So, with last night’s defeat to Liverpool, we won’t be qualifying for next season’s Champions League via the Premier League. In fact, unless we somehow manage to beat Bayern Munich in their own backyard in the Champions League final on 19th May, we will be in the Europa League next season.
Since I’m somewhere between reality and my usual pessimism I’m just not considering a win in Munich next weekend, so I’ve been contemplating a return to the ‘Thursday Night Channel 5’ sort of European nights – and I don’t think it’s the end of the world to be honest. I’m not suggesting for a minute we can’t win the Champions League, we’re in it so we have a chance, all I’m saying is that not winning it and not qualifying for next season’s campaign might not actually be such a disaster.
For a start, if we did win the Champions League, the board will blatantly kid themselves we don’t need such a dramatic overhaul in the summer – and God knows they’ve allowed themselves to believe that for too long as it is. If we’re honest, we know the squad hasn’t been good enough to compete with those above us this season and whilst we’ve managed to raise our game when it comes to the cups, the reality is what we’ve done this season isn’t sustainable.
Not that I’d take last night’s game against Liverpool as any sort of yardstick – I certainly wouldn’t take it as seriously as they seem to have – but to be fair, if that’s the best performance we could manage with a ‘second string’ then the squad needs a serious amount of work. Of course, we were resting players but in any given season there’ll be times where injuries, suspensions etc can force you to rely on squad players and the fact that ours just weren’t good enough against a mid-table Liverpool side is a worry.
Of course there’s a financial loss for not qualifying for the Champions League, although our run to this season’s final might have softened that blow a little and a decent run in the Europa League brings in a few million. I guess our biggest concern might be the effect not qualifying would have on our ability to sign the players we want in the summer although if they’re players who don’t fancy one season away from Champions League and can’t see the bigger picture for Chelsea, then maybe they wouldn’t be players for our future anyway?
So, failing to qualify for the Champions League next season might force the board to accept big changes are required – and it could serve as a kick up the arse for any of the players that are left behind. Wherever we’ve been lucky enough to find ourselves at the end of the season, there’s no denying there have been too many games where too many of our players have looked about as sharp as Kenny Dalglish in his best cup final outfit and as enthusiastic as your average 9-5-er on a Monday morning. So, as disappointing as a season without Champions League football might be, it could serve as a sharp reminder of not only where we’ve come from but also what it takes to be a top four club.
Ten years ago we finished the season in 6th place – exactly where we’ll finish this season – and strangely enough, should we beat Blackburn on the final day, we’ll finish with exactly the same points tally as well. I don’t think it’s fair to say we haven’t moved on because clearly our success over that ten year period speaks for itself and whilst our final position in the table leaves a bit to be desired, that in part has to be as a result of our runs in both the FA Cup and Champions League – we certainly weren’t playing in Champions League finals ten years ago.
What does seem vaguely familiar though is the make-up of our squad. Back then with a first team of players like JFH (30), Graeme Le Saux (33), Zola (35), Petit (31) and Stanic (30), we didn’t have the feel of a club looking towards squad sustainability. And whilst we’ve had plenty of players come and go during that period, where we are now with players like John Terry and Frank Lampard (who were in that first team ten years ago), Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda, even Cole and Essien to an extent, just feels as if we’re in a bit of a time warp squad-wise.
Not long after that 2001/02 season though, Roman Abramovich turned up and we did make significant changes to the squad and whilst I don’t think we need quite the sort of ‘Football Manager’ style spend-up from 9 years ago, we do need to look at the squad realistically, without sentiment even, and make whatever changes we have to in order for Chelsea to move forward again for the long-term.