Crisis is the wrong word to describe the current situation surrounding Chelsea Football Club, a team that, a little over a year ago, was celebrating a record-breaking Premier League title, a team that the seventh-most valuable team in the world, a team that employs Eden Hazard and N’golo Kante, two contenders for the Golden Ball this World Cup. Preseason training started this week under Antonio Conte, the manager whose 3-4-3 wrecked havoc on the Premier League. Multiple stars, including Jorgihno, an Italian defensive mid wantedby nearly every other big team in the world, are linked to a possible transfer to the Blues. Everything seems fine.
Until you realize that Conte spent the better part of last year trying to get fired; that, despite endless links to Maurizzo Sarri, the ex-Napoli coach, Conte, somehow is still the manager of Chelsea; that neither Hazard or Thibaut Courtois, the star goalkeeper, have signed new contracts with only a year on their deals remaining; that the owner, Russian Roman Abramovich, has fled from Europe and is currently living in Israel because he couldn’t extend his visa for England. Next year, Chelsea could be without Hazard, Courtois, or Kante – rumored to be headed to Real Madrid – leaving the England giants without a superstar and with an absentee owner. Crisis isn’t strong enough word; turning point, for the players, managers, and club in the future, feels like a more appropriate phrase to describe the baffling, confusing, avoidable mess Chelsea find themselves in.
Like Manchester United during their swoon after Ferguson, Chelsea’s problems stem from a failed transfer policy. More accurately, Abramovich failed to replace a quartet of Chelsea legends – Peter Cech, John Terry, Frank Lampard, and Didier Drogba – well enough to sustain the success that the club had in the 2000’s. Courtois filled in admirably for Cech, but Drogba’s replacement Diego Costa has already left the club after fueding with Conte, while Lampard and Terry have never been adequately replaced. Transfers for Eden Hazard and Kante, both for under $40 million, have lead to title in the 2014-15 and 2016-17 season; failure to add pieces around them meant a 10th place finish in 2015-16.
Looking back at last years transfers, the mismanagement of transfer funds is clear to see:
$29,000,000 – Antonio Rudiger – 27 appearances with 25 starts, establishing himself as a starting center-back. Only good transfer this summer (so far)
$40,000,000 – Timoue Bakayoko – 29 appearances with 25 starts. Outright disaster. His performance versus Watford in the Premier League might have been one of the worst performance in Premier League history. Only 23 years old, so still some hope
$58,000,000 – Alvora Morato – 31 appearances with 24 starts. Brought in to replace Diego Costa, Morata struggled in his first season in England; Conte’s tactics, plus an inexplicable loss of form, meant the Real Madrid product was second-best to Oliver Giroud during the second half of the season.
$23,000,000 – David Zappacosta – 22 appearances with 12 starts. Chelsea paid over $20 million for a player who will never be anything more than a back-up, which is slightly problematic
$35,000,000 – Danny Drinkwater – 12 appearances with 5 starts. Meant as replacement for Nemanja Matic, Drinkwater could not establish himself at all during the season. Already looking to move on after one season.
To recap: Chelsea paid $201 million dollars for 5 players, only one of whom is going to be a starter in the foreseeable future. With that $201 million, Chelsea could have hypothetically bought the following players: Mo Salah, Harry Maguire, Romelu Lukaku, Kyle Walker, and Mario Lemina.
Of course, the problems go beyond the transfer policy; Abramovich reputation for sacking and hiring managers on a whim seems to have finally caught up with the Russian. Since taking over Chelsea, the Russian has hired and fired 10 different managers, ranging from great (Jose Mourihno) to very, very poor (Andre Villas-Boas, anyone?) Negotiations have stalled with Sarri, though a breakthrough might have just occured in a joint transfer deal for Jorghino. In the past? Abramovich would have had Sarri in before the FA Cup Final had even finished.
And Jorgihno ain’t coming cheap, at a price tage of $65 million. It’s unclear how much liquid funds Chelsea have, and the purchase of the Italian defensive midfielder means possibly, probably, another player will get sold to balance the books. Will it be Courtois? Hazard? Kante? Will Chelsea actually promote one of the youths they have been holding, or will prospects leave like Lukaku, De Bruyne, and Salah did? In 2018, uncertainty reigns over the blue part of London, and skies are going to remain cloudy for the foreseeable future.