COMMENT: They’re not exactly discreet this lot at Chelsea, are they? But beyond the carnage they’ve left, this new-look management team being pieced together could be groundbreaking for English football…
As we say, it’s been carnage ever since Todd Boehly announced himself ‘interim’ sporting director and charged his most trusted to put together a new recruitment team. Two names, we think, are now on their way, while a third – and potentially a fourth – member of this ensemble is being pursued.
In terms of the havoc, that’s been left to RB Leipzig and Southampton – for now. Getting wind of Chelsea making contact with their sporting director Christopher Vivell, RBL promptly sacked the 35 year-old. The club’s GM Oliver Mintzlaff dropping Chelsea’s name into his explanation for Vivell’s sudden departure: “We already know that Chelsea likes what we do but I cannot comment. I don’t know of any talks.
“Chris has certainly done a great job over the last two years, but in the end, things didn’t fit anymore. If the trust is no longer there in football, co-operation no longer makes sense.
“That is why we released him. We made this decision with full conviction.”
You get the picture. In the American vernacular. In the Boehly vernacular. Mintzlaff and co were ‘p*****’. Not just with Vivell, but Chelsea too. So they acted, as Mintzlaff said, “with full conviction”.
Then came last week’s presser for Ralph Hasenhuttl, the Southampton manager. The Austrian, like RBL, choosing not to skirt around the issue. Instead he told us straight – and with both barrels. Joe Shields, just months since his move from Manchester City, had fielded a better offer and had effectively already left his job as Saints chief scout.
“He came in August and he left in October,” snapped Hasenhuttl. “It’s not a big loss for this club because the impact he had in the six weeks was not the biggest.
“We are not in the situation where we fall into depression.”
Of course, for the moment, we’ve had no word from Chelsea on either man. Though those close to the new owners are claiming Vivell will be confirmed as technical director, with a remit of running the entire Chelsea football operation – and potentially a soon to be launched global club network. Shields, meanwhile, will be named director of recruitment, with a brief that goes well beyond scouting. Alongside Kyle Macauley, who arrived with Graham Potter as recruitment analyst (a personal demand from the manager), Shields will be part of a committee which will also see Vivell and Boehly involved. And significantly, the make-up of this new recruitment team won’t end there.
Chelsea still wish to hire a sporting director, with an emphasis on a local. After being turned down by Liverpool’s former recruitment chief Michael Edwards, the Blues are now in contact with Stuart Webber, of Norwich City. The move for the 38 year-old coming after a very public rejection from Christoph Freund, though we understand Chelsea had earmarked the technical director’s role for RB Salzburg’s sporting director.
If they’re successful in prising Webber away, Boehly and his board may not yet be satisfied as there’s also internal discussions about a football-minded chief exec being added. Think Karl-Heinz Rummenigge or his successor Oliver Kahn at Bayern Munich. As mentioned, this is groundbreaking stuff. Exciting stuff. And even the casual observer, beyond those inside the industry, will certainly be following how all this washes out.
With Shields and Webber, plus the already installed Macauley, going local is a good move by the board. The relationships and British know-how they bring will work to Chelsea’s advantage, particularly in academy recruitment. At least on paper…
And we say that, just as an aside, as this column wonders if Boehly and his co-owners have drilled down on the personalities of each man they’re bringing in. Do they fit? Can they work together? The doubts we raise stemming from the amount of rejection Chelsea have fielded over these past few weeks. As they’ve worked down their shortlist, has there been enough analysis of whether all those now being put in place can combine to maximum effect?
But that’s simply a slight caveat. On paper, this is a good move from Chelsea. As we’ve stated in past columns, at the very elite level, there’s been a shift towards recruitment teams, rather than singular sporting directors. Barcelona now lean on Jordi Cruyff and Mateu Alemany. AC Milan have Paolo Maldini and Ricky Massara. And as mentioned, at Bayern, there’s Kahn and Hasan Salihamidzic. To see a Kahn-type emerge as chief executive at Chelsea will be unheard of in English football. As we say, it’ll definitely be worth watching. And if it can be achieved with someone boasting a Chelsea connection, all the better.
However, no matter the personalities, for Chelsea, for English football, this all-star recruitment team will be groundbreaking – even if it means creating carnage along the way.