Chelsea could spend well over £100m on signings this summer, with a new centre-back, full-back, midfielder and centre-forward already on manager Thomas Tuchel’s list of priority acquisitions, but the Premier League’s biggest problem is the club’s new American owners cannot be redeemed by any transfer fee. By confirming the departure of senior executive Marina Granovskaia, Chelsea have created a vacancy that may prove impossible to fill.
What happens on the pitch and the players who make or break a team usually dominates the attention of fans and media alike, but there are times when major boardroom changes carry far more weight than the transfer of one Star Players . Granovskaia’s departure from Stamford Bridge is the most significant change in football rulers since David Gill stepped down as Manchester United chief executive in 2013.
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United are still trying to recover from the double defeat of Gill and manager Sir Alex Ferguson nine years ago. Whilst Ferguson’s retirement was undoubtedly the most seismic event at Old Trafford in the past 30 years, Gill has also proven to be an irreplaceable, calm, experienced and well-connected figure, leading the club’s off-field operations and presiding over transfer deals and contracts Negotiations. The brain drain United suffered in 2013 led to a chaotic transition under Gil’s successor Ed Woodward and the club is still in flux almost a decade later.
Chelsea’s summer of upheaval differs from United’s in 2013, but the club still face an uncertain future. The new regime, led by LA Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly, would be wise to learn from United’s mistakes as they chart their path away from the Roman Abramovich era.
While United lost their greatest manager and a well-respected CEO, Chelsea must go on without the man whose billions have made the club serial winners and two-time European champions, and without the woman who wielded great influence at Stamford Bridge for more than a decade and he has been credited with making Chelsea one of the best run clubs in the world on and off the pitch.
Boehly and his partners face the challenge of proving that Chelsea can thrive without Abramovich’s personal fortune – the Russian oligarch covered losses of more than £900,000 a week during his 19 years as an owner – but they remain wealthy and are smart enough to know how to make a football club a success as a sustainable business. That includes ensuring they have the right person to oversee the football operations – player recruitment, transfers and contracts – that Granovskaia have managed so successfully, especially since they were promoted to chief executive in 2014.
Chelsea have gotten off to a promising start by announcing that Granovskaia will be available to Boehly throughout the summer transfer window to advise on negotiations and sources have told ESPN the club is keen on hiring Michael Edwards, who gives up his role as Liverpool sporting director this month to head up the new football department at Stamford Bridge.
But just as United and Woodward didn’t know Gill’s true worth until he left the club, Chelsea are likely to find that the loss of Granovskaia will mean more than the simple departure of a board suit. Sources have told ESPN that several players’ agents in particular are eagerly awaiting to find out what Chelsea will do next. Perhaps this concern is rooted in self-interest and fear of the unknown, because so many had developed a relationship with Granovskaia that allowed them to negotiate knowing who they were dealing with and how those negotiations would go.
Some clubs only deal with a small number of preferred agents and some owners who have historically been new to the Premier League have relied on just one agent to conduct their recruitment operations in the early years of their ownership. Chelsea are unlikely to repeat the mistake made by Portsmouth, Blackburn Rovers and Manchester City (prior to Sheikh Mansour’s takeover in 2008), but once they lose Granovskaia’s knowledge and connections they will be vulnerable to others who take advantage of their inexperience.
When Woodward replaced Gill, he had little knowledge of the football world, having worked in banking and United’s commercial department before his promotion to the top job, and he has since admitted making too many mistakes learning the ropes. These mistakes cost United millions in the form of wrong signing and contract decisions, while the club was also taken advantage of by players, agents and opposing teams when it came to improving their own ratings and paying for deals simply by making United their own take advantage.
By enlisting the help of Granovskaia for the remainder of this transfer window, Boehly, who has taken on the role of interim sporting director, has at least acknowledged that neither he nor his staff have the knowledge of the football industry to go it alone this summer exist. But once Granovskaia is gone for good, Chelsea will have to find the right answer. Edwards would come with a proven track record and replace Granovskaia as close as possible but his role at Liverpool did not have the same level of authority and oversight as that of someone who is often cited as the most powerful woman in football. So Chelsea would still close gaps.
United couldn’t replace Gill but at least their mismanagement has given Chelsea a case study of how not to do with Granovskaia.