Evolution lies at the heart of longevity and Chelsea have spent the past five years simply not evolving. Perhaps Sir Alex Ferguson’s greatest act of management was the culling of Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Andriy Kanchelskis in 1995 after Manchester United had finished second in the league and lost in the FA Cup final. He was fortunate that he had an extraordinarily-gifted youth team waiting to replace the old guard and flourish, but it still required courage to take such decisive action to stamp out what he feared was a creeping culture of complacency.
Leeds United in the seventies offer an example of what can go wrong when evolution is not enforced. It’s a fact often overlooked that when Brian Clough arrived for his infamous 44-day stint at Elland Road in 1974, he inherited a squad of thirty-somethings, nine of whom were out of contract. Although Jimmy Armfield took that side to a European Cup final at the end of that season, that was their last hurrah and, after years in the second flight, it wouldn’t be until 1992 that Leeds won a trophy again.
It is that latter example that should serve as a warning to Chelsea or to any club that lets a side grow old together. Replacing two or three players should be possible; replacing six or seven effectively writes off a season or two, even if the transition goes well. Writing off seasons is something clubs are increasingly loath to do, but it is what Chelsea may be forced to do. That is the price they must pay for a culture of short-termism that has seen five managers come and go since the departure of Jose Mourinho in September 2007.