Chelsea face summer of discontent

A harrowing home defeat by Tottenham on Sunday left Chelsea eight points adrift of the Champions League qualification places with seven matches to play. Although the meagre consolation of the Europa League awaits, next season would be the second in three spent outside Europe’s premier club competition. So what could be the ramifications?

Finances will take a hit

Failure to qualify for the Champions League will affect income, even with the sums generated through Premier League media rights. The club’s most recent financial figures, covering a 2016-17 campaign spent out of Europe altogether, serve as a gauge. They show revenues rose by £32m, yet that was less than half the increase recorded by Manchester United (£82m), Arsenal (£72m) and Manchester City (£66m), who were competing in the Champions League. Match-day incomes fell 6% to £66m and, although the Europa League awaits, those games will not attract the same glitz, glamour or gates. A club who made £193m between 2012 and 2017 from playing in Europe will inevitably suffer another downturn.

More pertinently perhaps, so will the club’s reputation

In October Chelsea’s commercial director, Chris Townsend, targeted doubling revenues to more than £650m over the next seven to 10 years “to be a top-four or -five club in Europe [by revenues], rather than ranked eighth”. The aim was to increase the number of sponsors from 12 to between 30 and 35 premium brands, plans considered highly ambitious in a market where clubs such as Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid boast a significant head start. It would, according to Townsend, “allow Chelsea to invest more in players”. Yet will prospective sponsors find Chelsea as attractive without the Champions League? At a time when Roman Abramovich is hoping to push through a £1bn redevelopment of Stamford Bridge, a scheme likely to require significant outside investment, the suspicion that Chelsea have regressed into a club who flit in and out of Europe’s elite competition would be damaging.

Will the pursuit of a new head coach be affected?

The chances of Antonio Conte remaining next season were remote even if the team achieved a top‑four finish, given his relationship with the hierarchy has long since fractured beyond repair. The Italian was plucked from his national association by a club apparently on their knees but the worry remains that the recruitment of an elite successor may be hampered without Champions League football. Certainly any faint hopes of luring Mauricio Pochettino across the capital would have to be abandoned. Luis Enrique might not be overly concerned at life outside the European elite in the short term but his contract at the Camp Nou in his previous position is understood to have been worth far more than Conte’s £9.5m a season. Thomas Tuchel is apparently not under consideration, though other young coaches may come into the hierarchy’s thinking. A club who go through two-season managerial cycles may have to sell a long-term project to prospective candidates.

There will be an impact on retaining key players and the current staff

Chelsea retained their best players after the trauma of 2015-16 but, two years down the line, concerns centre on their Belgians. Thibaut Courtois enters the last 12 months of his contract in July and, although talks are scheduled to resume in the summer, a goalkeeper consistently linked with a return to Spain may not be quite as keen to re-sign if the immediate future comes without the perk of Champions League football. Eden Hazard’s deal does not expire until 2020, with Chelsea apparently willing to offer him the most lucrative terms in their history, but he seems intent on waiting to see if Real Madrid’s long-standing interest crystallises into a firm offer.

Squad strengthening may be harder

Chelsea thrived in the summer of 2016, prising N’Golo Kanté from Leicester, with David Luiz and Marcos Alonso also added, so they have strengthened without the Champions League factor in the recent past. Theirs is a relatively young setup and hardly in need of a radical overhaul, which is just as well because recruitment would be a challenge. They have spent relatively heavily in recent windows, for all Conte’s complaints, albeit with money recouped for players such as Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic. The problem has arguably been the reluctance to secure stellar arrivals – Conte was after established pedigree – and the size of the revamp instigated in each window, with so many ins and outs. The senior squad hardly feels significantly deeper than it did two years ago. This will be a shorter summer window, crammed largely into the post‑World Cup period, which will bring its own complications to be confronted at present without a technical director. Marina Granovskaia has held informal talks with prospective candidates to replace Michael Emenalo but the club do not appear certain quite what the role will entail. Whether that lack of clarity proves a hindrance remains to be seen.

Originally published by the Guardian

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