Disgruntled fans venting their feelings about the presidents and owners of football clubs are nothing new, though less common than taunts aimed at managers, teams and individual players. But an owner who bounces back, as Chelsea’s Todd Boehly seemed to do after Saturday’s 2-1 home defeat to Brighton, also marks something of a departure in Stamford Bridge’s recent checkered history. Even Ken Bates usually directed his wrath through his show notes.
The directors box at the Bridge has always been an oasis of calm under previous owner Roman Abramovich, an occasional glimmer of emotion across the Russian’s usually deadpan features during the early years of his ownership as exciting as it was. And with the enduring success his investment has brought, complaints have been few.
But fans above the owner’s box in the West Stand were photographed leaning over the railing above Boehly’s seat to express their frustrations during and after Saturday’s game, and he’s clearly protesting them.
In all fairness, the American is probably as frustrated with his on-pitch performance as his fans are, given his consortium’s investment approaching £5bn.
The long-term plan he dreamed up when he paid £21m to bring Graham Potter and his staff from last Saturday’s winners is in shambles, which must have hit even harder as Brighton outlast their expensively assembled squad with a team built on a relatively small budget and with the second lowest salary in the Premier League.
When interim manager Frank Lampard made a desperate and ultimately unsuccessful quadruple substitution in the second half, he must have set a record in the transfer values of the eight players involved – the four eliminated: Raheem Sterling, Enzo Fernández, Christian Pulisic and Wesley Fofana – alone cost £281.5m.
However, any suggestion that Boehly may have already tired of an investment that has turned very sour very quickly is certainly well off the mark.
He overpaid to buy the club, but his vision was definitely on returns from future TV deals and the possible return of a European Super League in some form.
Assuming Boehly is in it for the long haul, now what? A roof over the directors box? He could always fire Lampard, who, after all, has a 100% losing record in his second reign, albeit after just three games. But surely best to wait until Tuesday’s home return against Real Madrid in a draw Chelsea are losing 2-0 and are hoping for a miracle which the former club hero has surely been re-hired to perform.
Next, Lampard’s task will be to initiate a rescue mission. He denies that his players lack hunger. Rather it is their lack of confidence that needs to be addressed, and he plans to do this with one-on-one sessions which, with a squad the size of Chelsea, could take up much of the rest of the season.
“It’s the job of building trust because there’s talent in the team, some are young and there’s been some change,” said Lampard.
“At the moment it has been more conversations and meetings than training on the pitch, talking to the players individually.
“At this level we have to be at the limit and I’m not sure we are. No matter how we got here, it needs to be addressed now. Every conversation is different. Every player needs trust, but there are different ways to get it.
“Sometimes if you’re three feet apart or receiving the ball and you’re not sure, you take your first touch back and those things can feel like a hunger or a passion thing. But I don’t feel it. I will support players who are hungry for success like Chelsea players. With Brighton it’s a long working process that got them there. I’m in a good place.
Indeed, Brighton are having the best season in their history, but they still want more. After watching substitute Julio Enciso, 19, win the match with the goal of his young life, coach Roberto De Zerbi was only keen to talk about how he could improve on the Paraguayan candle whose eyes are only ever on the white of the posts .
“If he wants to become a great player, he has to improve in mentality,” said the Italian. “I talk about him like this because I’m one of our biggest fans and I want to help him, just that.”
Brighton captain Lewis Dunk said: “He [Enciso] he has probably never experienced the level of work ethic and detail required to make it in the Premier League, especially under this manager.
“After dinner last night we had a meeting on how to improve; here is how detailed and complete it is.
Boehly, of course, probably aspired to something similar when he tempted Potter from Brighton, paving the way for them to hire De Zerbi. It’s that approach Chelsea need now.