After agreeing a move to become Bundesliga outfit Hamburg’s Director of Sport at the end of the season, when Frank Arnesen eventually departs Chelsea, what will ultimately be his legacy?
He was brought to Stamford Bridge under a cloud in 2005 when he was poached from city rivals Spurs via an illegal approach (a trend with Arnesen it has to be said) – and he ended up costing the current Premier League champions £8m. He was tasked with heading up youth development, with particular emphasis on blooding youth team players into the first-team.
It has to be said that Arnesen hasn’t enjoyed great success in bringing through young talent into the first-team since he joined the club in 2005. Not a single member of an ever-costly youth-team structure has been able to crack the starting eleven consistently and the club even incurred, an albeit short-lived, UEFA ban after their pursuit and eventual singing of young French winger Gael Kakuta was found to break UEFA guidelines – but it has since been overturned after an appeal.
The Dane is revered around the world for being one of the first scouts to have travelled from Europe in the late 80s to Brazil and unearth young talent. He is credited with discovering Ronaldo, Romario, Robin Van Persie, Jaap Stam and Arjen Robben, among others and he arrived at Stamford Bridge with a fantastic record in unearthing prodigious talent. But at Chelsea, despite significant investment in the youth team structure and the academy, upwards of £70m since Arnesen joined the club, Abramovich has seen little return on his investment so far.
The controversial signings of Leeds youth team duo Tom Taiwo and Michael Woods in 2005 eventually cost the club around £5m, after Leeds obtained evidence of Chelsea’s illegal approaches for the pair as well as current Spurs player Danny Rose. Taiwo and Woods have both since departed the club on free transfers without troubling the first-team.
Arnesen’s recruitment policy is indeed questionable in it’s ethics and his failure to fully blood a Chelsea first-team member has shown Arnesen’s time at Chelsea to be at worst, a complete and utter failure; at best, an unfulfilled opportunity.
Chelsea, prior to the recent January transfer window, have been particularly frugal over the past few seasons as Chairman Roman Abramovich began to tighten the purse strings in an attempt to shift away from the free-spending days from when he first took over the club to a more sustainable long-term model; and this included focusing on the youth team set-up.
Carlo Ancelotti saw the likes of experienced campaigners Deco, Michael Ballack, Ricardo Carvalho, Joe Cole and Juliano Belletti depart in the summer, with only Yossi Benayoun and Ramires coming in the other direction. The club’s failure to replace the aforementioned big names was seen as a show of faith in the club’s current crop of highly-regarded youngsters, which includes the likes of Fabio Borini, Patrick Van-Aanholt, Gael Kakuta, Jeffrey Bruma and Josh McEachran.
But as Chelsea have faltered on four fronts this season, it’s become clear that while talented, none of the players mentioned above are capable of providing the necessary squad depth for a club looking to sustain a title challenge, let alone put pressure on any of the club’s more established stars for their first-team place. In short, after six years, little has changed around Chelsea and Abramovich is still being forced to dig deep into his pockets to keep the club challenging for top honours. There has been little or no contribution whatsoever from the youth-team and that’s a mjor blot against Arensen’s record at Chelsea.
Chelsea Chairman Bruce Buck stated upon hearing of Arnesen’s proposed move to Hamburg at the end of the season: “I am hoping his legacy will be four or five players into the first-team but he has also left us with a very good academy structure which I think will last forever.” It’s a sad indictment of Arnesen’s time at Chelsea that he was tasked with almost the exact same mission statement upon his appointment six years ago and it appears as if Buck is grasping at straws in an attempt to put a positive spin of the Dane‘s time at the club. For the time, money and effort ploughed into the youth structure, there should be a little more to show for the fruits of Arnesen’s labour than ‘hope’.
It is of course difficult to predict the future of the current crop of youngsters that Chelsea have at their disposal, but they are certainly the most revered since Arnesen’s spell in West London. There were few that expected an immediate return on their investment after the appointment of Arnesen. There is no simple solution to producing young players – yet the paucity of talent troubling the first-team over the course of six years has been shocking for a top club such as Chelsea. This is undoubtedly one of the main reasons for the club’s recent struggles and they are now faced with an unevenly aged squad that looks as if it requires a radical overhaul in the summer.
Admittedly it hasn’t helped that Arnesen has had to adapt to four new managers since signing for the club. The constant chopping and changing of the management structure must have impacted on his own recruitment policy at times and rather understandably, it’s hard to govern with any authority or indeed consistency without the necessary stability within the higher echelons of the club.
Arnesen’s time at Chelsea has been one that’s courted controversy on numerous occasions and with little end product to speak of as yet. The radical overhaul and investment of the youth structure would have taken place at Chelsea regardless of who was placed in charge.
While there may be those that credit Arnesen with laying the foundations for Chelsea’s future academy success (which included winning the 2010 FA Youth Cup), his time at the club has been largely under whelming and hardly worthy of the fee, the trouble or the attention. A lot rests on the young shoulders of Chelsea’s latest crop and it will be difficult to fully judge Arnesen until they establish themselves fully; if they fail to do so at all, Arnesen’s time at Chelsea can be regarded as little more than a failure.