Almost everyone who sympathizes with Chelsea Football Club felt the same way as Todd Boehly, the club’s chairman, on Friday night. In the final stages of the local derby between Chelsea and Fulham in the Premier League, as Chelsea struggled in vain to score the winning goal, Boehly could no longer contain his disillusionment. In the box of honor at Stamford Bridge, the American, visibly depressed, fell back in his seat, folded his arms in front of his body and rolled his eyes in annoyance – as if he were already losing patience after just eight months at Chelsea FC.
Boehly found it visibly difficult to accept that success was still a long time coming, despite the great financial efforts. As the leader of an investor consortium backed by Clearlake Capital, which claims to have assets under management of over $70 billion, he has spent an unprecedented amount of money on new players since the club took over in May 2022 – over €600 million in transfer fees alone. The person sitting next to him, Behdad Eghbali, one of the co-founders of Clearlake, looked just as irritated as he did. He is also a member of the club’s board of directors.
Shortly after the end of the game, when the 0-0 was sealed, Boehly and Eghbali ran into the dressing room from the opposite side of the stand. Flying into the team has become a routine after home games, as has chatting with coach Graham Potter there. But this time the analysis took much more time. With good reason: the worrying zero number in the duel with promoted Fulham made Chelsea more or less a laughing stock in public. Almost every newspaper in England wrote with amusement that Chelsea could buy many expensive players – but no success, not even a goal.
Chelsea seems to be spending endless amounts of money, but they still don’t have an accurate striker
In the past twelve league games, there have been just two wins for the successful club. The Blues have long been stuck in the middle of the table, their own minimum requirement, repeated qualification for the Champions League, is nine points away in a game more. At least in this condition, it can hardly be made up for. Although Potter had two weeks to prepare for this match due to the premature exit from the national cup competitions, little progress could be seen. The offensive game still lacked structure, ideas and power.
The lack of goal threat, the cause of which is due to the absence of a good goalscorer, has accompanied Chelsea for some time. Despite the obvious vacancy, the club almost ignorantly refrained from hiring an established specialist for the problem position in the middle of the attack during their shopping spree. The result: again no goal. Only sparse four hits came last in ten competitive games. The best of the few chances to score was missed by the DFB international Kai Havertz, who was again called up as a centre-forward, when he shot the ball at the post in the first half. “A penny for Boehly’s thoughts – and how much for a goal?” she asked Times pretty pointed. The Guardian was similarly cheeky in counting among the ‘positives’ aspects of the game that David Datro Fofana, a youngster recently signed from Molde, ‘almost’ scored his first goal for Chelsea.
It was fitting that coach Potter surprisingly did without Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who was in poor form but was known for his finishing qualities in the past. The ex-Dortmunder used the free weekend for a sensational short trip to Milan – while his colleagues struggled on the pitch. Potter, who has always tried to appease, didn’t want to see anything dishonorable in this. Aubameyang did nothing wrong, he said, it’s a “free world”.
The leniency is believed to have been based on Potter having previously dropped Aubameyang from the 25-man Champions League squad to make room for three of the eight newcomers. Chelsea are not allowed to nominate more. Alongside world champion Enzo Fernández, who made a solid debut in midfield, Potter called up attacking players Michajlo Mudryk and João Felix, who has been suspended since being sent off in the first game – curiously leaving out centre-back Benoît Badiashile, arguably Chelsea’s most in-form at the moment -Player.
Coach Potter is still spared from a coaching discussion
Potter may well have done himself a disservice, as did the decision to start the Fulham game with Mudryk in the starting XI. At half-time he replaced the completely ineffective Ukrainian with the fewest ball contacts on the pitch – due to a bad cold, as Potter later stated. The justification raises the question, probably also within the team, why the left winger was set up at all. Especially since there were two good alternatives available for this position with Noni Madueke and Raheem Sterling, who has just recovered from an injury.
In the same way, Potter has to be accused of not having found a substantial formation or a real starting eleven since he began his duties in September five months ago. In the first 15 Premier League games, the Englishman made a total of 64 player changes in the starting eleven, which cannot only be dealt with by referring to numerous injuries and transfers. Both aspects keep Potter from an intensive trainer discussion at the moment.
All the trouble spots around the club do not necessarily contribute to the stability that is urgently needed after the unprecedented upheaval. Instead, they are increasingly damaging their own reputation. Significant for this was not only the body language of the owner Todd Boehly in the stands, but also another scene with him. As the television cameras snapped him chatting with George Osborne, the former UK government treasurer, football pundit Gary Neville sarcastically hooted on the Sky microphone that he “would instantly see” why the two were standing next to each other. Osborne was once known as a politician for his frugality.