After a strong start to life at Chelsea, initially going 18 matches unbeaten, the wheels have started to come off for Maurizio Sarri halfway through his introductory campaign and there now appear to be familiar feelings of angst and tension swirling around west London.
The habitual pattern of renewed hope, followed by tension as complications arise, followed by a mass clamour for the manager’s head is a well-known sequence around Stamford Bridge, with the manager’s demise the dominant motif of the Blues’ 2018/2019 campaign, as well as numerous previous, with Roman Abramovich's finger perpetually pulsed on the trigger.
Under Abramovich, Chelsea have sped through 11 managers in 15 years. As each manager falls there is one resounding and constant criticism. Regardless of personal identity, tactics, or style of play, the lack of regular youth presence in any of these managers' teams has been used as profound justification for their eventual termination.
However, it certainly does seems odd that these 11 managers, with thoroughly contrasting styles, have all shared this identical deficiency. Perhaps it is the privilege of these managers that they haven’t needed to rely on youngsters with the at-one-point seemingly bottomless pockets of Abramovich cash at their disposal.
It is also conceivable that the much-heralded Chelsea academy is not as talented as everyone thinks. Or maybe, just maybe, the root of the problem goes deeper. Perhaps, Chelsea’s infamous hiring-and-firing policy itself has permeated into the managers' minds, drastically limiting their use of Chelsea’s academy.
The connection between Abramovich’s trigger-happy ownership and the shocking statistic that zero youth players have established themselves as Stamford Bridge regulars since John Terry can be articulated as a dual-effect.
On the one hand, the culture of rapid job loss at Chelsea has caused each manager to live on the defensive. As opposed to implementing a long-term project, each manager, sensing their immediate downfall, has relied on the safest routes available.
This has led to the likes of Willian, who may produce a 6.5 out of 10 each match, being picked ahead of untested youngsters such as Callum Hudson-Odoi, who may be the best player on the pitch when he plays but might also make crucial inexperience-based mistakes.
There has been a constant preference for known quantity, even if the known quantity is not good enough, over the riskier untested options. The team-sheet is often blind to talent and energy, preferring Willian’s 191 Premier League appearances and clear decline over Hudson-Odoi’s six cameo appearances, without clear rationale other than the additional 185 matches under the Brazilian’s belt.
If the manager was not fighting for survival, there would likely be more tendency for risk. Fear leads to safety, and security leads to risk. The managers who have tried to buck the trend and develop a more attacking style, namely Andre Villas-Boas and now Sarri, have been given dramatically short leashes with the axe ready to fall as soon as things start to turn sour.
Alternatively, Pep Guardiola was given a free pass in his first season at Manchester City, under the condition that whatever happened, he would remain in Manchester for a second. While this security hasn’t necessarily led to opportunities for City’s youngsters, that is largely due to the unbelievable wealth of options at Guardiola’s disposal.
The other major factor linking Chelsea’s sack-happy policy to their lack of youth is that each youngster has needed to constantly prove themselves to new managers and find their role within new systems. Players at the start of their careers desperately need stability and Chelsea is the absolute antithesis of a stable football club.
No player in Chelsea’s youth system over the last two decades has personified this necessity for stability more than Josh McEachran. Once the pearl of Chelsea's youth set-up, the centre midfielder now plies his trade for Brentford in the Championship, where he has struggled to nail down a consistent spot in the starting XI.
McEachran's dramatic fall cannot solely be placed on his shoulders, although rumours of attitude and lifestyle issues certainly didn’t help the former prodigy.
The summer of 2009 saw Carlo Ancelotti arrive at SW6 and the Italian immediately took a liking to the stupendously talented McEachran.
After a season training with the first team, Ancelotti began to incorporate a 17-year old McEachran into his plans for the 2010/2011 season. The deep-lying playmaker made his Champions League and Premier League debuts before the end of September, en-route to a hugely promising first season in professional football, making 17 appearances while winning Chelsea Young Player of the Year.
The next chapter of McEachran’s story is far too familiar. Ancelotti was infamously sacked in the tunnel of Goodison Park on the last day of the 2010/2011 season and Villas-Boas was the chosen succession plan.
Instead of continuing his football education in a comfortable and stable environment, McEachran was frozen out by Villas-Boas, making just five appearances in a frustrating campaign. The next season, McEachran, his stock now dramatically lowered, embarked on loan to Swansea, beginning a nomadic five-year period of loans before finally completing a permanent move to Brentford in 2015.
A myriad of similar ghost stories exist around Stamford Bridge, quietly wandering the corridors with John Terry still the last regular starter bred in-house before his departure. Not so quietly, the Chelsea academy continues to dominate in a manner unforeseen to modern football. Six of the last seven prestigious FA Youth Cups reside at Stamford Bridge, while the youth team also emerged victorious from the UEFA Youth League, the academy equivalent of the Champions League, in 2015 and 2016.
Now, as a new crop of Chelsea talent emerges, led by the spectacularly gifted 18-year-old Hudson-Odoi, the cycle is threatening to repeat itself. As the odds on Sarri's sacking shorten each week, Hudson-Odoi has become largely confined to the bench despite Bayern Munich idealising him as the heir to Arjen Robben.
While Sarri should unquestionably be further utilising the youngsters at his disposal, perhaps an extended stay of execution would provide him with the security to take risks while allowing the players themselves to flourish in a stable environment, devoid of speculation and change.