Chelsea‘s first team are currently amid a rather painful transition process. While one can point to their so-so season being curtailed in terms of success by the controversies surrounding the appointment of their their ‘interim’ manager Rafa Benitez, there is no doubt that the modification of the starting XI, via a change-up of personnel and a reinvention of the club’s style of play, has been a deciding factor throughout their two years in the Premier League wilderness.
The old heroes of Didier Drogba, John Terry and Co. have come and gone, either being sold on or handed a less pivotal role in the first team, and the new berth of talent, mainly centred around the three amigos – Oscar, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard – are emerging to become the new dominant force at Stamford Bridge.
Although I believe that Rafa Benitez has been rather unceremonious during his tenure as Blues boss, he has clearly steered the club in the right direction. However, could Chelsea be taking more out of their opportunity for change? The carving up of the old guard should have made room for the club’s considerable roster of young talent to burst through, but instead, Chelsea find themselves reliant upon figures such as Frank Lampard, or stop-gap signings such as Marko Marin, while the youngsters are farmed out across Europe.
Currently, the Blues have Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois, Josh McEachran, Gael Kakuta, Jeffrey Bruma, Lucas Piazon and Nathaniel Chalobah out on loan, to name the better recognised contingent of their total of 22 youngsters currently spending the season away from their parent club. Of course, there is not room for all of these players to be given a significant role in the first team at Stamford Bridge, but considering Lukaku has scored 14 Premier League goals this campaign, De Bruyne has been the Bundesliga’s best performer outside of Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, and Courtois has commanded the No.1 jersey at Atletico Madrid for the past two years, this season racking up 19 clean sheets, it begs the question as to whether these hot prospects have been managed properly.
[cat_link cat=”chelsea” type=”list”]
Money appears to often get in the way at Stamford Bridge. At the start of the season, the Blues had two promising young forwards on their roster in Daniel Sturridge and Romelu Lukaku. Yet, due to Fernando Torres’ heft transfer fee of £50million, an investment still yet to be returned in terms of success or even goal count, the Spaniard at the start of the year was given an unquestionable role as the first choice striker for the starting XI. It’s brought a return of just seven Premier League goals in 35 appearances, whilst Lukaku has doubled that total in half as many starts, and furthermore, Daniel Sturridge was sold for scrap to Liverpool, where the England man has already proved his worth with seven goals and three assists in 12 appearances, striking up a good understanding with Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho.
Whereas the Blues could have spent a year forging a new partnership for the future in Sturridge and Lukaku, they have instead lost a potential future England star to a divisional rival, and furthermore, rather than bringing back their Belgian target man in January, they opted to sign Demba Ba – another transfer which has so far had limited success, and will no doubt complicate Lukaku’s chances of first team football at Stamford Bridge in the immediate future.
Perhaps the situation with Lukaku was difficult to gage at the start of the year. The 19 year old has always been held in high regard, but having not scored in his first 12 Chelsea appearances, there were doubts as to whether he was ready for first team football at a Champions League winning club. But more concerning, is that Chelsea are currently making the same mistake, despite the risk of ‘sink or swim’ being much slimmer, with the case of Kevin De Bruyne. The 21 year old has been in sensational form for Werder Bremen, being utilised all across the midfield and currently standing on an impressive record of seven goals and nine assists in 31 Bundesliga appearances. Yet, instead of bringing him back into the fold next season, it appears a deal has already been struck that will leave De Bruyne plying his trade in Germany for another year, this time with Leverkusen, as part of a £20million deal to bring Andre Schurrle to London.
Criticisms over whether the German international is of good enough quality or not have already been made, but my concern is that the Blues have purchased a similar player, who is a year older, at an excessive price, when they already have a considerable talent in De Bruyne at their disposal. Competition for places is certainly not a bad thing, but when you simply have too many players to choose from, someone has to miss out, and at Stamford Bridge that judgement appears to be made upon investment rather than ability or potential.
Take Manchester United for example. Sir Alex Ferguson has continually relied upon youth to prop up his stars, working on the simple basis that youngsters will perform beyond their abilities due to a desire to remain in the first team, whilst the senior players provide the quality. It creates a healthy competition for places, and additionally, youngsters such as Danny Welbeck, Phil Jones and Tom Cleverley have all made around 20 appearances, at the highest possible level of football available to them. Similarly, on the continent, Jurgen Klopp has forged a new European powerhouse at Borussia Dortmund by giving youngsters the chance to shine, whilst Barcelona’s emphasis on bringing through academy products has created a footballing legacy and philosophy that has given birth to arguably the greatest football team of all time.
I have perhaps done Chelsea disservice so far. This season, they have given a number of youngsters important roles in the first team, such as Cesar Azpilcueta, Ryan Bertrand, Victor Moses, Oscar and Eden Hazard. But rather than having the Yossi Benayouns, Marko Marins, Ross Turnbulls as cover and never effectively challenging the status quo of the starting Xi, surely it would make sense to give the likes of Lukaku, Courtois, De Bruyne and even Josh McEachrin, the opportunity to prove themselves at the highest level, or at least compete for places on the training ground.
With Chelsea having such a hectic schedule this season, it would appear to have been the perfect opportunity to field youngsters in the auxiliary tournaments such as the Europa League. Similarly, considering the current transition process, the time to bring new players in to the first team, and allow them to forge a new role for themselves in a club developing a new style of play would surely have been the current campaign.
My concern is that these players being continually farmed out to gain first team experience will remain so far from the fold that they are rarely considered over those with the luxury of playing under their manager’s nose at Stamford Bridge. It’s always a delicate balance when sending players out on loan, and I believe that at Chelsea it has tipped pejoratively. Unless room is made for the berth of potential stars on the Blues’ books, there will be many more Daniel Sturridges that get away, at the expense of the club’s potential future.
[opinion-widget opid=”205644″ width=”full”]