Chelsea’s American owners saw their last hope of any glory in their first season crumble on Tuesday.
This was when the club they bought in a deal worth 4.25 billion pounds (5.28 billion dollars) last year was knocked out of the Champions League by Real Madrid.
Marooned in the unfamiliar bottom half of the Premier League, Chelsea are at risk of their worst domestic league finish in nearly 30 years.
They also fell at the first hurdle in the FA Cup and League Cup.
Their only chance of qualifying for next season’s lucrative Champions League by winning the competition has also now evaporated.
This was after Real Madrid’s 4-0 aggregate quarter-final win following a 2-0 victory at Stamford Bridge.
The prospect of a drop in income is raising fears among Chelsea fans that some of the club’s best young players will be sold to meet financial rules.
The spectacular slump in the 2022/23 season – during which Chelsea have had three different coaches – stands in contrast with the string of heady campaigns under previous owner, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.
He was forced to sell the club by Britain’s government last year following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
Chelsea were the most successful team in England in the period between Abramovich buying the club in 2003 and its sale in 2022.
It was a run that included two Champions League triumphs in 2012 and 2021 and five English league titles.
That track record – and the surge in global support for the west London club along the way – explained Chelsea’s appeal to a consortium led by LA Dodgers part-owner Todd Boehly and backed by Clearlake Capital, a private equity firm.
On top of the deal to buy the club last May, they have invested a further 550 million pounds on players, spending in the January transfer window more than all the clubs in the top divisions of Spain, Italy, Germany and France combined.
But somehow they failed to buy someone capable of scoring goals on a regular basis with a gamble on former Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang failing at almost the first test.
Chelsea have scored 30 goals in 31 league games so far. By contrast, table-topping Arsenal have scored 74 and second-placed Manchester City have found the net 78 times.
Tuesday’s blank was the fifth in six games in all competitions.
With no spearhead for their attack, Chelsea’s managers this season – Thomas Tuchel, Graham Potter and now caretaker boss Frank Lampard – have all struggled to turn a collection of expensive stars and home-grown talent into a cohesive team.
Chelsea fans have turned their frustrations on the owners of the club and some were photographed remonstrating with Boehly in his executive box after last weekend’s 2-1 home defeat by Brighton & Hove Albion.
British media said an upset Boehly talked to players in the dressing room after that result.
Now he and his fellow owners – none of whom had experience of running a major soccer club before they bought Chelsea – face the huge decision of who to hire as the club’s next coach.
Candidates include former Bayern Munich manager Julian Nagelsmann and Luis Enrique, who coached Spain at the World Cup in Qatar.
Such a high-profile manager would represent a big change in approach after the hiring of Potter from modest Brighton last September.
Regardless of who takes over, a return to Europe’s biggest stage seemed a distant prospect for the disappointed Chelsea fans streaming out of Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night.