It’s a funny old time to be a Chelsea supporter. Yes, we are the reigning champions of England, under the management of a charismatic and proven winner, with a host of exciting talents within our ranks. But, despite this, things just don’t feel quite right at the moment – with the team looking more like a flustered learner-driver than an all-conquering Grand Prix champion.
The opening set of matches in this campaign have seen Antonio Conte’s side looking a shadow of their former selves at times, putting in a series of disjointed and lacklustre performances.
While it has by no means been a disaster start to the season, it’s certainly been a far cry from the bullish, clinical Chelsea who stormed to the league title last season.
The reason behind this turn in fortune? It’s hard to look beyond the fact that we have continued to loan out our young, talented players across Europe, while the first team squad is left bereft – boasting about as much depth as a paddling pool. As the injuries continue to mount up, the bare bones of Chelsea’s squad are in danger of being cruelly exposed.
It is unclear how much of a say Conte has on the comings and goings (well, let’s be honest, it’s mostly goings) at the club. However, his repeated admissions of frustration with the lack of players available to him suggests that his hands are tied when it comes to keeping talented youngsters at the club.
Director Marina Granovskaia seems to have the final say when it comes to transfer business at Chelsea, and in all fairness her business record with the Blues is solid. For example, the £50m earned from the sale of David Luiz to Paris Saint-Germain, and the £52m brought in for the unspectacular Oscar.
However, the loan policy adopted by the club is rapidly going from farcical to outrageous. The current system sees our brightest hopes spending years out on loan, growing as players and benefiting their temporary teams, but with no return whatsoever for Chelsea other than the possibility of a profitable sale many years down the line.
With N’Golo Kanté currently sidelined with a hamstring injury, a gaping hole has emerged in the centre of midfield. While Cesc Fàbregas and Tiémoué Bakayoko are a fine partnership for the time being, they can’t be expected to play every minute of every game in the four competitions the club are currently competing in.
The likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Lewis Baker and Mario Pašalić are all currently out on loan, unable to return to the club until January at the earliest. Even worse, we sold one of our best English prospects in a long time, Nathaniel Chalobah, who was bizarrely flogged to Watford for a pittance after being loaned out no fewer than six times during his senior career at Chelsea.
There was a time early in Romelu Lukaku’s brief Chelsea career, where the Belgian striker was deemed surplus to requirement and sent out on loan to West Brom and Everton. In this instance, it worked a treat for the Blues, with the forward consistently taking points off our of league rivals as he made a name for himself as a clinical goalscorer.
However, while this may have worked in the short-term, it’s come back to bite us squarely in the backside – with the striker understandably turning down a return to West London in favour of a move to Manchester United, where he’s now banging in the goals as his side stake their claim for our league title. Kevin De Bruyne and Mo Salah offer similarly embarrassing examples.
As painfull as it may be, if you take a glance at our north London rivals Spurs, you will see prime examples of the rewards that come with giving youth a chance. Harry Kane is the obvious case here, while the likes of Harry Winks and Eric Dier have also both benefitted from the exposure of being thrown in at the deep end in the Premier League.
Instances of where Chelsea could have followed a similar pattern are clear to see all over the park. Thinking of panic-buying Davide Zappacosta? Why not give Todd Kane or Ola Aina a crack? Struggling for options up-front? Look no further than exciting prospect Tammy Abraham. The truth is, our youth are seen as nothing more than a series of numbers on a spreadsheet.
It seems that Chelsea’s young talent, rather than being nurtured and encouraged within the club, are being showcased across the globe before being lazily cashed-in on years later. They may well blossom while out on loan, but this will benefit us little in the long-run, as we continue to see our promising players leave the club without ever making a senior squad appearance.
The loan system certainly has its purpose in moderation, and it does allow players on the fringe of the first team to gain some experience.
Chelsea simply need to reduce their loan numbers drastically, and just give the youth a chance. It’s a long old season, with plenty of opportunities to rotate the squad. Whether this sense will prevail, however, is another matter entirely…