Chelsea have had better fortnights, haven’t they? Yet, amid a two-window transfer ban, a 6-0 defeat at Manchester City, an FA Cup exit at home to Manchester United, questions surrounding the future of Maurizio Sarri and Callum Hudson-Odoi – the brightest young spark of an ageing squad – wanting out, Chelsea have got a cup final to play.
In a curious sense, this afternoon’s Wembley festivities could scarcely come at a better time for Sarri. Yet this is as close as Chelsea have been to chaos since Roman Abramovich arrived in 2003. For the first time in almost two decades there are multiple issues bubbling away; there is a volcano of discontent waiting to erupt.
Abramovich, the owner without a UK visa, has always preferred to be in the background. However, the Russian has never appeared so distant.
And then there is Sarri; nobody, perhaps, has ever needed the Carabao Cup quite like the intriguing Italian, a man whose appointment – exciting though it was – always seemed entirely at odds with Abramovich’s Chelsea, a ruthlessly efficient winning machine.
Mourinho, the Champions League winner. Scolari, the World Cup winner. Ancelotti, as close to a gun for hire as football management has to offer, eventually sacked after a second-placed finish and an FA Cup win. Andre Villas-Boas, an appointment that did not work out, but one that followed unprecedented success in both Portugal and Europe.
Even Abramovich’s short-term selection of Rafa Benitez followed a deep admiration of the job the Spaniard had done in overcoming Chelsea sides of years gone by. Then, Mourinho had another go, an arch winner back for more. Post-Mourinho, there was Antonio Conte, a pragmatist even by the standards of Italian football.
Then there was Sarri, the most curious commodity at the most curious time. Nineteen clubs he has managed over the course of 29 years. He has never won a trophy. It is a startling statistic when one considers what exactly Chelsea have become.
People talk about the philosophy of a football club. That Arsenal play the game in the style laid out by Arsene Wenger; that Manchester City’s gameplan has been set out over a number of years through the growth of a supreme infrastructure; that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has returned the ‘Manchester United way’ to his club.
Chelsea’s ‘way’ has been to win. It has been built on a cold competence. When Scolari came in, the manner of his football was pleasing, but coincidental to an unrivalled record at international level – likewise with Villas-Boas. They were men of style, but also men of substance.
Sarri is an excellent coach, as any fan of the sport beyond these shores could attest. Yet, he is profoundly un-Chelsea in his raison d’etre.
If he is to survive the season it will be because his employers are willing to change for him. Few others have been afforded such time. Claim a first career trophy today and, perhaps, he has a chance. Fail to do so, and Chelsea’s fortnight will show no signs of improving.