Since the Abramovich take over in 2003, Chelsea’s transfer policy has been obvious for the entire world: buy big, big names with big fees. It has been a most successful policy too, delivering 14 trophies in the Abramovich era, including the club’s first Champions League title and capture the Premier League no less than three times. With a sugar daddy at the helm, such huge spending hasn’t mattered, excessive wages and expensive mistakes such as Hernan Crespo and Andriy Shevchenko can be underwritten in the pursuit of footballing glory.
However, Financial Fair Play now threatens this policy. Although yet to have a huge impact on Premier League clubs, FFP is already being felt in Italy and France, forcing the likes of both Milan clubs, Lyon and Marseille into selling players, and playing a part in their decline. Whilst many teams across Europe are cutting their cloth, the likes of PSG, Manchester City and Monaco continue to spend freely.
These clubs, along with Chelsea, have asserted that they will be able to meet FFP regulations. However, although sponsorship income has been growing, Chelsea still lag behind the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool in terms of possessing a global brand, and in Stamford Bridge, cannot rival the gate receipts of Old Trafford or the Emirates. It is obvious at some point that something would have to give in terms of Chelsea’s spending. What is interesting is that Chelsea have been taking steps to cope with FFP, the full effects of which will be felt over the next few years. Chelsea have been gradually increasing sponsor income, particularly across Asia, making use of preseason tours in their efforts to increase their global brand. Chelsea have also begun work on attempts to develop a new, larger stadium. Perhaps most significantly, there has been a subtle shift in Chelsea’s transfer policy in recent years.
Although continuing to spend big on high profile signings such as Fernando Torres and Eden Hazard, Chelsea have been buying younger, not just on big fee players like Hazard and Lukaku, but on a host of youngsters. It is a sensible policy, buying up young talent to develop for the first team not only saves money on later inflated transfer fees, but gives the club an opportunity to shape the players and instil in them the values and philosophies of the club.
Unfortunately however, this is not a policy that has worked for Chelsea, having not been properly implemented. All this young talent is wasted if not given an opportunity in the first team, and this is what has happened at Chelsea. Oscar, Hazard and Azpilicueta are currently the three youngest players featuring regularly in the Chelsea first team, yet all of these are in their twenties, and none were developed by the club, all arriving from abroad with a sizable fee. Furthermore, whilst these players have been signed for big money, others have seen their progress stalled, or even left the club. An excellent example of this is Daniel Sturridge, who despite an excellent record for Chelsea, constantly found himself left out in favour of the struggling Torres.
Joshua McEachran was once touted as amongst the most talented young prospects in the country, but whilst the likes of Morrison, Barkley and Hughes have kicked on to become regulars for their clubs, McEachran has struggled to make any impression on the Chelsea first team. This is despite a successful loan spell at Middlesbrough last year. Nathaniel Chalobah similarly has not been awarded first team opportunities and has once again been farmed out on loan. If Chelsea do not soon start making good use of these players then they risk, like Sturridge before, losing them. It seems illogical to buy young players, only to later let them go, especially when players purchased in their place are only of similar calibre.
Back in the summer, this writer labelled the purchase of André Schürrle ‘bad business’. This was not a comment on the German’s obvious talent, but rather what his arrival meant for the future of Kevin De Bruyne. Both De Bruyne and Schürrle had good seasons in the Bundesliga last year, near identical in fact in terms of assists and goals. Schürrle and De Bruyne are also very similar in terms of playing style, both inverted wingers. Given that Chelsea already possessed De Bruyne, it was puzzling that they then opted to purchase the older Schürrle. The only seeming significant difference between two players seemed to be that Schürrle came with a significantly greater reputation. Even more puzzling is that the purchase of Willian shortly followed, yet another inverted left winger with a hefty fee.
Predictably, although Jose Mourinho has kept Chelsea in the title race so far this year, he has found it impossible to accommodate all three of these players. Willain has gotten better as the season has progressed, but Schürrle has struggled to replicate his form of last term, and De Bruyne barely featured. This lack of first team football finally drove De Bruyne out of the club, with the talented Belgian this week securing a £16 million move to Wolfsburg. As well as Sturridge, this is another example of Chelsea prioritising big fee, big name signings, and allowing young, potentially world class players to slip out of the door. As well as financially wasteful, this policy is harmful to Chelsea in the long run, with the club constantly relying on dipping into the transfer market to strengthen their team rather than developing their own players.
As if the sale of De Bruyne was not enough of an indictment of Chelsea’s wasteful transfer policy, in the same week, the London club has completed the sale of Benfica holding midfielder Nemanja Matic for a fee believed to be in the region of £21 million. Having been voted player of the year last term in Portugal, Matic is without doubt an excellent player and sure to be a success at Chelsea. However, the Serbian had been at Chelsea only four years earlier, sold to the Portuguese club as a £3 million makeweight in the David Luiz deal. Therefore this transfer represents an approximate £18 million loss on a player which Chelsea surely could have developed themselves. Furthermore, the deal calls into the question the futures of youngsters Chalobah and Van Ginkel who now face further competition for the first team football that will be vital for their development.
Previously, with Abramovich happy to sign the checks, it hasn’t mattered that the club has employed a wasteful transfer policy, after all, it’s the owner’s money to waste if he likes. However, with the realities of FFP soon to kick in, it is no longer a viable policy, and one Chelsea may come to regret in the not so distant future if they continue to lose their young talent.
The next out of the door could well be Thibaut Courtios could well be next out of the door; having already established himself as amongst the best goalkeepers in the world, there is only so long the talented Belgian will be happy to be loaned out. Romelu Lukaku is another out on loan whilst Chelsea stick by other, older, and arguably less talented strikers. Whilst one would assume that his future surely lies at Chelsea, Lukaku’s relationship with Mourinho already appears strained, and there will be no shortage of suitors should the former Anderlecht man decide he will no longer play second fiddle.
Chelsea deserve credit for their usage of their relationship with Dutch side Vitesse, with the likes of Atsu, Kalas, Van Aanholt and Lucas Piazon all showing their quality in spells that have seen Arnheim become title challengers in recent seasons. Chelsea must start to integrate these young starlets into the first team soon if they are to have any hope of retaining their talent, and weaning themselves off their current reliance on regular big fee signings in time to conform to FFP regulations.
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