Known for playing a possession-based, attacking style, Chelsea is undoubtedly a top European club. Like other European giants including Barcelona and Manchester City, this entertaining way of playing is a pathway for success, but one that must be executed habitually.
Every club has a believed sui generis path to success; a special, trademarked way of playing, organizational structure and unique, profit-generating business model. The philosophy influences the onus of every department of the club, whether it be in scouting, transfers, training or even as simple as ground’s maintenance.
The appointment of Maurizio Sarri at the start of 2018/19 season brought gleeful anticipation to Chelsea fans. They were happy to move from Conte’s style branded “Suffer-ball” to possession-based entertaining “Sarri-ball”. Universally, fans agreed that Sarri faced a lot of difficulties upon appointment. There was the uphill task of implementing his style, while simultaneously ‘un-training’ the more defensive, counter-attack style retained by his predecessor.
When Frank Lampard was appointed the following season, he preserved the possession play of Sarri. While similar in principle, Lampard implements it differently, incorporating slight variations suited to his vision. He plays a highly-aggressive, pressing football that limits opponent playing-time, while also looking to retain possession and allow his players to settle into the game.
“I don’t expect that 100-miles-an-hour energy for the 90 minutes,but I do expect that when you rest, you can keep possession of the ball better.”– Frank Lampard
Possession/Positional football is attractive and entertaining. It conveys the inherent beauty of the game (a bragging right for every fan whose team play this style successfully), but does have it’s drawbacks. Small mistakes can snowball easily, and the style has potential to backfire if some requirements are not met.
The Influence of Positional football can be foot-printed back to its greatest exponent, Dutch football genius Johan Cruyff. Cruyff won an impressive 35 trophies, both as Player & Manager, with this philosophy. He had backed his philosophy with mind blowing quotes when questioned about some of his decisions. Cyruff’s quotes clearly display the main attributes needed for his players to excel in this system. “Football is a game you play with your mind.”
Johan is clearly insinuating his player’s most essential weapon is to outsmart their man. He must think outside of the box, be at the right position at the right time, and don’t be too late, don’t be too fast. It’s a brain-game for Johan, making attributes like composure, anticipation, vision, decision -making & teamwork extremely important. Unfortunately, finding players who possess all the above qualities is difficult.
“My generation put in a lot more hours playing football after school than kids today. These days, all the football these kids play, they play at their clubs, so the clubs need to work seriously on the basic skills.” – Johan Cruyff
It is now becoming the Club’s responsibility to teach players (sometimes later in their career) both the technical and mental game, largely because players coming from academies are limited and often lacking. The few qualified players available are expensive, which makes it the norm for European giants who adopt this style, to invest heavily.
If Chelsea want to thrive in their new Philosophy, banks need to be broken. They are competing with top clubs like Manchester City and Barcelona for quality recruits, so spending big is a necessary investment. The continuity of bringing in top players who can keep the ball and burn energy is instrumental to Chelsea’s development with Frank Lampard.