With twenty five players out on loan to clubs home and abroad, one wonders where, if anywhere, each of these fall within the thinking of Technical Director Michael Emanalo and indeed, Antonio Conte himself. Whether the twenty five fit within a defined strategy or are viewed on a case by case basis, it is difficult to say. Acquiring talent that is someway from being ready for the first team is not unusual within football’s pyramid. There is of course no shame in being a good player who doesn’t quite hit the heights necessary to become an established squad member at a club competing at the very pinnacle of domestic and European competition. Such players can still make a successful career for themselves at middle-ranking Premier League clubs, thus commanding a fee that reflects the time and finance their parent club have invested in them. It does though seem excessive to have the numerical equivalent of two teams out on loan, and points to more of a trolley dash mentality than that of a defined, joined up strategy.
Of the players plying their trade away from Chelsea this season, this observer was impressed with the shift Tammy Abraham last night put in for Swansea, during their rearguard action at Wembley, Tottenham’s temporary home. During the South Wales’ club’s rare forays upfield an otherwise isolated Abraham, sadly missing the guile of Gylfi Sigurdsson since the Icelander’s transfer to Everton, gave Spurs’ recent Colombian acquisition Davinson Sanchez plenty to ponder. Despite an outstanding 2016/17 season on loan at Bristol City that yielded 26 goals for the Championship side, there were inevitable doubts to whether the 19 year old Abraham could step up to the Premier League’s cut and thrust. Much will depend on the support he receives from senior striker Wilfried Bony, and Bayern Munich loanee Renato Sanches. Abraham does though look to be an extremely exciting prospect who could, in time, go on to emulate the likes of Diego Costa and Didier Drogba.
A lack of first team opportunities means little is known about many of the other Chelsea players loaned out for the 2017/18 season. One player who can though perhaps count himself unlucky to not be involved at Stamford Bridge is Kurt Zouma. Despite inking a new six-year deal Zouma finds himself someway down the pecking order, although an all but guaranteed starting berth at Stoke City will give the 22 year old much needed game time.
An interesting example of how a lack of first team exposure can stall a seemingly promising career is perhaps best highlighted by Tomas Kalas. A memorable rearguard action against title-chasing Liverpool in 2014 surely heralded a glittering, if albeit belated start to the Dane’s Chelsea career but despite recently penning a four year deal, Kalas has spent much of the intervening period on loan at Middlesbrough and neighbouring Fulham, to where he has returned this season. To neatly put Chelsea’s embarrassment of riches into context, a Zouma-Kalas central defensive pairing is surely one many Premier League sides would struggle to better.
There are though the signings that simply baffle. Michael Hector, yet another centre half, was acquired from Championship side Reading and immediately loaned back to the Berkshire-based club. Jokes of having had more clubs than Jack Nicklaus are legion in football but Hector has certainly had more loan stints than most, prior to breaking into Reading’s first team. Where though do Chelsea see Hector fitting into any future squad that would surely have the likes of Kalas and Zouma vying to take over from Cahill, Luiz, and Rudiger? Although Hector’s acquisition was probably seen as low risk in terms of the attendant financial outlay, there just doesn’t seem to be any logic to his signing in the first place.
Equally, the purchase for £35 million of Leicester City midfielder Danny Drinkwater appears to be money unnecessarily spent. A surname replete with puns, Drinkwater is a rare breed: an English top flight holding/defensive midfielder, whose water-carrier style hardly compares to the disparaging moniker ascribed to Didier Deschamps by Eric Cantona. It is difficult to see how Drinkwater can fit into a team where former Leicester teammate N’golo Kante occupies a guaranteed starting position in front of Chelsea’s back four. In this observer’s opinion the signing of Drinkwater was wholly unnecessary, especially when Ruben Loftus-Cheek, a viable in-house alternative, was loaned out to Crystal Palace.
The modern-day footballing world of throwaway millions and bloated, league of nations’ squads is a far cry from when teams functioned with much fewer personnel than today’s Premier League teams – who ‘make do’ with a pared down roster of 25 players. What though does the future hold for the likes of Tammy Abraham, Tomas Kalas, Kurt Zouma, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, and even Michael Hector? What must they think of their future prospects within a parent club that continually pushes players it already owns yet further down the pecking order, every time it purchases rather than promotes from within?