The Boehly-Roman Empire: What the New Chelsea Regime Is Missing

I know what you’re thinking: that pun is just taking it too far. 

You’re right. It is. But there’s more at play here than a contrived attempt at punnery, and with these words, I’d like to tell you how.

It was never going to be easy after Roman

It’s not just the nature in which the Roman Abramovich era came to end at Stamford Bridge. The longevity of the era, and the success it brought, inevitably made it a hard act to follow. Chelsea’s Premier League competitors Man United and Arsenal have first-hand experience of what happens in such cases, the former in particular having demonstrated how spectacular and quick your drift into oblivion can be if you fail to act prudently despite having enough of a financial might.

Abramovich may yet have a belated parting gift for Chelsea’s new overlords as well, for reports emerged earlier this season about the Russian oligarch having engaged in financial doping over the years to further bolster the Blues’ financial capabilities.

If these reports precipitate into anything of substance, Chelsea’s new spending proclivities will end up further setting the odds against them, not that they’ve been particularly conducive to long-term success to begin with.

A promise of stability and the reality

The arrival of Todd Boehly & Co was meant to herald a new era of different practices. Major League Baseball’s LA Dodgers, of whom Boehly has a minority ownership, were pointed to as an example of things to come, that under him Chelsea would divert from their scattergun approach and stick with their managers for longer, the Dodgers having had their manager in place since 2016.

Of course, it hasn’t turned out like that at all. Thomas Tuchel, much loved by the Blues faithful for the success he delivered and the way he steadied the ship amidst Abramovich’s exit from the club, was dismissed not long after the new guys arrived, Boehly having reportedly not liked the cut of his jib. Fair enough. Graham Potter was then poached from Brighton along with other Seagulls with a promise of long backing before getting the boot inside seven months.

Now, with over a £1 billion spent over 34 player acquisitions, most of it amortised nicely over to the next decade, Chelsea find themselves further sinking into the quagmire of mediocrity this season, currently holding on to a top-half spot in the league by their fingernails, with their manager again being told of long-term commitments despite looking anything but secure.

Boehly ain’t making it easier. This is why

Artwork by Charbak Dipta

Chelsea’s problem is not their recruitment; it’s their spending. They’re recruiting well, but the amount of money they’ve spent in a very, very short time puts them at a disadvantage.

You see, if you’re an affluent owner of a new football club with billions of quid to back your ideas, you can build an attractive squad on paper ten times over in one go, sure, but it will likely offset your chances of succeeding altogether, let alone boost them.

Because for all your spending power, there’s one thing you can not buy: time. No one can. Not the Kroenkes. Not the Saudis. All you can try to do is cultivate an environment which, in turn, affords you time. Time you can then use to build in a “healthy” way

What Chelsea have been up to over the past two seasons is not healthy. It’s akin to eating too much at a buffet to justify the entry fee. And what happens when you overeat? That’s right, indigestion.

Healthy squads are built over time. Ten players are introduced to the setup not in one go, but two, maybe three at a time. Think about how you dilute acid: you add acid to water drop by drop, every drop being added after the previous one has been assimilated.

You cannot microwave relationships. Because you cannot breach the rules of time. In this case, you cannot artificially make these new players form unique relationships which could then result into coherent patterns on the pitch and help the team win.

Chelsea bought a fair bit of players last season. Didn’t work out. That’s fine. Things don’t work out many times. But you cannot throw almost all the babies out with the bathwater and replace them with a whole new set and expect things to magically change. Some players from last season did need to go, but not all. Similarly, all these players Chelsea are buying are excellent players, even the right fit for Mauricio Pochettino, potentially, but they’re being integrated into the squad all at the same time, and that’s not going to help. You need to give things time.

Spending all this money further askews public expectations. This would be fine if this resulted solely in reactionary social media commentary; that can be—and often ought to be—ignored. But public opinion also includes the players, coaches, and analysts at the club as well as the board of directors above them. Expectations that all this money needs to result into something and something soon, and so the idea that “time needs to be given” gets thrown out the window the bigger the spending gets. Despite all your planning, you always need quite a bit of luck and one crucial virtue: patience.

And that’s something I believe the whole place needs but does not currently exude. Now, fans will always be fickle, but the powers that be at the club are trying to go against the very fabric of reality, and I think that’s where they come unstuck.

Same domain, different overlords. Similar legacies?

The Holy Roman Empire rose from the ashes of its eponymous predecessor, ruling over the same domain despite having little in common with those who came before, and went on to have golden eras of its own amidst the dark ages.

The Boehly-Roman Empire has demonstrated thus far that it has the financial muscle and caprice comparable to its predecessor. But if it is going to have a golden phase or two, it’s going to have to turn to prudence and patience sooner or later, or risk drifting into mid-table mediocrity, never to be seen again on the summit.