Chelsea FC: Why The Intangibles Matter

Aesthetics and Intangibles. Two words thrown about a lot on the Chelsea twitter community in the last few years. Two words which go a long way to explaining why Chelsea men’s team are currently where they are. Below is a personal reflection on the current situation of the men’s team and contrasting them to the golden generation, and how the Blues of today can propel themselves to greatness if they focus on improving the intangibles and not just relying on their talent.

The Blues lose a second consecutive FA Cup Final in 2021. Credit | @ChampionsLeague (via Twitter)
The Blues lose a second consecutive FA Cup Final in 2021. Credit | @ChampionsLeague (via Twitter)

Quick Intro

In the four seasons since winning the Premier League in 2017, Chelsea have finished a whopping 30, 26, 33, and this season, 19 points behind the Premier League Champions. Also in this period they have also lost three domestic cup finals, as well as a SuperCup final. These are not great stats for Blues fans.

This season we choked to the extent that we had to rely on Tottenham beating Leicester on the last day in order to achieve Champions League football, despite a massive spend of over £200m last summer. When you think of where Chelsea were in terms of achievement and league performance before this, it’s clear that there has been a considerable drop in performance and consistency since 2017. 

As a fan, honestly, I’m at my wits end. I’m tired of fighting for fourth spot every year, with some players who, quite frankly, are 3rd or 4th place players. We’ve tolerated these type of players for too long. The decline can be traced to the summer of 2017. It’s not even remotely a coincidence this was the summer John Terry, Captain, Leader, Legend and Mr Chelsea, left the club.

Below I outline the importance of the intangibles to a team and how these are essential for any title-pursuing team.

The Good Old Days

Thinking back to some of the great players of Chelsea’s title winning teams – John Terry, Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack, Ashley Cole, Petr Cech etc. these were players you knew would show up not just in big games, but in games against mid to lower table teams that we were expected to win – something we haven’t done this season.

The legends named above all performed when the pressure was on, regardless of opponent. They’d get aggressive and in people’s faces, they made the opposition afraid. Their contribution to Chelsea was as much about mentality and character, as it was performance.

They all possessed intangible qualities which can’t be measured with statistics or graphs, but are absolutely vital to league title winning teams. We saw this demonstrated above all in 2012 in Munich – winning the Champions League through sheer courage, spirit and character against a much stronger Bayern Munich team.

Since that team broke up, and as one-by-one have left (Terry being the last remaining legacy of that team), that spirit and character has been notably absent.

The Golden Generation closed their chapter with a memorable Champions League win in 2012. Credit | Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images
The Golden Generation closed their chapter with a memorable Champions League win in 2012. Credit | Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

Talent Not Enough

At a club with the ambition and resources of Chelsea, in terms of recruitment, talent is a pre-requisite. You sign players who are of the level able to win not just cups, but league titles and Champions Leagues.

But as we’ve seen with PSG in recent years, talent alone is not a guarantee of achievement or trophies. If it was, PSG wouldn’t have lost their Ligue 1 title, and also consistently under achieving in the Champions League (despite being last year’s finalist with our current manager!). 

To win the big trophies, having a strong, talented squad isn’t enough. Focussing on the aesthetics and individual skills alone doesn’t get you near enough to league titles which has been evident for the Blues in the last few years.

Again, the intangibles matter. They are what can be the difference between being 3rd or being champions. They help you win (or at least draw) games when you don’t play well. Players with these qualities keep up their energy even when dead on their feet at 1 or 2 goals down. They’ll organise others and push them to do better. They turn up in every big game without fail.

Present Day

This current team has overall been a let down in that regard. In recent months under Thomas Tuchel, there’ve been moments we’ve seen character and warrior spirit on the pitch – most notably against Leicester at home in our penultimate game of the season. But, the problem is we also see games like the home matches against Arsenal and West Brom where the team just doesn’t show up, doesn’t fight, and heads go down. Worst one of all was the FA Cup final, a game every player should be up for.

This inconsistency is what we need to eliminate to take the next step in terms of success on the pitch. We need more players with character. Players who’ll show up against lesser teams, who won’t get complacent against lesser opponents (yes, that includes you Arsenal), and will show up for cup finals. We need to see the character and fighting spirit shown against Leicester consistently (maybe without the actual fighting every week).

The younger players at Chelsea, especially those from the academy, have already proved they have this character, but they aren’t quite mature yet as leaders or players. The senior players in our squad, with a few notable exceptions simply don’t fit this mould.

Recruiting elite characters (as well as elite talent) is therefore required to challenge for/win the league again.

For all of Chelsea's good play, there are question marks surrounding their mentality and the intangibles that are needed to go to the next level. Getty Images
For all of Chelsea’s good play, there are question marks surrounding their mentality and the intangibles that are needed to go to the next level. Getty Images

Looking Ahead

Romelu Lukaku, Declan Rice and Raphael Varane are examples of players in key positions that have been heavily linked with transfers to Chelsea this summer and who are each strong characters, fighters, leaders – and a couple of them are proven winners too. Recruiting these type of players, with strong character and the right mentality in these key positions, will make a huge difference to Chelsea both on and off the pitch.

We have too many players who are nice guys, who are of top four level, and not title-winning standard. We need to be ruthless, and bring in not just top talent, but strong characters – the type who won’t roll over in games against Arsenal and Aston Villa, but who will show up for cup finals and perform to the required standard.

Without character, leadership and desire, all the talent in the world won’t be enough to deliver sustained success at title-winning level, the level Chelsea should be aspiring to.

This summer when recruiting and selling players, Chelsea need to remember if you want to be the best, the intangibles matter as much, if not more, than talent.

Chelsea have been linked with some big names in the upcoming transfer window. Credit | @SiandDanTalkCFC

Written by The Score

Edited by RJ Bonaccorsi (@RJ_Goodthings)

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