Chelsea are undisputably one of the most successful clubs in English football since the Premier League era began. Since the club were taken over by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich in 2003, they’ve won the Premier League five times, the FA Cup four times, and the Champions League once, in 2012. Some of their players are recognised as bonafide legends – John Terry, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, and going back further, Gianfranco Zola and Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink.
Yet despite all this, the Blues remain one of the most widely disliked and disrespected clubs in England. Outside of their own fans, they don’t have much support – neutrals love to root against them, even when they’re playing clubs from other countries in Europe – and they’re essentially the pantomime villains of the Premier League.
Why is this? Well, the reasons are many – Chelsea’s hooligan element, for instance, was infamous back in the 1970s – but naturally, the majority of them can be traced back to the Abramovich takeover.
The idea of nouveau riche is one that instantly draws distrust in the football world and in a world prior to the takeovers of clubs like Manchester City and Paris St. Germain, the idea that someone like Abramovich, with his bottomless pockets of money, could simply go out and buy whichever players he wished was totally alien.
Also read: 11 ways to know that you are a Chelsea fan
Sure, the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid had always thrown their weight around financially, but it wasn’t like this – Chelsea weren’t as big a club and it was purely the money that was attracting the players, right?
So Chelsea hoovered up a bunch of top players in Abramovich’s first summer at the club – Hernan Crespo, Juan Veron, Joe Cole, Damien Duff, Claude Makelele – the best of British and beyond were suddenly playing in the blue of Chelsea. Unfortunately for Abramovich, all the money couldn’t instantly buy success. Chelsea finished the season second in the Premier League – to Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ – and were eliminated before the finals of the FA Cup and Champions League.
And so manager Claudio Ranieri was sacked, and replaced with Jose Mourinho. The rest is history in terms of Chelsea’s success, but that in itself – the club’s poor treatment of managers – is one reason they’re so widely disrespected. Mourinho lasted until the beginning of 2007/08, when he was replaced by Avram Grant. And from there it’s a long and winding list; Phil Scolari, Guus Hiddink, Carlo Ancelotti, Andre Villas-Boas, Roberto Di Matteo, Rafa Benitez, back to Mourinho, back to Hiddink and finally Antonio Conte.
Ancelotti and Di Matteo were, in particular, dispensed of harshly. Ancelotti narrowly missed out on the Premier League title and was fired just a season after winning the league. And Di Matteo won the Champions League just six months before he was sacked.
It’s all about the here and now at Stamford Bridge – what you’ve done in previous seasons just doesn’t seem to matter. And rightly or wrongly, fans don’t like that attitude. They prefer the idea of loyalty paying off, not someone simply writing a blank cheque – to sign both players and managers – and therefore Chelsea end up in the bad books.
One manager in particular though is intrinsically linked with the Blues, despite only actually spending about six seasons in total there – Jose Mourinho. His initial run with the club – from 2004/05 to 2006/07 – made him one of the most successful managers in the game.
It also made him one of the most despised, thanks to his less-than-attractive way of playing, and also the more unsavoury parts of his character – his constant barracking of officials, endless conspiracy theories, and his methods of turning on his players. Mourinho’s Chelsea became easy to hate and disrespect and the feeling has never really left, even when they had more likeable bosses like Grant or di Matteo.
It hasn’t helped that the club have also been home to some of the most unlikeable players in the Premier League era. While the likes of Gianfranco Zola and Di Matteo were largely adored by Chelsea fans and neutrals alike, the same cannot be said for characters like John Terry, Franck LeBoeuf, Didier Drogba, and more recently Diego Costa.
Stamford Bridge has quite regularly housed some of the most controversial players in the league; Terry was accused of having an affair with his teammate’s girlfriend and was charged with racism, Drogba was renowned for diving and simulation, and Costa comes across as both a thuggish player and one fond of conning officials.
While some of their players have been – and remain – easy to dislike, another factor contributing to the disrespect of Chelsea is their treatment of other players. Namely, the young talent produced by their academy or brought in at a young age. Chelsea’s academy in recent years has become legendary – the side have won the FA Youth Cup six times since 2010 – only missing out in 2011 and 2013 – which should mean plenty of talent has been produced, right?
Wrong. The last player to really break through at Chelsea and see success is Terry, and he debuted back in 2001! Some have found success elsewhere, such as Robert Huth and Ryan Bertrand, but for the most part the players – like Gael Kakuta, who supposedly had world-class potential – have simply flamed out due to lack of opportunities at Stamford Bridge. Abramovich needs success now and so there’s no chance that a manager can risk playing the kids, like Alex Ferguson famously did in the mid-1990s at Man United.
Take for example, Josh McEachran. The stylish midfielder was tipped as a future England international and was brought through by Carlo Ancelotti with the future of the club in mind. He played in the Premier League and the Champions League and even won Chelsea’s Young Player of the Year award in 2011. A couple of seasons later though, the Italian boss was gone – replaced by Andre Villas-Boas, who subsequently froze the youngster out. He’s now at lowly Brentford and the potential for any England caps seems long gone.
The future seems equally bleak for the latest crop of youngsters. The likes of Lewis Baker, Nathaniel Chalobah, Izzy Brown, Tammy Abraham and Dominic Solanke just aren’t being given chances in the first team, with current boss Conte preferring to buy big-name stars from abroad. Already Solanke has abandoned ship and signed for Liverpool and it looks like Brown and Chalobah are likely to follow him out of the door.
For fans with the best interests of England’s national team at heart, this makes Chelsea even more unlikeable. In a way, their system is strangling the country’s best young talent. The other system they’re so fond of – the loan system – makes the situation taste even sourer.
2016/17 saw over 30 Chelsea players spend the season on loan elsewhere, and yet despite some tremendous performances – Andreas Christensen had a fantastic season at Borussia Monchengladbach as did Abraham at Bristol City – it doesn’t look like any of them will get a chance to prove themselves in the first team.
But does that matter to Chelsea? Of course not. If players do not look like going they’re to succeed, they can just be sold. And if somehow they then turn into a success – like Romelu Lukaku, who went on loan to West Bromwich Albion and then Everton, who signed him permanently – Chelsea always have the financial muscle to simply buy them back anyway.
So if Izzy Brown indeed makes a permanent move to Huddersfield and suddenly becomes the hot new thing, to see him back at Stamford Bridge in the future wouldn’t be a surprise.
Is it fair? Well, it’s within the rules. But it just doesn’t seem right and naturally, it doesn’t sit well with the fans, who see Chelsea’s use of the loan system and their treatment of players as almost like products, there to be bought and sold on a whim, as going against the sporting nature of football. Surely talent and loyalty can be rewarded over the almighty pound/euro? Apparently not when it comes to Abramovich’s Chelsea.
In conclusion, a club as successful as Chelsea should really have the respect and admiration of fans across the country – but when they’ve gained that success, and keep it up in the unsavoury way that they have, is it any wonder why they remain disliked and disrespected? I think not.