Chelsea’s policies pertaining to the treatment of their youth players have seen them lose some extremely high-profile talents over the years, most notably Mohamed Salah, Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku – just imagine what kind of heights the Blues could reach if they had those three alone on their books still.
The aforementioned trio secured moves elsewhere as Chelsea failed to recognise what they were letting out the door and all three have come back to haunt them at some stage – now plying their trade in the Premier League, they are up there with the best.
Rather than putting faith in young talent, Blues bosses have historically preferred to purchase players in their prime to guarantee quality and Maurizio Sarri is no different – the Italian must win at all costs and rarely risks playing youngsters, even in the cup.
Instead, the west London outfit herd their academy products out on a temporary basis in a seemingly never-ending loan cycle, which would be enough to put most up and coming players off staying at Stamford Bridge for the long-term. Crystal Palace’s Patrick van Aanholt has even spoken of how such a stage in his career almost led to him quitting football.
Callum Hudson-Odoi has realised that he will hardly get a look-in regardless of his extraordinary talent and is keen to move across the channel to Bayern Munich – the Blues are surely set to lose the 18-year-old despite their best efforts to keep him there and that is most likely all down to the lack of opportunities they have afforded him up to this point, while the likes of Jadon Sancho and Reiss Nelson are flourishing abroad.
Losing yet another future star in Hudson-Odoi would be a disaster for Chelsea and will surely be regarded as one of the worst dealings they’ve made in recent years, but they may have already matched if not surpassed that level of calamity by offloading Cesc Fabregas.
The 31-year-old has linked up with Thierry Henry at Monaco and, subsequently, Chelsea have been hunting for a more youthful replacement to offer competition for regista Jorginho at the base of midfield – until his departure, Fabregas had been the Italian’s backup.
Sarri already has the world’s best defensive midfielder in N’golo Kante at his disposal but is adamant that the deepest-lying of his midfield three must be able to control the game with a range of passing – while the World Cup winner is a decent distributor, he does not see what Jorginho sees with the ball at his feet.
During his time in the Premier League, Fabregas established himself as one of its best creators and, while he may have lost his legs of late, he could still capably deputise at the base of midfield – letting him go so easily this month may be hugely detrimental to Chelsea.
The Stamford Bridge outfit may have got the better of Newcastle last weekend, but they were far from at their best and Sarri didn’t argue otherwise as he discussed the performance of Jorginho, in particular, afterwards, saying:
“Have you seen the match? After 20 minutes he [Jorginho] lost a lot a balls. It’s unusual, so I think maybe he was tired. If Fabregas was on the bench I think he would have been on the pitch in the second half.”
Clearly the former Napoli boss is displeased by the decision to let Fabregas go and, had it not been for the Blues’ strict policy with over-thirties, then maybe the Spaniard would still be in blue.
Reluctant to offer any player entering their twilight years – regardless of importance – a new deal in excess of a year could come back to bite Chelsea as they lose Fabregas and seem set to say goodbye to David Luiz, 31, and Gary Cahill, 33, in the summer.
The latter doesn’t meet Sarri’s requirements as he doesn’t possess the passing range of the former and his contract expires at the end of the season, as does Luiz’s.
The Brazilian, meanwhile, may feel that this summer represents his last chance to secure a big contract and, with Chelsea offering nothing beyond one-year extensions to their veterans, he will surely seek pastures new despite the club’s willingness to keep him.
Playing hardball with Luiz and other players in a similar situation could prove as detrimental to Chelsea’s title hopes at present as their youth policy in the future.
While discussing the impact of losing Luiz is purely hypothetical at this time as the club may yet change their stance, letting Fabregas go at a stage where there are no players beyond Jorginho that fit the defensive-midfield bill for Sarri is a bizarre move and – although selling Hudson-Odoi would be a travesty – it may prove to be their biggest transfer mistake of this window if they cannot get a capable replacement in.