Chelsea, Change & Sarri’s Chances

Chelsea manager

The current state of flux at Chelsea is nothing new, we’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again. By its very nature, this type of organisational change in football comes from external pressure: from shareholders, the competition, supporters, etc and as a result, player’s will be affected. People prefer stability, players are people. Irrespective of whether they make that change, i.e. moving clubs, or whether the change has been enforced on them, like the manager merry-go-round at Chelsea, for example, it brings a level of anxiety with it.

The problems come where these changes are planned behind closed doors, so whilst those at the top are getting their heads around what’s going to happen, bombshells are often dropped without prior warning or battle plan and the players won’t have a clue what’s going on or how to respond to it. So, their previous drive to perform at a high standard is replaced by a need to simply survive. Or worse still, without the understanding or confidence that the latest changes will lead to improvement, they’ll resort to resistance. Unfortunately, if their new motivation is to resist change, their motivation to do the job comes second to that. It’s draining, distracting, and psychologically damaging.

If players feel excluded, this also creates an environment of fear, in which emotions run high and hope runs low, so motivation and productivity will take the hit. Ringing any bells yet? Players will fear failure and might doubt their own ability to perform in a new system, especially if that means developing or increasing their own skill level in areas they’re not used to. Worst case scenario is the players don’t feel in control so take on the victim role, pointing the finger elsewhere when things aren’t going their way.

The absolute worst thing a manager can do is fall into a rescuer role because it allows players to behave like helpless toddlers. Yet we’ve seen exactly that scenario play itself out repeatedly at Chelsea: ‘helpless’ players failing to take responsibility for their performances; managers playing ‘rescuer’ coming in with a sticking plaster to hold the team together and agreeing the big bad ref’s are unfair, or pointing fingers at the real ‘perpetrators’ for failing to invest obscene amounts on the latest big-time Charlies. None of this is productive and ultimately all of it will end the same way – badly.

Of course, managers/coaches will experience anxiety too and for them, this can show itself as constant bewilderment and clinging to old ways of working in the hope of maintaining/regaining control, whilst losing sight of what they can impact. So, what can Sarri do?

If he wants to go the way of his predecessors, he can carry on picking the same starting XI, shrugging his shoulders and telling us he doesn’t understand it whilst distancing himself from the responsibility of pushing the changes needed. His post-matches will mirror his behaviour, the gap between him and the players/supporters will get bigger and the writing will be on the wall.

On the other hand, he could take a leap of faith and try asking the players to do the same. In order to help the players he has to first help himself though. The club choose coaches over managers, so this position as a coach should mean Sarri doesn’t need to offer tea and sympathy to those playing victim. Instead, he should be encouraging them to think about how things can work differently and to take responsibility in working towards it. As a ‘coach’, he should be talking to his players and helping them understand his plan. They don’t have to agree with it and should be able to challenge his ideas constructively — but ultimately, he has to have the courage of his convictions. So there’s no use flapping his arms on the touchline when things aren’t working, or telling the press he doesn’t understand why it keeps happening.

If he wants the change, he has to own that change and he’ll need a few strong characters to champion his cause. Antonio Rudiger has put his head above the parapet this week to question the latest bad performance and for me, he’d be a strong ally to carry Sarri’s message. Link him in with Hazard and Kepa with some emphasis on leadership skills – and Sarri could start strengthening the Chelsea spine again.


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