There’s an age-old debate about what a football club actually is. Is it a badge, a stadium, a shirt colour? Is it transferred from generation to generation in the soul of the fans? Is it really only the playing corps and backroom staff? Or is it simply a series of basically unrelated and ephemeral people and things that masquerade as something more permanent to give themselves a sense of identity and belonging?

Nowhere is this discussion currently more relevant than Stamford Bridge. Are Chelsea the same football club they were under Roman Abramovich? They play in the same colours, at the same stadium (for now), under the same badge, yet somehow the club’s soul has changed.

Their ambitions, motivations and identity – both publicly and self-reflectively – are different. Their personnel, from the boardroom to the bench, are almost unrecognisable. An entirely new hermit crab inhabits a royal blue shell which existed long before it and should long outlast it.

Perhaps the greatest symbol of this shift is Thiago Silva, that great central defensive Ozymandias, gradually sinking into the sands of time. One of just three players who won the 2021 Champions League still at the club and the oldest outfield squad member by over a decade, he represents the old Chelsea far more than the new. His place in this brave new world is increasingly unclear.

called “not a screamer or shouter” in May both screamed and shouted at his teammates as no passing channel opened for the umpteenth time in the first half. Mauricio Pochettino had to ask him to calm down.

This all exposes something which is becoming clearer by the day at Stamford Bridge – Silva deeply resents Chelsea’s situation, and you can’t blame him. He turned 39 on Friday. He’s never played for a losing side. He doesn’t have time left to turn this around. His one-year contract takes him close to his 40th birthday. This is his first season without Champions League football since 2008-09. He’s too old for this shit.

His irritation is largely shared by Chelsea fans. They can’t get their heads round this either. This is a side which won a Champions League less than two-and-a-half years ago. This is only the second time Chelsea are not playing European football since 1996-97. If happiness equals reality minus expectations, then the sheer weight of expectation is at least partially dictating the current Stamford Bridge malaise. Yet shifting those hopes and ambitions are far easier said than done.

And Silva currently exists in a strange nether region between the past, present and future. He’s not captain or vice-captain, despite being old enough to have fathered more than half his teammates. Conor Gallagher, a man who spent the summer with a “For Sale” sign swinging round his neck like a cow at market, took the armband against Bournemouth instead of the veteran Brazilian.

Part of this must come from Silva having never properly learned English, but perhaps another part is the direct result of his frustration. Through no real fault of his own, he can’t buy into the merits of a “project” to the same extent as his teammates. He doesn’t see the upside of a 1-0 loss to Nottingham Forest. He’s not going to be around to enjoy the rewards if this eventually comes good.

Continuing to prioritise Silva is a fundamentally myopic decision at a club where everything appears to be geared towards the long-term. Would it not be better for Levi Colwill and Axel Disasi – perhaps the centre-back pairing for the next five years – to already be developing their partnership? Is it really best for Colwill’s development to be forced out wide to cater for and protect Silva? Is the increasingly immobile Brazilian the best partner for Disasi, who has the turning circle of a commercial cruise liner?

expectations – but so does Silva. For a team already being crushed by Atlas-esque pressure, having their senior figure screaming at them on the pitch and expressing his discontent off it is not conducive to creative development.

Motivation isn’t an issue for these players, although leadership is. If Silva is not going to provide that, and is in fact blocking future development, then he may well have outlasted his usefulness.

Chelsea’s biggest challenge now is to expunge their old self, to alter expectation and ambition to align with reality and allow themselves to grow organically. They still don’t know what their football club is or will be, but they know it has unalterably changed.

Silva is clearly somewhere between reticent to and incapable of joining this journey of self-discovery. That tends to be the remit of teenagers, and there’s plenty of those around.

So perhaps Silva needs to stay where he belongs, as one of the last greats in the museum of old Chelsea. It’s time for some new exhibitions.

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