The record books show that since Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003 the Blues have won more major trophies than any other club. The tally of 15 could increase in a couple of weeks with victory over Manchester United in the FA Cup final yet despite this, Stamford Bridge appears to be blanketed in a fog of despondency as supporters face up to a seemingly uncertain future.
A year ago the big picture looked very different. Manager Antonio Conte was on the brink of guiding Chelsea to the Premier League title and his side had just walloped deadly rivals Tottenham 4-2 in the FA Cup semifinal at Wembley. A final against Arsenal beckoned. The Blues were odds-on favourites to beat the Gunners and secure the Double for only the second time in their history.
Conte was viewed not only as the man of the moment, but the man for the future as well. That future included the redevelopment of Stamford Bridge into a futuristic-looking 60,000-seater stadium, the plans for which were now in the public domain. With Champions League football also back on the agenda for the forthcoming season and big-money signings expected, there were plenty of reasons for supporters to be incredibly optimistic about what lay ahead.
Little by little, though, those hopes and dreams have been dashed. Chelsea lost to Arsenal in the cup final. Conte didn’t get the players he’d hoped for in the summer transfer window. Having previously been viewed as a supreme tactician, the Italian’s methodologies came in for increasingly heavy criticism as form dipped. Their title defence was in tatters and elite European campaign shredded not only for this season but quite probably the next as well. Conte spoke of his team “suffering” and as he continued to do, so many supporters found his increasingly dour demeanour insufferable to the point where plenty would be glad to see the back of him, even though there is no glaringly obvious replacement.
To make matters worse, the stadium redevelopment project is now perceived as something of a potential millstone as concerns increase not only about where Chelsea will play their home games for the four years it will take the all new Stamford Bridge to be built, but also that the scheme will somehow become more important to Abramovich than the success of the team.
Factor in the inexorable rise of new Premier League champions Manchester City the sheer scale of Manchester United and the renaissance of Liverpool and Tottenham and it’s easy to understand why the mood among Chelsea supporters has become sullen. Even the joy to be had at the success of the under-18 side which won a record-equalling fifth FA Youth Cup in a row has been snuffed out by the ongoing reality that promotion to the first team for these young starlets remains the toughest of tough nuts to crack.
Looking on the bright side, during Abramovich’s ownership, Chelsea have become dab hands at swiftly turning disaster into triumph. It’s the vice versa aspect of this that the billionaire Russian will be looking to address right now as it’s hard to imagine after the amount of money he has invested in the club he is not as frustrated as the fans by the rapid boom and bust cycles at the Bridge.
Abramovich is one of the longest serving owners of a Premier League club and although publicly shy, his private ambition to be the best and win silverware has meant he has never been introverted when it comes to spending money. That can be the first team or laying the financial foundations for the success of Chelsea’s junior sides by investing heavily in the development of the academy facility.
While everything may look a little fractured at Stamford Bridge, Abramovich and his money remain a constant. His largesse when it comes to Chelsea is almost taken for granted — should that come to an end only then would it really be a time for supporters to seriously worry about the future.
Given there is no indication the Blues owner is tiring of his expensive hobby, it’s reasonable to suppose he will find a way to iron out the creases that have caused problems this season.
Time will tell if that involves the departure of Conte and a partial clear out of the dressing room. At some point, though, a change in that respect is guaranteed — that’s the way of the world in football. In the meantime, another Wembley cup final and a chance to win more silverware beckons. That’s not too bad is it?
Mark Worrall is one of ESPN FC’s Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @gate17marco