful, speaking as a fan he has done so much for my club.

“He has taken them to the elite level in world football and given us an international reputation.”

Patrick explained that this is why he, and so many other fans feel so conflicted.

Patrick added: “I find it difficult to critique him completely because if you can try and just think about the football in isolation then he was an incredible owner, his money led them to having the most successful period in their history.”

The balance of football and politics is an uncomfortable one for many clubs but Patrick was keen to highlight that Chelsea have been around for longer than the current governments in the UK or Russia, “and certainly longer than Abramovich.”

Ex-Chelsea FC Owner, Roman Abramovich – Image: Brian Minkoff-London Pixels via Wikimedia Commons

Chelsea FC was founded in 1905 and has been an institution, employer and love for fans worldwide.

Patrick stated that it was this rich history that made so many fans enraged.

He said: “The government cannot kill my club for political point scoring.”

Such a political statement was seen by many as a clear double standard when it comes to the government’s involvement in elite football.

Government ministers endorsed the Qatar World Cup despite the deaths of thousands of migrant labourers and archaic views on gender equality and LGBTQ+ rights.

Similarly, Patrick highlighted the human rights offences of Saudi Arabia, with Newcastle United welcoming investment and ownership from the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund.

On these matters Patrick added: “I think it’s inevitable that politics has a place in football.

“It would be good if they could be kept separately but realistically it just isn’t going to happen. People with money inevitably will be connected to politics in some regards and football is no different.”

‘Don’t kill my club’: A game of two halves at Chelsea FC

The role of football pundits has also been called into dispute.

As Adam Newson highlighted, the industry has reacted strongly to Abramovich’s departure, which Patrick believed ‘appeased’ many.

Patrick agreed that “many people took pleasure in their imminent demise, they could have gone out of business if they had failed to sell the club. 

“There has been a vendetta against the club for years and there were a lot of people waiting to bash Chelsea because they blew a lot of clubs out of the water with their finances following 2003, there was a lot of jealousy therefore when the fall came a lot of people were happy to pile in.”

While many have heralded a changing of the ‘old guard’ with Potter’s arrival marking a fresh new start, others remain unimpressed with Potter’s performance thus far.

However Patrick sees, “Boehly’s management style as more inclusive and more visible.

“While Abramovich hardly took an interview they clearly have. Strong PR around them and they’re still spending a lot of money which fans will like.”

Overall, I asked Patrick if continued losses and poor performances both in and out of the dressing room would cause his loyalties move away from Chelsea FC.

The short answer? No.

Patrick said: “I have supported Chelsea when there were fewer than 10,000 fans at Stamford Bridge and I will do again.”

However, he did concede that while his loyalties are lifelong, to newer fans who have supported the club during the Abramovich ‘glory years’ they may be more likely to move their loyalties elsewhere.

Featured Image Credit: Ank Kumar ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)

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