You could certainly say things are changing at Stamford Bridge this season. For whatever reason, last year’s champions are not competing for the Premier League trophy. Joe Mourinho is out, the man adored by the fans, likely the cause rather than the cure of their woes.
Petr Cech left for rivals Arsenal in the summer. John Terry might well be off at the end of this season, and he’s the last remaining member of the ‘spine’ of the west London side’s dominant team over the last decade. New challenges are ahead, a rebirth is imminent.
But, some things never change. With the arrival of Pato in the January transfer window, Chelsea are once again making the same mistakes as before, falling in to the trap of chasing ‘names’ over youth. Current squad members or far more suitable transfer targets seem to have been overlooked.
When they signed Andriy Shevchenko in 2006 he was clearly past his best, but the admiration he had from owner Roman Abramovich was significant enough to bring him to the club, against the better judgement of the manager. He showed glimpses of past form, yet never hit the heights of his AC Milan days.
Fernando Torres, too, signed off the back of his form at Liverpool – he had terrorised the Chelsea defence in seasons prior – but was clearly suffering a loss of form, even before the Blues paid a staggering £50m for his services. His pace and acceleration had disappeared, leaving the once-dynamic forward a poor imitation of himself.
However, that didn’t stop Chelsea splashing out on him in the January of 2011, his name and past achievements clouding the vision of those in charge of bringing players to the club. Naturally, he struggled to recreate his Liverpool form and is arguably one of the biggest flops in Premier League history, certainly relative to the fee paid.
So here we are in 2016, another five-year gap, another player brought in on the back of past achievements. Sure, no huge transfer fee this time, Chelsea acquiring the player on loan from Corinthians in Brazil until the end of the season, but still echoes of past failures.
That is the positive, the temporary nature of the move posing little financial risk to Chelsea in the long-term. Far more damaging, however, could be the implications for the younger members of the Chelsea squad.
At a time of transition and change, the blooding of a number of talented academy products seems like a natural progression at an ideal time. Young Brazilan Kenedy is in the first-team squad, but rarely utilised, so too Bertrand Traore.
The list of on-loan players too throws up plenty of young, hungry and talented names – Lucas Piazon, Dominic Solanke, even Victor Moses, shipped out to West Ham minutes after signing a new contract in the summer – that are far less of a gamble than the has-been Pato.
Having pumped millions into the Academy, youth products are regularly over-looked in favour of supposed ‘bigger names’ – Juan Cuadrado, Mohammed Salah, Marko Marin to name just a few recent acquisitions – the fact they are all still on Chelsea’s books adding extra insult.
Maybe Pato can buck the trend and be a revelation, but it shows a serious lack of forethought and planning from the Chelsea hierarchy. Once again it seems a player who’s body has long began to show signs of decline, even at the relatively tender age of 26, is bought in on the off-chance that his form will some how miraculously return to it’s previous highs. His fitness is already of concern even before playing a game.
Just this season, Radamel Falcao was brought in to ‘bolster’ the striking options – and we all know how that’s turned out. If Chelsea are to ever really develop as a club, the short-sighted nature of acquiring players on the back of past form must stop. The raft of young talent is rarely given a chance and seemingly never will be.
Should Terry really leave in the summer, the one bright spot and only real success from the Chelsea Academy will be gone. There are plenty there to shine, but will they ever see the light of day at Stamford Bridge?