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Has Chelsea's harsh approach to managers helped make them England's most successful club since 2003?

No Premier League team has won as many trophies as the Blues since the Roman Abramovich era began.

Frank Lampard was recently dismissed as Chelsea boss.
Frank Lampard was recently dismissed as Chelsea boss.
Image: PA

FOR SO LONG in football, the conventional wisdom has suggested that stability and patience are key factors in creating a successful club.

For quite a while, there was certainly evidence to back up this theory.

The two most dominant sides of the 1990s and early 2000s, Man United and Arsenal, were spearheaded by managers who had famously long spells at their respective clubs, Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger.

And even before them, the most successful managers often enjoyed considerable longevity in their jobs — Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley and Brian Clough for instance, had lengthy spells with the clubs for whom they were most successful.

This idea remains to an extent in the present day. Whether you agree with it or not, one of the biggest clichés in modern football is to say a struggling manager ‘needs time’.

Yet time in football now is more scarce than ever. The money has become astronomical and each club is essentially a business. Relying on one person to run it for an extensive period is a luxury few can afford.

It feels unlikely that there will ever be another Ferguson or Wenger, who is allowed to build a dynasty at a top club.

All of which makes the over-the-top reaction, in certain sections of the British media, to Frank Lampard’s sacking at Chelsea, somewhat surprising.

On one level, you could argue the dismissal was harsh. The club legend had only been in the job a year and a half, and with an array of expensive new signings during the summer, he was in the midst of a rebuilding job, complicated further by the fact that we are in the middle of a pandemic that has wreaked havoc on the Premier League and made injuries and unpredictable results increasingly commonplace.

At the same time, by sacking Lampard, Chelsea are merely reverting to type. Managers who achieved far more have been treated in a similarly severe manner. Roberto Di Matteo was sacked only a couple of months after winning the Champions League. Carlo Ancelotti was dismissed just a year after guiding the club to their first-ever domestic double. Jose Mourinho, the most iconic and successful manager in the club’s history, has been promptly let go at the first sign of trouble on two occasions. If anything, Lampard was shown patience by comparison, given that he did not win a single major trophy during his brief spell as manager.

Even by modern standards, Chelsea are very quick to get rid of managers. Thomas Tuchel is their 15th permanent managerial appointment (we’re counting permanent as six months or more) since the Roman Abramovich era began in the summer of 2003.

That stat is put into perspective when you compare it to how often their rivals have changed managers within that period: Man United (5), Liverpool (6), Arsenal (3), Man City (7), Tottenham (9).

If football’s conventional wisdom was to be believed, Chelsea’s controversial approach would yield catastrophic results. And yet really, the opposite is true, if you analyse the stats.

Chelsea have arguably been England’s most successful club since Abramovich’s money made them an elite team in 2003.

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In that period, they have won five Premier League titles. By comparison, United have won five, City have won four, while Arsenal, Liverpool and Leicester have one apiece.

They are one of three English clubs to have won the Champions League in that time, along with Man United and Liverpool (x2).

As with the Premier League, they are joint top when it comes to FA Cup wins with five. Arsenal also have five, United have two, City have two and Liverpool, Portsmouth and Wigan have one each.

It is only with the League Cup, the least significant of England’s domestic trophies, that they lag slightly behind their rivals. They have three, while City have five and United have four trophies to their name. Liverpool, Tottenham, Middlesbrough, Swansea and Birmingham have one each.

They also have won the Europa League twice during that period. Man United are the only other English team to have won it at all within that timeframe.

So if you were to measure success purely in terms of major domestic and European trophies since the summer of 2003, Chelsea have won 16 — almost exactly one trophy per season on average. Compare that to United (13), City (11), Arsenal (6) Liverpool (5), and Tottenham (1).

All of which begs the question: is it in spite of, or because of this controversial approach to managers, constantly changing the coach in an age where attention spans are increasingly short, while players are richer and less tolerant than ever, that Chelsea have won more trophies than anyone else in English football?

Of course, the many millions their Russian owner has ploughed into the club is at least as significant a factor.

But as harsh and unfair as Lampard’s sacking comes across on a human level, looking at it in terms of a business, which is what football has effectively become, Abramovich will point to the results of the last 18 years as justification for the unpopular decision.

Upcoming Premier League fixtures:

Saturday

Everton v Newcastle (12.30)
Crystal Palace v Wolves (15.00)
Man City v Sheffield United (15.00)
West Brom v Fulham (15.00)
Arsenal v Man United (17.30)
Southampton v Aston Villa (20.00)

Sunday

Chelsea v Burnley (12.00)
Leicester City v Leeds (14.00)
West Ham v Liverpool (16.30)
Brighton v Tottenham (19.15)

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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