February 23, 2019

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Manchester City Delivered a Lesson. Will Chelsea Learn This Time?

Manchester City Delivered a Lesson. Will Chelsea Learn This Time?
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That is a consequence of the amount of money spent on the club, but it is also testament to the way that money has been spent: building a team that is capable of playing the sort of soccer Guardiola preaches, that rival players — and fans — look on with envy, that takes the breath away.

That is what Abramovich has always wanted for Chelsea. It is why he pursued Guardiola for so long, why he appointed André Villas-Boas in 2011, supposedly cut from the same cloth, and why he brought in Sarri last summer.

It is not just a latent aestheticism, it is also an economic argument. The sort of identity that City has brings results; not always, not every year, but over the long term. It helps lure new signings, and it pinpoints who, precisely, those players should be. It staves off the need to fire managers every year or so, to rip up the blueprint, to start again by scouring the transfer market for new players or asking old ones to learn new tricks. A defined identity staves off the turmoil of a poor run of form, of a disappointing season — the difference between a detour and a road to nowhere. It means there can be certainty where otherwise there may be doubt.

The problem, of course, is that it takes time. Even Guardiola, as it turned out, needed a year to shape City into what he wanted it to be, and that was with a team that had been built with him in mind, long before he joined. It requires patience, and understanding. It cannot be conjured over a summer, or over a season. It does not materialize if you keep firing your manager.

That, then, is the choice that Chelsea faces. Fire Sarri, and the boom-and-bust cycle will be prolonged. And perhaps that would be the right decision: Perhaps he is too inflexible to succeed in England; perhaps what he achieved at Napoli cannot be repeated; perhaps his tactics have been worked out by opponents, and he has nothing more up his sleeve.

At some point, though, Chelsea will have to do the opposite. It will have to stick with someone, to accept that time is just as important as money, to go through a fallow year in the hope that bounty follows. It wants what City has. To get it, it must start to do what City does.



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