After winning the Champions League final last Saturday Chelsea have wasted little time in getting straight back to business and preparing the squad for next season. The departure of Didier Drogba just days after guiding the team to European glory suggested that the club were finally ready to phase out its ageing core. However, with Frank Lampard now set to sign a contract extension and see out his career at Stamford Bridge there are mixed signals coming from the Blues camp. Would they be better off removing the old guard once and for all and finally moving onto the youth development strategy they have lauded as their ultimate aim?
At the beginning of the season Andre Villas-Boas was signed as Chelsea manager and asked to manage the club’s transition from old to new. We all know that he faced some serious troubles, but with Lampard now signing a contract extension it appears that the club have made a u-turn. The England mifielder showed a far more unsavoury side to his role in the team as he sewed discontentment among the ranks as he was left out under Villas-Boas’ stewardship. However, when he returned to the side he proved that he can still consistently produce the goods and sixteen goals in all competitions put him at the top of the club’s scoring charts. Drogba’s form in front of goal though has faced a dissimilar trend and has declined in past seasons.
According to The Times the 33-year-old Lampard can also expect a pay rise of roughly £25,000 which suggests he is still expected to play a key part. It could be argued that the club have gone back on their word but some positives can be drawn. With the creative Josh McEachran waiting in the wings, next season would be a fantastic time to bed the youngster in alongside Lampard in order to aid his development over the coming years. Hardly a single youth graduate since John Terry has been able to hold down a spot in the first team and now Chelsea fans are eager to see a new home-grown talent make a mark on the side
But it is not just the older players who need to be wary of the coming summer. Jose Bosingwa and Salomon Kalou are also set to be released, though the latter could stay should the next manager wish to keep him. Allowing these players to leave is good business as neither has truly excelled during their time, though Florent Malouda may have missed that bullet and could be offered a new deal. Replacements will come in the form of Marko Marin and possibly Lucas Moura of Sao Paulo with the team’s president revealing they had rejected a £32.3 million bid from the west-Londoners.
Such signings will do little for the hopes of returning youngsters Gael Kakuta and Kevin de Bruyne who both spent part of the season out on loan. Chelsea went to incredible lengths to sign the Frenchman but he has yet to be given his chance in the first team. The pair may now well find themselves spending another season away from the club, along with Romelu Lukaku who endured a torrid first season at the club. Holding onto players such as Lampard and Malouda takes a very narrow, short-term view of the clubs future. Youngster could be blooded, but instead familiarity wins favour and these ageing players will keep promising young players out of the side.
The Chelsea board are clearly not yet ready to commit to the ideal of bringing through youth and would still rather buy for the first team. It is unsustainable, but the removal of fringe players that have rarely impressed will go some way to making the Blues a stronger squad. To be successful such an overhaul should be considered carefully and given ample time. For this reason, despite the extension of a club legend’s contract, the departure of Drogba is a step in the right direction.