An outstanding season at newly promoted Aston Villa coupled with a two-window transfer ban for parent club Chelsea should this summer make Tammy Abraham master of his own destiny. Assuming Villa intend to bring in the 21-year old on a permanent basis will Abraham be tempted to showcase his talents at the top table for a club that has shown faith in him, or are Chelsea likely to price Dean Smith’s side out of a deal simply to maximize revenue? A third option, not one in recent times that has gained much traction, would be for Maurizio Sarri to give homegrown talent a fair chance. Whether Sarri is indeed still in charge after the Europa League denouement against Arsenal is moot, but the need for Chelsea to replace and recruit from within during such a stifling transfer embargo is anything but equivocal.
Over the last three seasons Abraham has earned a shot at the big time which a regular run in Chelsea’s first team, in games other than Carabao Cup encounters, would undoubtedly represent. Fifty-two Championship goals for Villa and Bristol City bookended a difficult Premier League season at ultimately relegated Swansea City, where Abraham’s reputation was unharmed despite an eventual demotion. It was indeed Bayern Munich midfielder Renato Sanches, also on loan in South Wales, who bore the brunt of much of the criticism. Abraham, as well as midfielder Mason Mount, a fellow Chelsea loan player who starred for Derby County but on the losing side in yesterday’s Championship play off final, should both be given prominent roles within Chelsea’s first team. Without any recourse to sign players until next summer failure to promote the likes of Mount, Abraham, and Kurt Zouma is inexcusable. With all available paths to first team inclusion blocked, even during a transfer ban, there can be no justifiable criticism of these players and others if they wish to seek opportunities elsewhere.
To talk of Mason Mount as a fellow loan player of Abraham(And Zouma) paints an otherwise isolated picture of Chelsea’s squad dynamics. The aforementioned trio are but three of FORTY-ONE players loaned out throughout the UK and Europe. Quite how or why Chelsea have stockpiled players in this way is debatable, but divergent views suggest it reflects a programme of wise, prudent investment that could bear fruit for the first team or to sell on, or simply as a symptom of the club’s revolving door attitude to managerial appointments that with each new head coach comes a further layer of players to add to an already bloated roster. Whilst each loan player must be individually assessed several examples of poor judgment have led to the likes of Alvaro Morata, Victor Moses, and Michael Hector joining predominantly youth products in Chelsea’s loan factory from a point of view of being surplus to requirements, but otherwise locked into lucrative long-term deals.
Facing the prospect of a transfer ban does not mean Sarri, assuming he is still on board for the start of the 2019/20 season, will be compelled to give youth its head. Infamous for seeking quick fixes rather than having the patient to acclimatize young players within matchday squads many Premier League managers, frequently but not exclusively from continental Europe, are often steadfastly resistant to promoting youth from within, even to the extent of sourcing it or more experienced but technically limited players from former clubs. Brought in from Napoli by Sarri, an overpriced Jorginho is one such example of ‘better the devil you know’. Heck, even outcasts Gary Cahill and candidate for worst ever Chelsea signing Danny Drinkwater might still have more of a chance at redemption than some of the leading lights within the loan ranks.
Along with Zouma, returning from a season with Everton, Abraham, Mount and several others from the band of forty-one warrant further consideration, if only to once and for all reach an opinion of their long-term use to Chelsea. Outstanding in one of his few starts for the Stamford Bridge side Czech central defender Tomas Kalas’ 15-minutes of fame is now five-years ago. Definitely a candidate for the last chance saloon, although it is perhaps surprising the 26-year old is still at the club after such a lack of subsequent opportunities. The mercurial Kenedy, capable of sublime skill but seemingly without the discipline to produce it on a regular basis has just returned from Newcastle United, where his overall contribution was negligible. One feels his time has now passed at Chelsea, and perhaps in the Premier League as a whole.
There remains a compelling case to give Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi another shot at nailing down the number nine berth. Returning from Stamford Bridge after a moderately successful loan spell across London at Crystal Palace, the 25-year old fits the profile and certainly has the attributes to succeed. It was though to another former Napoli player, Gonzalo Higuain, where Sarri instead turned – with little success. Far from cutting a swathe through the Premier League’s defences the Argentine looked at times to be all at sea, lumpen, and out of condition. Flat track bullies against relegation cannon-fodder are of little use against Chelsea’s fellow Premier League and European big beasts.
Chelsea will have to accommodate one confirmed new member to its squad: Christian Pulisic. The American, signed in January for £50+ million but immediately loaned back to Borrusia Dortmund for the remainder of the Bundesliga season will be joining his teammates for the first time this pre-season, weighed down somewhat by an inflated price tag that has allowed Lucien Favre to bring in Julian Brandt, Nico Schulz, and Thorgan Hazard, brother of Chelsea’s Eden. Viewed now as a strange signing just as it did in January, one wonders who at Chelsea actually signed Pulisic and whether it is just another in a long line of expensive mistakes of trying to shoehorn players in where they are not needed or appropriate, quite aside from the impatience shown to those who’ve gone on to future success. Think Shevchenko, Drinkwater, Jorginho, Salah, De Bruyne, Lukaku… I am sure most Chelsea supporters would have preferred Nat Chalobah to stay at the club instead of making way for Leicester City’s Danny Drinkwater.
Should the transfer ban imposed upon Chelsea continue to be upheld it could scupper Eden Hazard’s transfer to Real Madrid. Whilst Sarri and club owner Roman Abramovich cannot realsitically stand in the way of the ambitions of a player who has done so much for Chelsea, the likely £80-120 million it will take for the Spanish giants to secure the Belgian’s services will be of little use if it cannot be spent on his replacement, or more realistically several reinforcements. At 28 it is unlikely Real will come calling again for Hazard, who will know that to make his dream move happen he has to go now. Whilst money in the bank is never a bad thing and with many players, although nobody close to a like-for-like replacement for Hazard, to draw upon Chelsea could and should take the money and the punishment, adapt in the short term their system and ambitions to the myriad players at their disposal and give the likes of Mount, Abraham, Batshuayi, Zouma starring roles along Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Ethan Ampadu, and Callum Hudson-Odoi.
If Sarri stays put instead of decamping to Juventus I wouldn’t hold your breath of the above ever coming to pass but should an English manager, Frank Lampard or otherwise, take the helm it is time for Chelsea to take stock of what they have, accept the numerous transfer failures of the past and show respect to the youth who could give the club a much needed shot in the arm, and far deepen the connection between it and its fanbase. If they continue to pursue a myopic, expensive quick-fix approach then I would hope that alternative employers aren’t priced out of acquiring the likes of Tammy Abraham.
As with many of Europe’s elite clubs there remains a great deal to be resolved over what appears to be a summer of extreme uncertainty, nowhere more so than at Chelsea.
Source material and further information:
Chelsea FC on loan players: http://www.chelseafc.com/en/teams/on-loan-players