How the Wheels Fell Off of the Parked Bus
How the Wheels Fell Off of the Parked Bus
And the transition from Mourinho to Conte
Last season, when Stamford Bridge was metaphorically crashing down around us and our season was in the direst of circumstances, I found myself as a Chelsea fan asking, “How the hell did this happen to us?” The 2014-15 Premier League season was highlighted by Chelsea lifting the English Premier League and The League Cup or Capital One Cup or EFL Cup (you know what I mean). By October of 2015 Chelsea was in panic mode, things were bleak and as a club we were setting records for the worst title defense in Premier League history. José Mourinho, the man who nicknamed himself “The Special One,” started to seem less than special. Club supporters found themselves asking, “Where did things go wrong?” The tangible aspects of the game were in order. We had a squad that had just won a double and was brimming with talent. We had a manager in José Mourinho who is world class. The only thing that could have changed was the intangibles.
From an outside perspective it appeared that all confidence was lost. I often noticed that our players’ body language suggested defeat before the match had even kicked off. Chelsea had lost their fighting spirit that defined our successful squads throughout the early 2000’s. The swagger and poise we once carried were gone, Chelsea was no longer feared. Players like Ivanović, Hazard, Courtois, Costa, Matić, even Fábregas were all at a loss of form. Chelsea normally can survive when a key player loses form because our roster has enough talent. Last season, six of the starting eleven players were completely out of form… this is unheard of! Form comes and goes, but class is permanent. So how did so many players have a complete loss of form?
Since Chelsea won a double the season before, José felt the squad earned an extended summer vacation, skipping much of preseason. Preseason is not supposed to be fun; it is the time of year when every footballer puts in the work, the work that builds a team, work that builds friendships that last a lifetime, work that builds a championship winning squad.
Our team never put in that work.
Conte warned the Chelsea players that this summer’s training was going to be brutal. Conte held the team to strict two-a-day training sessions; he implemented a new nutrition plan. Instead of giving players time off for the summer, the Chelsea players were back at training, building back their confidence that had been lost. No longer would we see Chelsea players running out of steam in the 84th minute and conceding goals that a fit squad would never concede. Conte saw that the players needed to put in work to regain faith in themselves that they had lost the season before. The difference in Conte’s method and José’s method is plain to see.
Conte built up the team’s physical strength by his grueling two-a-day training sessions, which lead to the players being mentally stronger as well as more confident. The last intangible that Conte injected into this season’s squad was personality. The 2014-2015 season we had Čech, Drogba, Terry, as well as Oscar and Hazard in our squad. Our roster was peppered with the old legends and the new up and comers. By the 2015-2016 season, Čech would be playing for our cross-town rivals Arsenal, Drogba was plying his trade in the MLS, and our ever-steady leadership was diminished to just John Terry.
Players that were expected to make the leap into leadership never did. Oscar, Hazard, Willian, and Fábregas all had opportunities to claim a leadership role but none of them ceased the moment. This season we get David Luiz back and he breathed a child-like sense of life back into our squad. David Luiz plays the part of the class clown, but every time you need him to step up in a big situation, he answers the call. His infectious smile was missed by the players and supporters alike, it seems like he is the first one to celebrate when his teammates score, and he wears his passion on his sleeve. It’s impossible to keep a lid on Luiz or Diego Costa because of their love and passion for the game are so visible. Other players can see and feel their raw emotion and they feed off of it. Positivity and passion are viral and will spread to everybody in the squad. Since we signed Luiz back, the team morale seems to be the highest it’s been in years!
From what I have seen the dark days at Stamford Bridge are slowly fading behind us. We are building a squad that will be capable of great things in the future. There will be growing pains along the way but Conte has given us every reason to be optimistic about our future. Chelsea has been playing great football in the new 3-4-3 system. Youth squad players are finally getting a look in the first team squad and most importantly we have players playing for our club that are fans of Chelsea Football Club. As a Chelsea fan, nothing makes me happier than when you have players on your roster who are elite talents, but also fans of the club they play for and we have many of them. Publicly, Willian, Luiz, Terry, and Azpilicueta have all spoke about how they dreamed of playing football for Chelsea!
Things are looking bright for Chelsea, and we as fans have every right to be optimistic about our future. Up the Chels!!
By Miles J. Sarbacker, @milesj1323