It was sad news on Monday as the most influential Nigerian in European football leagues, Micheal Emenalo quit his role as the Technical Director of Chelsea Football Club.
Emenalo surprised everyone, including his friend, who is the billionaire owner of the club, Roman Abramovic by throwing in the towel after 10 years of selfless service at the London club.
Emenalo’s surprise decision to resign as technical director served as a reminder that Chelsea never enjoy calm waters for long.
Until his resignation, Emenalo is the only member of Abramovich’s executive team with playing experience. He has been able to earn the trust of the Russian over time having held positions in the scouting and academy programme that is now bearing fruit for the club.
For some time, the Nigerian had come under the sticks due to the recent frustrating summer transfer window suffered by the club, a development which caused tension between the Coach Antonio Conte, Emenalo and Director Marina Granovskaia.
Conte particularly was unhappy with Emenalo and Abramovic for the failure of the club to land most of his preferred transfer targets ahead of the 2017/18 season. For the Italian, he had expected the Nigerian to convince the club owner to provide the funds for those signings rather than asking to integrate youth players and loan returnees into the team.
Emenalo served a valuable purpose in that sense, as a calm line of communication and a mediating presence between the head coach and the board. Granovskaia works out of Stamford Bridge and Abramovich rarely visits Cobham because when he does – most recently following last month’s 1-0 win over Bournemouth — it tends to prompt a flurry of speculation.
Though the move that brought Emenalo’s 10-year association with the club to an end may be viewed in some quarters as victory for Conte, however the decision is likely to create a huge gap in the club’s scouting network and administration.
The 52-year-old Emenalo is among the few people Abramovic turn to for advice and during the Nigerian’s reign at the club, Chelsea won the Premier League title thrice, the FA Cup, the League Cup, the Europa League and the UEFA Champions League.
Conte is the 10th manager Emenalo has worked with and the former Notts County player has been a vital element of the Abramovich era.
Eden Hazard is one of Emenalo’s most successful signings, but Emenalo has also been responsible for the likes of Thibaut Courtois, Cesar Azpilicueta, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku joining Chelsea.
He was however left frustrated after the likes of De Bruyne and Lukaku were not given a greater chance under former manager Jose Mourinho before they both decided to leave the club.
The Nigerian was often blamed for signings that have not worked out and the number of youngsters sent away on loan.
There will be no such grief over Emenalo but, internally, his departure creates a number of problems for Chelsea. A potentially vital January transfer window edges closer and while the Nigerian’s job centred on the identification of targets than the doing of deals, losing him now is disastrous for preparation.
Conte will expect reinforcements if Chelsea remains in Premier League and Champions League contention, unfortunately, Emenalo will not be around to absorb the backlash if the reigning EPL champions find themselves scrambling for compromise targets in the final days of a second successive window.
Ahead of January lies the task of either directly replacing Emenalo with a new Technical Director or revamping Chelsea’s decision-making structure. Neither option will be straightforward given the unique set-up at Cobham, coupled with the relentless demands of the club’s controversial mass loan system.
In the interim, Granovskaia, will assume many of Emenalo’s responsibilities while the club reviews their management structure.
Emenalo, who obtained his UEFA Pro Licence this summer, strode onto the Stamford Bridge pitch on Sunday to hug academy graduate Andreas Christensen after the Dane had provided what he described as “a wonderful parting gift” with his near-flawless performance against United.
In the coming days, the Nigerian will likely take similar pride in Tammy Abraham and Ruben Loftus-Cheek making their first senior appearances for England.