Category Archives: Management

Christmastime at Chelsea

It’s been quite a month for the Blues

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My how much can change at the ol’ Chelsea Football Club in such a short amount of time!  You go a month without blogging about the Blues and look what happens.  Benitez becomes the new coach…  Fans repeatedly boo Benitez…  Chelsea gets bounced from the Champs League…  Chelsea gets bounced from the Club World Cup… Torres struggles at striker…  wait, that last one’s no different from any other of the nearly 24 months since Fernando became a Chelsean.  Anyways, very eventful weeks since I last updated this blog.

"See, you must pass it directly to his feet.  Even then, it's iffy..."

“See, you must pass it directly to his feet. Even then, it’s iffy…”

My soccer-coaching season is in full swing and life has been hectic, so that’s my excuse for the silence on all the upheaval at CFC – that, and the fact that I’m still disappointed by the Di Matteo canning.  The coaching carousel at Chelsea has become so absurd that you really just have to throw up your “whatever!” hands.  I guess if you buy a pro soccer club with your bazillions, you can do whatever you want with your club, even firing beloved managers.

Getting rid of Di Matteo was dumb, and Chelsea fans’ negative reaction to Benitez’s arrival has been humorous, but in the spirit of Christmas, it’s probably time to get o’er it, stop badgering Benitez, and get back to cheering on the Blue boys.  After all, they’ve got Europa League to play for, and Capital One Cup!  Yes, I’m being sarcastic, but it’s just because I’m so disappointed that Chelsea’s out of the Champs League.  I haven’t even checked this week’s draw for the knockout round because it’s just not the same without the Blues.  The day Chelsea got eliminated (thanks to Shakhtar’s sudden, complete soccer ineptitude – at home no less!), a package actually arrived at my house containing Kings of Europe, the Chelsea Champs League-winning commemorative hardcover book I’d ordered for my birthday.  I was left thumbing through the pages with the hollow knowledge that Chelsea are the first Champs League champs in history not to make the knockout round the following season.  The book is terrific by the way and would make a great last-minute Christmas gift for that special Chelsea fan in your life.  But it’s kind of a sad gift now, what with all the full-color pics of Di Matteo and Drogba celebrating with the big-eared trophy.  Sniff, sniff.  There are even some shots of Michael Essien.  I miss those guys.  In today’s soccer world, it sure doesn’t take long to seriously alter a team’s identity!

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On the plus side, Chelsea is still a good team.  The new guys are doing well:  Hazard, Oscar, Moses.  Lamps is back from injury.  And who knows, maybe the lack of Champs League travel and distraction will help Chelsea claw their way back into Premier League title contention.  Here’s hoping anyway.

Merry Christmas to all and thanks for reading this year!

Thoughts on Chelsea’s busy month?  Feel free to share below…

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Di Matteo Fired

Chelsea continues their boneheaded ways with managers…

I woke up this morning contemplating Chelsea’s recent awfulness and what, if anything, original could be said about it.  That led me to thoughts about Roberto Di Matteo, that maybe I’d write a little something in his defense since I was slightly surprised to hear commentators emphasizing how under fire he is after Chelsea’s poor Premier League form and Champions League struggles.  These were my pre-morning coffee thoughts, but then I flip on the ol’ internet machine and the first thing I see are the Di Matteo’s-been-fired headlines.  What?  Seriously?  What?

I’m actually shocked by the news that Di Matteo’s been given the boot.  I shouldn’t be of course, given Chelsea’s managerial revolving door the past few years, but I’m still kind of shocked.

Chelsea’s current performance problems are player-related and not Di Matteo’s fault.  The timing of this firing is very poor.  Who are they going to get to replace him at this point in the season?  Is another “caretaker” really a better idea than just sticking with Di Matteo for the rest of the season?  I don’t think so.  Managers have to do the best they can with the players they’re given.  Di Matteo has done that.  It’s not his fault that Torres can’t score, or even hold onto the ball for more than 0.5 seconds (and Chelsea’s woes aren’t solely Torres’ fault either – I can’t remember the last time the defense had a shutout).

By firing Di Matteo, Chelsea are seriously impeding their long-term progress and unnecessarily complicating this season’s quest for success.  A team’s fortune can change pretty quickly – if Chelsea had given Di Matteo just one more week, Chelsea could potentially beat Premier League leader Manchester City this Sunday, and qualify for the Champions League knockout stage with a win next week.  It’s hard to imagine them canning Roberto in those circumstances.  Alas, we’ll never know.  At some point Chelsea is going to have to learn real patience with managers or the club will be in a perpetual state of rebuilding.

What do you think of Di Matteo’s firing?

Red Card Rant Follow-Up

FC Dallas Coach Schellas Hyndman talks about team’s discipline

A few days ago I wrote about FC Dallas’ penchant for earning red cards this season, the latest offender being Jair Benitez who was booked against Houston Dynamo last Saturday.  Reckless on-field behavior, including red cards last month by Daniel Hernandez and Blas Perez, and a retroactive league suspension for Brek Shea, have kicked the team when it’s already down with an unbelievable number of injuries.  The cards have been extremely unwise (to put it nicely) given the club’s injury predicament and position in the Western Conference standings (currently last).  It made me seriously wonder what is going on leadership-wise at FCD.

Anyway, check out this interesting admission from Coach Schellas Hyndman posted on the club’s website yesterday…

It’s good to hear Coach Hyndman alarmed at the team’s lack of mental discipline, though I’m surprised there wasn’t already a disciplinary policy (fine, suspension, etc.) in place.  Anyway, it sounds like he’s ready to clamp down on this red card issue.  I just hope it’s not too little too late.

What do you think FC Dallas should do to improve their mental discipline?

Big D (for Disappointing)

FC Dallas’ meltdown continues with 2-1 loss at Houston

I’d really like to write something positive related to FC Dallas this year, but they’re making it very difficult.  I was hoping the long break after a busy stretch of games in May would recharge the team and turn around their increasingly dismal season.  Instead, fans got more of the same from the team’s visit to Houston last night.

The first hour went very well, with the team looking much livelier than we’ve seen since the first couple weeks of the season.  But then fans were treated to another completely boneheaded move from a veteran who should know better.  Jair Benitez earned a red card for elbowing (off-the-ball no less) Houston’s Colin Clark in the head.  Benitez’s inexcusable and inexplicable action killed FCD’s momentum and flushed away their remaining chance at possibly getting a much-needed win.

It’s understandable that players can lose their cool in the heat of battle, but Benitez’s ejection came when FCD was doing quite well in the game.  They were enjoying most of the possession at the time, had just tied the game a few minutes earlier, and had decent momentum.  What was Benitez thinking?  He wasn’t and that’s the problem.  Several FCD players haven’t been thinking this year.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend some time around the FCD coaching staff at a clinic and was impressed by their affable, down-to-earth style.  But I’m beginning to wonder if that easy-going atmosphere unintentionally allows lapses in players’ on-field discipline.  These FCD red cards are getting ridiculous.  The club should fine Jair Benitez.  Whether or not issuing fines is an effective means to chastise professional players is beyond my realm of expertise, but something must be done.  The card blunders this season are baffling considering the team’s injury woes.  The red cards have completely changed matches that FCD legitimately might have won.  It is also discouraging for fans – who are already disappointed that so many FCD stars are out injured – and have to endure further benchwarmer misadventures when players like Benitez are suspended for red cards.

Speaking of frustrating benchwarmers, it’s certainly not substitute Andrew Wiedeman’s fault that Dallas lost, but seriously, what was with his two awful corner kicks late in the match?  Before the first one, he squandered a shot opportunity in the box by trying to take a controlling touch when the team really just needed him to blast it at the goal.  On both corner kicks, he sailed the ball completely over the cluster of FCD players in the box.  It was a maddening waste since chances were precious with FCD down to ten men.

On the plus side, Castillo showed some real spark in the first half and Jackson played out of his mind.  Jackson showed amazing speed and tremendous stamina.  He scored FCD’s only goal and later saved a goal off the line.  The problem with Jackson and Castillo is their propensity for holding onto the ball a couple seconds too long.  They both have too many turnovers in the critical final third.

It would be easy for the team, and fans, to blame FC Dallas’ poor season on all the injuries.  But FCD has been very competitive in most of their matches this year, and should have won many of them, despite their missing starters.  This is no longer a slump – it’s a crisis.  Adversity often reveals what a team is truly made of, and right now I’m pretty disappointed with what I see.

What should FC Dallas do to correct its course?

Di Matteo’s Upgrade

Roberto Di Matteo is finally Chelsea’s “permanent” manager

On Wednesday, Chelsea announced they are upgrading Roberto Di Matteo from “caretaker” manager to full-blown regular manager.  He has apparently signed a two-year contract, which is three months in Abramovich years.  Just kidding, Romovich.  Just a little sacking humor.

Actually, Di Matteo’s hiring shows some good common sense from the Chelsea brass.  Sure, he’s not on the big-time fancy manager short list (at least not yet anyway).  But why on earth wouldn’t you give an extension to the guy who was at the helm for an F.A. Cup title and the club’s first Champions League title – all in his first few months on the job?  It only seems fair that he would get the chance to manage Chelsea for a full season.  Chelsea has chosen wisely.

Di Matteo proved adept at getting Chelsea ready for big matches and guiding them in sticking with the game plan.  I wish I knew exactly what he did so differently from Andre Villas-Boas behind the scenes, but whatever it was it worked.  Di Matteo apparently has great rapport with the Blues squad.  It takes time to develop trust and quality relationships between coach and players, so why bust up something that works?

In the excellent (and recently revised/updated) book Soccernomics, the authors statistically show that, generally speaking, the amount players are paid has more bearing on a team’s success than who manages the team.  So if you have a manager the players trust, who is strategically competent, and a good ambassador for the club, you might as well stick with him.  Save the big bucks for your players rather than blowing it on a ritzy-name manager.

The challenge for Di Matteo next season will be incorporating new players and building for the future, while still satisfying the fans’ (and owner’s) hunger to win.  Another potential challenge will be maintaining the team’s drive after already winning the biggest club prize in world soccer.  But as anyone who followed Chelsea last season knows, despite winning the Champions League, there is plenty of room for improvement!

What do you think of Di Matteo’s appointment as Chelsea manager?

Managerial Blues

Andre Villas-Boas gets fired after 1 – 0 loss to West Brom

I have mixed feelings about AVB’s canning on Sunday.  On one hand, I generally liked the guy.  I liked his passion on the sideline.  I liked the way he took the job with gusto last summer and the way he sometimes blamed himself in the press when results were less than rosy.  But at the same time, something is seriously awry at Chelsea FC this season.  It makes one nostalgic for the mere “dip” in form last season that saw Chelsea finish second in the league.  Second!  Hard to believe that was just last season.  Are the Blues’ current problems AVB’s fault?  Partially it seems, but impossible to know just how much without being inside the locker room and on the training pitch regularly with AVB and the squad.

Ultimately, I suppose, Chelsea fans have to trust that the CFC higher-ups are correctly aiming their blame, in which case showing AVB the door (even at this awkward point in the season) is a good thing for the club.  Problem is, owner Roman Abramovich is completely trigger-happy when it comes to firing managers.  Taking that into consideration, it seems quite possible AVB may not be entirely at fault for Chelsea’s current woes.

As I’ve mentioned here before, the managerial Ferris wheel at CFC is a real problem.  The club must find a manager they’re willing to stick with for several years!  The frustrating thing is I thought AVB was that manager when he was hired last summer.  I though Abramovich had turned over a new leaf and was willing to reboot.  Instead, think of all the millions that have been blown on managers the past several seasons!  Imagine how many players could’ve been brought in with that cash instead!  I thought firing Ancelotti last year was a mistake.  Now it looks like a huge blunder.  It’s hard to fathom why he was sacked after winning the Double and finishing second in the league last season.  Makes this season look even bleaker!

I wanted AVB to succeed, not only for stability and growth at the club, but I also wanted to see this young dude (only a year younger than myself by the way) defy the odds and prove that a young, relatively inexperienced manager could make Chelsea champs again.  It must be extremely frustrating for AVB personally to have not been able to win with the kind of talent the Blues have.  It’s very weird.  After the smoke clears, I hope some insights materialize as to how this season went off the rails for Chelsea.

For now, the club has a real mess on its hands.  Where do they go from here?  Some rumored names are already surfacing as replacement managers, but I’ll have to leave that for another day’s exploration…

Did Chelsea do the right thing by firing AVB?

Blues Reprieve

Chelsea lives to fight another day with 3-0 defeat of Bolton

After a slow but safe first half, the Blues came out of their shell early in the second half as David Luiz curled a sweet shot past Bolton’s baby-faced keeper.  Critics have often (unfairly) made Luiz the fall guy for Chelsea’s defensive woes this season, but he played a relatively conservative game Saturday, choosing his forward romps wisely, none more so than the one that opened Chelsea’s scoring.  Chelsea’s defense was less leaky overall and Bolton never seemed very threatening.

On the offensive front, the Blues still tried to squeeze too many passes into low percentage situations (Luiz was guilty of this via multiple long-balls from the back).  In the first half, Chelsea also continued their trend of faulty finishing.  They too often play as if theses chances will materialize indefinitely.  But after the break, they firmed things up in front of goal, with Drogba and Lampard adding an additional vintage goal each.  For all the talk about Lampard’s age this season – and considering how many times AVB has left him out of the starting eleven – it’s ironic that Frank is the Blues’ leading scorer this season.  Lampard’s not through yet, and especially with Terry out injured, he should start every game for the rest of the season as Chelsea’s captain.  He has earned it!

So, looks like AVB will get to keep his office at least another week or so.  As he should.  Perhaps he was too inexperienced to be given the Chelsea job, but he’s certainly paying his dues this season.  Maybe he’s made some mistakes, but I’ve advocated patience from the start.  Chelsea needs stability, and changing managers again, especially during the season, would be an unnecessary setback.

What do you think – would Chelsea benefit from yet another managerial change?

Andre Villas-Boas: First Impressions

Grading the new Chelsea manager’s first month on the job

Okay, so it’s not really fair to grade a coach after barely a month at a new job.  Especially since there haven’t even been any regular season games yet.  But I’ve got to blog about something while I wait out the remaining twelve hours or so before Chelsea kicks off against Malaysia XI, so it might as well be evaluating AVB!

I liked Carlo Ancelotti.  I thought the club treated him poorly and sacked him prematurely.  So whoever succeeded him would have to win me over as a fan.  So far, AVB has done just that.  He has brought new energy to the club, seems to have a good plan in place, and has hit the ground running to implement it (not that he had much choice, with little prep time before the players returned).  As a detail-oriented guy, I can appreciate his apparent detail-orientedness.  For example, check out this snooping from the Daily Mail, which shows some of AVB’s clipboard diagrams from a recent training session.

I also appreciate the way AVB has tempered the hoopla surrounding his Porto success and megabucks transfer to Chelsea with appropriate humility.  He fully realizes that his Porto trophies got him to Chelsea, but staying past one season in London will require fast results.  Fair or not, that is the scenario.  But AVB seems up to the challenge.

AVB has also made smart personnel decisions, like promoting Steve Holland and Michael Emenalo (to assistant first team coach and technical director respectively), and choosing recent West Brom manager Roberto Di Matteo as his assistant coach.  Di Matteo was a pleasant surprise of a choice.  My impression of him last year prior to his West Brom canning was that he is an intelligent, mature guy with a lot of managerial potential. Player-wise, AVB has taken a careful approach, not getting sucked into the transfer market madness, or trying to flex too much managerial muscle with sweeping changes.

Ancelotti was a good manager, but perhaps his laidback style lulled the largely veteran team to sleep for much of last season.  There is a renewed energy about the team since Villas-Boas’ arrival.  Sometimes, even when the previous coach is well liked, teams need a leadership change to recharge the batteries.  So far, the team is reacting well to AVB’s training.  The players are fired up for the new season.  They don’t seem put off by AVB’s youthfulness either.  In fact, John Terry’s apparently been inspired by AVB to become a Chelsea manager himself someday.

Here’s hoping Chelsea’s perceived reinvigoration translates into some dynamic soccer in Malaysia tomorrow!

What do you think – how is Andre Villas-Boas doing so far?