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American-style tanking policy could benefit Chelsea during transfer window hiatus

The 1983-84 Houston Rockets, the 2013 Houston Astros, the 2013-16 Philadelphia 76ers, the 2011 Chicago Cubs, and the 2014 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Staggered across three major American sports, these clubs have little in common at first glance, but a deeper look shows that each team was built through one crucial philosophical tenant: sometimes you have to be really bad to be really good.

Each of these sides took what they had, decided that it would never be good enough for glory, and burnt it all to the ground for a protracted rebuild.

The 2011 Chicago Cubs were a team heading in the wrong direction with fans desperate for success. Going against the fierce desire to win in a baseball-mad city such as Chicago, the Cubs smashed the detonate button for a major rebuild, eventually culminating in the club’s first World Series victory in 2017 after a 108-year wait.

The practice of “tanking” – or intentionally gutting your club in favour of future goals – is woven into the fabric of American sporting culture but has yet to truly break ground in world football, where the desperation for immediate success continues to dominate agendas.

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While American sports executives have mostly attempted to hide obvious tank-jobs, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined $600,000 for saying: “I’m probably not supposed to say this, but, like, I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night, and here we are, you know, we weren’t competing for the playoffs. I was like, ‘Look, losing is our best option,’

“Adam (Silver) (commissioner of the NBA) would hate hearing that, but I at least sat down and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we’re not going to tank again.

“This was, like, a year-and-a-half of tanking, and that was too brutal for me. But being transparent, I think that’s the key to being kind of a players’ owner and having stability.” Cuban continued.

Jose Mourinho’s second spell at Chelsea is a prime example of the chase for instant glory. Juan Mata, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, and Ryan Bertrand are just some of the bright pieces that Mourinho shifted for proven, older talent in the form of Filipe Luis, Diego Costa, and Cesc Fabregas.

The Portuguese manager claimed success through this strategy, as he added Premier League and League Cup silverware to the Stamford Bridge trophy cabinet, but the long-term viability of this method has come under intense scrutiny as supporters have seen the sold players in question flourish elsewhere.

In the grand footballing culture of immediate success, where managers are sacked at the slightest sign of trouble, Chelsea have led this charge for instantaneous euphoria. Roman Abramovich arrived in west London and demanded trophies on the spot, sacking popular manager Claudio Ranieri after the Italian was deemed unable to provide silverware.

Mourinho led Chelsea into a bright new era, but this “trophies at all costs” attitude has seen the club erode and lack solidity.

Lavished in uncertainty as Frank Lampard looks set to take over from Maurizio Sarri, Chelsea are at a dangerous crossroads and should look across the pond at their trans-Atlantic sporting brethren for answers.

On paper it won’t be fun for the Stamford Bridge faithful, but the Blues might reap some inadvertent benefits if they fail with their appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to overturn a two-window transfer ban.

The 2011 Indianapolis Colts finished as the NFL’s worst team with a record of 2-14 after finishing 10-6 the previous season. That infamous tank won them the grand prize of superstar quarterback Andrew Luck in the 2012 NFL draft, a generational talent who is still the shining light at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Without a draft for Chelsea to supplement their squad, the Blues can and should turn to their heralded youth system. After numerous triumphs at youth level across the recent generation, it is not inconceivable that a significant portion of Chelsea’s starting XI in 12 months time is made up of youth players.

Reece James, Juan Familio-Castillo, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and Tammy Abraham are just a few of the names that could now be given the chance to make their mark.

These youngsters will likely come with intense growing pains, but a full season at the top level would allow these rough gems the chance to learn and adapt to Premier League football. For years and years the Chelsea academy has been celebrated, and now could finally be the time for those words to translate into action.

In addition, a season of “tanking” could allow Chelsea to buck their own hire-and-fire policy and build towards a sturdier and more sustainable future.

Despite finishing third and winning the Europa League, Sarri faced constant criticism from the Stamford Bridge crowd before jumping ship for Juventus. His likely successor is an entirely different proposition to Chelsea’s former hires.

Derby County manager Frank Lampard

Lampard has yet to truly cut his teeth in the manager’s chair after overseeing the Rams for just one season in the Championship. However, Chelsea’s all-time top-scorer could be entering at the perfect time, with a year of “tanking” allowing Lampard the previously unforeseen luxuries of time and comfort.

This year of “freedom” would give the former West Ham youth product time and space to establish his methods and ideology with the safety blanket of a guaranteed second season, regardless of results.

The reality for Chelsea is that there is simply too much to do this summer. Between finding a new manager, replacing Eden Hazard and upgrading a frail squad, there just isn’t enough time left in the summer transfer window to solve all of the club’s problems.

A hasty and disorganised attempt to freeze the transfer ban and build a new team before a year’s suspension from player acquisitions would likely result in Chelsea doing little more than applying a temporary band-aid to the club’s extensive list of inadequacies.

Instead, a year removed from the dreams of trophies would allow the club to plan for an all-out assault next summer, utilising a squad reinvigorated by youth presence and assured by newly steady leadership under Lampard.

Chelsea have been falling dangerously close to the abyss for years and another round of placating the problems will see the club continue to slide into mediocrity.

While “tanking” would yield significant short-term pain, the long-term effects could see Chelsea reassert themselves at the top of the footballing food chain.

Article title: American-style tanking policy could benefit Chelsea during transfer window hiatus

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