When Todd Boehly stepped aside as Chelsea’s interim sporting director, he heralded the ‘world-class’ credentials of those taking over.
His exhaustive search had taken the best part of a year and Boehly courted prestigious candidates to lead his bold tomorrow such as Michael Edwards, formerly of Liverpool, Paul Mitchell, of Monaco, and Christophe Freund of Salzburg.
There were talks with Luis Campos of Paris Saint-Germain, Andrea Berta of Atletico Madrid, and Monchi at Sevilla – what a coup that would have been to fill the void left by Marina Granovskaia.
Then Boehly and Behdad Eghbali abandoned the big names, hired two people who had never done the job before and decided they should share the role.
In came Paul Winstanley, initially as director of global talent and transfers in November, and then made co sporting director in February, after leading Chelsea’s strategy in the January transfer window.
Todd Boehly took the best part of a year to find the right sporting director for Chelsea
Boehly hired Paul Winstanley (L) and Laurence Stewart (R) who had never done the job before
He arrived from Brighton although not at the behest of newly appointed head coach Graham Potter, who had already brought in Kyle Macauley, his trusted recruitment guru for more than a decade.
Winstanley had been head of recruitment at Brighton since 2015 and this epitome of a well-run club on the south coast opted against promoting him into the technical director’s chair when Dan Ashworth was poached by Newcastle.
David Weir got that job and Brighton carry on doing what they do well. Still, welcome to Chelsea.
Alongside Winstanley, another co sporting director, Laurence Stewart, who built a good reputation as an analyst at Hull City and Manchester City before moving into recruitment at Everton and then on to Red Bull Soccer and Monaco where he worked under Mitchell.
There were other appointments as the new regime rebuilt an executive tier which was bare after the takeover. Cristopher Vivell came as technical director from Leipzig, where he was a recruitment chief, and has made little impact at Stamford Bridge.
Joe Shields came as co-director of recruitment and talent, having only just moved from Manchester City to Southampton where he launched a spending spree on young players, including four from City. Ask Saints fans how that one is going.
In the end, Boehly and Eghbali appointed no-one with the experience of running any club. Certainly not one like Chelsea. And just maybe that’s the way they wanted it. Maybe they did not really want to relinquish the power. Maybe they thought all they needed was assistance.
A strong sporting director would lead strategy, would be a centre-point liaising with the board, the financial chiefs, the first-team coach and academy staff, joining up these departments in line with the club’s identity.
Chelsea’s sporting directors need to get their next managerial appointment correct with ex-Tottenham and Paris Saint-Germain boss Mauricio Pochettino heavily linked with the vacancy
The board will also need to deliver a Chelsea squad of the right size with the right balance
Those clubs maximising performance are cohesive. See Manchester City, Arsenal, Brighton and Brentford. They have vision. They know what they want to do and how they’re going to do it. They did not lose faith at the first sign of trouble.
This feels important as Chelsea’s ship drifts. Who defines and directs the strategy? Who decided to sack Potter? Who decided Bruno Saltor should take over? Who summoned Frank Lampard? Who decided the owners should address the players in the dressing room after defeat? Who persuaded Julian Nagelsmann to say thanks but no thanks?
Is it someone with a plan or are the owners listening to whoever happens to be in the room at the time?
There is a big summer ahead for Winstanley and Stewart. They were not in their roles when Potter arrived. They will be judged on the next appointment and whether or not they can clear the decks to deliver a squad of the right size with the right balance.
Mauricio Pochettino makes a lot of sense but not without strength and clarity at the top about where the club is going and how it is going to get there.
Italy an attractive proposition for young players
Jordan Zemura is the latest Londoner swapping the Premier League for Italy’s Serie A seeking to emulate the success of Fikayo Tomori, Tammy Abraham, Chris Smalling and Ademola Lookman.
Zemura, who came through Charlton’s academy system and plays international football for Zimbabwe, will join Udinese from Bournemouth when his contract expires at the end of the season.
The 23-year-old rejected a new deal and alternatives in the lower reaches of the Premier League, the top of the Championship and around Europe, and is expected to replace Destiny Udogie, a left-back signed by Tottenham last year and loaned back to Udine.
The Pozzos are making a bit of a mess of Watford of late but still have a decent reputation for developing young talent at Udinese and selling it for good profit.
See Atletico Madrid’s Rodrigo de Paul and Nahuel Molina or further back Alexis Sanchez and Juan Cuadrado.
Tomori, who has excelled at Milan, is preparing for a Champions League semi-final. Roma’s Abraham and Smalling for the last four of the Europa League. Lookman has 15 goals in his first season at Atalanta, prompting interest from bigger clubs.
You can see why even mid-table Italy might be a more attractive proposition for ambitious young players than the eternal Premier League relegation slog.
Bournemouth’s Jordan Zemura is the next Londoner set to make a switch to the Serie A
Farewell Rochdale after 102 years in the Football League, the 42nd different club to go down – or go under – since the introduction of automatic relegation in 1986/87.
Eighteen of those previously relegated were in the EFL this season. Some healthier than ever so it does not have to be the end of the world.
At the same time, the National League is unforgiving, as Scunthorpe, Yeovil and Torquay will testify from their place in the relegation zone.
Rochdale have dropped out of the Football League for the first time in their history
Walton and Hersham miss out on promotion
Among the thrills on a big day in non-league football, on Saturday, Walton and Hersham could not follow the 50th anniversary of their Amateur Cup win with promotion, conceding a last-minute equaliser at Thatcham and enabling Basingstoke to take the Isthmian South Central title.
Youngsters to watch out for
Two players to look out for in Tuesday’s FA Youth Cup at the Emirates Stadium are Arsenal’s Amario Cozier-Duberry – a left-footed right winger with echoes of Bukayo Saka – and West Ham’s Divin Mubama – a centre forward who scored three against Southampton in the semi-final and made his Premier League debut as a sub at the Emirates on Boxing Day.
Amario Cozier-Duberry is one of two youngsters to watch out for in the FA Youth Cup
Footballers getting younger
If elite footballers seem to be getting younger, it might be because they are… Barcelona included 15-year-old winger Lamine Yamal in the squad to face Atletico Madrid on Sunday.
Blades pay tribute to former captain
Sheffield United paid tribute to Eddie Colquhoun, who has died at the age of 78, during a win against Bristol City. Colquhoun was captain of the 1970/71 promotion team, which endures in the hearts of the elder generation at Bramall Lane because they played with attacking flair, a good sprinkling of South Yorkshire lads and a bonafide star in Tony Currie.
They didn’t win a trophy, they went up as runners-up to Leicester and did well for a few years, but all sporting success is relative.
The song about Alan Woodward, Currie, Colquhoun and ‘promotion soon’ lives on because they touched the fans.
There’s no better way for the Blades to complete the tribute than by clinching promotion on Wednesday, against West Bromwich Albion, the club they signed Colquhoun from.