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Don’t just blame Sarri! Six big systemic problems at Chelsea

13:00 EAT 16/02/2019
Maurizio Sarri Eden Hazard Roman Abramovich Chelsea
The Blues have wider issues than those in the dugout, with issues behind-the-scenes including poor player recruitment and a wasted academy

Chelsea are used to looking for a saviour figure and any move to get rid of Maurizio Sarri will not be an instant resolution for the club's deeper problems.

This reactionary approach to changing their manager, and players via the transfer market, to solve their issues ignores the signs that the Blues may well be on a path to permanent decline.

Chelsea appear to be going in only one direction, and that's down. The volatility of the club is tarnishing its image.

Some of their rivals are fixed to the top table of European football - Manchester United, Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid to name but a few. Others have a great vision, either through their wealth, like with Manchester City, or through patience and planning like Liverpool and Tottenham.

Chelsea, though, appear to be without a plan and while getting rid of Sarri may end up being necessary, it is also not a fix-all solution. Here's some of the other issues at the core...

Hazard ready to jump ship

Eden Hazard might be the best player that Chelsea have ever had, but this summer is increasingly looking like the one that sees him leave.

The 28-year-old has won plenty at the club, although you could argue that he could have even more in his trophy collection had he opted for an alternative choice to the Blues when he left Lille in 2012.

He has arrived into a volatile scenario, but he has still thrived at the club and is their last major transfer victory amid significant competition from other so-called 'superclubs'.

As revealed by Goal, Hazard is hopeful that he will get his big move to Madrid in the summer and should an offer in the region of £100 million ($129m) arrive for a player who is approaching the final year of his contract, it's likely the Blues will have to let go.

Academy morale low

The work done in Chelsea's academy is incredible. The coaches, scouts and support staff have produced teams that have won a joint-record five successive FA Youth Cups and are powerhouses at all youth levels from Under-8's to the Under 18's team.

Their work has been lucrative for Chelsea - with the Blues earning more money through player sales than any other club in recent times - but the lack of a pathway for their talents into the first team has hurt many around the club.

A hiring and firing approach means that the club's first-team managers are right not to prioritise youth progressions with their jobs clearly on the line, but it has led to a club which is divided between the first team and youth team.

The 42-strong loan group will always make Chelsea millions in transfer fees but that has seen many fall by the wayside, as the talents of wonderkids from around the world go to waste.

It is no wonder why Chelsea fan and academy product Callum Hudson-Odoi is so keen on making the switch to Bayern Munich, where he thinks his talent may be more appreciated.

Money has been wasted

In spite of the riches Chelsea make from selling players, they are not using it wisely. An incredible £220 million ($284m) was spent on a group of players that have made little impact at Stamford Bridge in the past three years.

Michy Batshuayi, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Alvaro Morata, Danny Drinkwater, Olivier Giroud, Davide Zappacosta and Emerson Palmieri have all come in and struggled to make an impression.

They all have talent, but there has been insufficient planning in how to utilise them effectively to get the best out of them, leading to a complete lack of impact under either Antonio Conte or Maurizio Sarri.

The club's technical director Michael Emenalo was celebrated as he left Chelsea 18 months ago for Monaco and he has yet to be replaced. That's led to a lack of authority from anyone with specialist football knowledge to advise the most powerful person below Roman Abramovich at the club, Marina Granovskaia.

Chelsea now an unattractive transfer choice

Why would a top player or manager with many options choose Chelsea over, say Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Juventus or Barcelona?

It is hard to find an answer to that question, aside from perhaps the opportunity to live in an international city like London.

The disarray at the club makes it a risk for players to come in, as they can expect an implosion every two years and the breaking up of both the manager and parts of the team, based on recent history anyway.

Chelsea need to be careful that they don't lose their London advantage over rivals such as Arsenal and Tottenham now, with three of their last four seasons spent outside of the Champions League. Recruitment of the elite will soon prove even more tricky than it has ever been since their 2003 ownership change.

For managers, it is even worse. You are likely to get blamed for systemic issues, and the likes of Pep Guardiola and Diego Simeone have already turned down Chelsea in the past due to concerns around that exact issue.

Conversely, Conte's image has not been tarnished by his struggles at Chelsea and neither would Sarri's, such is the acceptance that the manager's role at Stamford Bridge has become almost the impossible job.

Roman Abramovich's future

Many will point at Granovskaia's role as the issue, but perhaps the bigger question is to look at the most powerful man at the club - the one who made the Blues who they are today - with Abramovich having been noticeably absent from Stamford Bridge.

The Russian oligarch has had to react to a geopolitical situation between his home country and the West after the U.S. sanctioned the Eastern superpower, with the United Kingdom have held back his tier 2 investor visa.

This situation has led to Abramovich withdrawing plans to redevelop Stamford Bridge, which involved knocking down the current structure and putting a 60,000-seater stadium up in its place. There are now signs that he would sell the club, although he is after £2.5 billion ($3.2bn) to do so, which would be the record sale for any sports club anywhere in the world.

Further to this, Chelsea have been less competitive in the transfer market for a number of years, opting instead to become more sustainable and end their lavish spending of old.

Man City have raised the bar

Outside of Chelsea, Manchester City have raised the bar significantly. Their record-breaking season last year has affected all of the top six, who are scrambling to close the gap on the big-spending, oil-rich club.

Unlike Chelsea, City have had to contend with Financial Fair Play during their rise to the top, and they've pulled it off under the masterful approach of Txiki Begiristain, their director of football with an ambitious vision.

There will rightly be criticism of the funding of City, but as a sporting institution they have rapidly become world class in all departments. Their academy structure is threatening to blow Chelsea out of the water, with one such example being the fact they have three times as many loan managers to oversee comparatively fewer players.

The club have also established the City Football Group, by buying stakes in six clubs across five continents, outdoing Chelsea's loan army in one big swoop. In fact, every club in the top six can point to an off-pitch financial advantage over the Blues.

Chelsea has the smallest stadium and their commercial revenue lags behind many of their top-six rivals. Their new management on the business side includes new chief executive Guy Lawrence and commercial director Chris Townsend. Their aim will be to right the wrongs of the past.

Alexis Sanchez hasn't been a success at Manchester United but, at a time when he was considered one of the league's top players back in January 2018, the Blues lacked the required effort to sign him, despite Conte being interested. With City also in the running, and believing at one point they'd even got the deal over the line, Chelsea were nowhere. They couldn't compete with Manchester's big two. 

The bar to greatness has clearly been raised both on and off the pitch. Chelsea need to go again.