The times are changing in the Premier League, and Chelsea appear eager to keep up. London Evening Standard report that the Blues’ transfer budget this summer will be restricted ahead of their move to the new stadium, but there could be another key motivation behind the alleged austerity measures.
Roman Abramovich’s willingness to invest his personal wealth in Chelsea, and his overall willingness to be a proactive presence within the club, can reduce or grow at a whim. It hinges on how he believes football is changing, and how the wider world is evolving.
It’s unlikely then, that Tottenham’s resurgence will have escaped his attention; without spending big on superstar names, Chelsea’s London rivals are on course to finish above them for the second time in three seasons, while finishing runners-up to the Blues’ title-clinching side last term.
Tottenham’s success has been founded upon the creation of a distinct playing identity and the way in which young players – many sourced from the club’s academy – have embraced it to better their careers.
Abramovich knows Chelsea have the resources to replicate that approach which eases the burden on wage and transfer budgets; Chelsea’s youth team is one of the best in the country, currently chasing a fifth successive FA Youth Cup, and the Blues’ loan army is as varied and valuable as it is extremely talented.
The age-old problem though, is how to bring these young talents through to first-team level, a conundrum that has chewed up and spat out some of the biggest names in the Premier League today – specifically, three names that have played key roles in their current employers finishing above Chelsea this season in Mohamed Salah, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku. Two of those were the standout candidates for this season’s PFA Player of the Year award.
The failure to bed these players into the first team represents an invaluable opportunity missed for Chelsea – one can only imagine how formidable their forward cast would be right now with all three accompanying Eden Hazard – and there are signs it’s already happening again.
Dominic Solanke, one of England’s bright young hopes, refused to extend his contract and joined Liverpool last summer. Nathaniel Chalobah left for Watford and immediately claimed a place in the England squad, and after a successful loan spell at Crystal Palace this term, Ruben Loftus-Cheek will feel more than justified seeking first-team football elsewhere if it isn’t guaranteed at Chelsea next season.
Chelsea appear to be making the same mistakes but reducing this summer’s transfer budget will force their next manager – assuming Antonio Conte’s tenure has come to an end – to accept greater autarky and use his ingenuity to find resources from within.
Famously, however, very few Chelsea managers have done that under the Russian billionaire, for two clear reasons. First and foremost, the pressure for consistent success at Stamford Bridge is so severe that, despite Chelsea often employing the best managers in the world, few have found the bravery to take a risk on a young player over proven and experienced members of the first team.
Secondly and equally crucially though, hardly any have stayed in the job long enough to yield a deeper understanding of the club’s youth ranks or create a cohesive identity that academy products can mould their games around.
Consequently, there just isn’t an obvious path from the youth squad or the loan army to the first team. Fantastically promising talents have either been wasted, stuck in the purgatorial realms of the U23s, or surrendered to other clubs willing to offer the game-time they need.
Chelsea’s next manager will be faced with similar issues, particularly that his tenure could be cut abruptly short after a poor run of early results, so the link within the club must come from elsewhere – someone with an inherent understanding of Chelsea’s young players and what they can bring to different roles in different systems.
And the standout candidate in that regard is comfortably Jody Morris, who has been at the heart of the academy setup since 2014. In that time, serving as both assistant manager and manager of the U18s side, he’s helped Chelsea claim three FA Youth Cups and lift the treble last season – the FA Youth Cup, the U18 Premier League South and U18 Premier League national.
More crucially, he’s overseen the development of players like Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Dujon Sterling, Jake Clarke-Salter and Izzy Brown; these are the youngsters who will have to step up and make first-team roles their own in the coming years if Chelsea’s restricted approach in the transfer market is to be successful.
There are other reasons Morris can be such a decisive influence on redefining the west Londoners too, most particularly that he’s a true Chelsea man – someone who came through their youth system alongside John Terry and made over 150 appearances for the first team before leaving in 2003.
And the fact he departed just prior to Abramovich’s investments completely transforming the club only adds to the idea of him being a powerful figure in this coming transition. He understands Chelsea’s traditional identity and culture, will recognise what Chelsea have lost during the last 15 years and what ideals need to be revived.
From Real Madrid to another one of Morris’ former clubs in Millwall, there are copious examples across Europe right now of how significant putting men with historic links to their teams in powerful positions can be.
Not to suggest Morris should be made Chelsea’s next manager – although he’s enjoyed great success with the youth team, that would be a gigantic step up – but it’s clear that whoever does replace Conte needs the 39-year-old in his ear, giving him invaluable insight into the exciting young talents Chelsea already have and how they can aid the starting XI.
Whether it’s in a Director of Football capacity, part of the coaching staff or even as the new assistant manager, it’s time to bring this true Chelsea man into the first-team picture.