Todd Boehly – The man with a plan

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a fascinating psychological phenomenon as once you find out about it you cannot stop spotting it at work.

The effect is as follows – people with limited knowledge in a field vastly overestimate their abilities in that area compared to their peers. That person is then unable to recognise their deficiencies, unaware that they do not have the requisite expertise that they so strongly believe they have. 

“Ultimately I hope the Premier League takes a little bit of a lesson from American sports,” the Chelsea owner Todd Boehly states thoughtfully, before continuing “and really starts to figure out, why don’t we do a tournament with the bottom four sports teams, why isn’t there an All-Star game.”

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This was back in September a few days after the former Champions League winner Thomas Tuchel had been sacked and Graham Potter was appointed in his place. Boehly was talking about the state of the league at the SALT conference in New York.

There was a minor furore about these statements with the usual kneejerk reaction in the UK whenever an American talks about football, but there was something more profound than this reactive approach tinged with weird patriotism. There was a concern hidden beneath the surface that someone without experience in the sport, and without either knowledge or expertise was so confident that they knew what was wrong with the game.

For Chelsea fans, there must have been a slight fear growing at that moment, as it was not the first warning sign that the Dunning-Kruger effect was at work since the enforced sale of Chelsea to Boehly and his business partners.

Boehly and company entered Chelsea and immediately looked to shake up the club’s organisational structure. Most prominently by allowing chief executive and head of transfers Marina Granovskaia to leave, despite her reputation as one of the best negotiators and strategists in the game. In her place, Boehly took charge of the summer transfer window as a quasi-sporting director despite his lack of prior experience.

The issue is not an owner coming in and talking about shakeups, these can be for the better, the problem is that Chelsea before the sale was an exceptionally successful and well-run club. The only reason that they were even on the market was due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine forcing the British government to attempt to look like it was doing something.

This was not a club that needed a dramatic change in direction, Boehly and Co. had lucked out, they had an elite team at a discounted price. They had an exceptional manager, a strong squad, an organised backroom staff, and a youth network that had the potential to consistently field players into the first 11.

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What Chelsea needed was stability, what they needed was someone to come in and appreciate that this was a largely well-run club. One that often looked chaotic because success was the mantra, and the manager was held personally responsible for achieving that. However, in stark contrast, the backroom staff and the players were often a consistent backdrop to the ever-changing manager.

It has been less than a year since the enforced sale of Chelsea to Boehly and his business partners and in that time the club has become a pristine model on how not to run your football club.

Chelsea are 11th in the league. Four managers have led the team in that time. And the club are out of the Champions League after a 4-0 defeat to Real Madrid on aggregate.

Every single decision Boehly has made has been somewhat baffling. Boehly kept Tuchel as manager over the summer and built a squad seemingly for the manager. Then sacked him six games into the season.

Boehly then appoints Potter, a manager who has never led a club at this level before, and one that has consistently worked with small squads and decides to bring in eight players in the January transfer window completely destabilising a team that had looked shaky at best.

There is some logic to sacking Potter but it was clear the brain trust behind Chelsea had no idea who to appoint next with the candidates ranging from Luis Enrique, Antonio Conte, and Julian Nagelsmann, with the owners stating that they want a long period of time to interview and consider their next manager.

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Bruno took charge of a single game before the appointment of Frank Lampard as interim manager until the end of the season. Lampard knows the club, knows the ground, knows the dressing room, but doesn’t know how to manage a football club. He was sacked this season from Everton with a 27.91 win percentage, the wost of any permanent manager since Howard Kendall in the 1990s.

Already, Chelsea fans have begun to turn on their owner following the latest loss to Brighton, a testing occasion for a fanbase that is so used to winning. It’s hard not to compare the two sides when it was Chelsea who took Potter from Brighton mid-season and yet rather than destabilising the Southcoast club, Brighton has improved whereas the decline from Chelsea has been dramatic.

Boehly’s reign feels like professional arson when actually it’s just an inexperienced and out-of-depth cook unaware of the volatility of a kitchen. The problem for Chelsea fans is that there will never be a sense of reflection or contemplation from the owners. They possess just enough knowledge to think they know what’s right, and not enough to understand that they are wrong. This is the Dunning-Kruger effect at work and once you spot it, it becomes impossible to ignore.

The Author

Nicholas Hartland

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