Chelsea’s future has been in the media a lot in recent days. There’s been speculation surrounding the futures of several players. And in recent days there’s been heightened speculation that Maurizio Sarri is just one defeat away from the sack.
Then, today, Chelsea were given a transfer ban by FIFA, which will apply for two transfer windows. Chelsea have said they will appeal, which means the club will be able to sign players this coming summer, even if the appeal is ultimately unsuccessful.
So the question of the medium to long term future of the club, has never been more relevant.
I think we need as fans is to recognise where the club really is, and what is needed to get back to the top. If we do have one window to do two seasons, and we have several players departing, as seems likely due to contract situations, there will be significant funds to spend this summer. But nowhere near the £350-400m some people seem think we have, and which would be needed to get back level with City.
Going forward, out of pure necessity the club are going to have to depend on it’s academy players and some of the loan army, to improve the squad.
The model I see for us right now isn’t Man City. As much as it hurts to say it, Liverpool and Spurs are closer to the model we now require at Chelsea.
The culture of the club has to be geared towards giving players like Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ethan Ampadu, Andreas Christensen, Reece James and Mason Mount legitimate opportunities in the first team – not just in cup ties or Europa games, but in the Premier League. And there have been suggestions the club are adamant that this occurs.
Their efforts to keep Hudson-Odoi by offering him a contact and refusing bids in January suggest they want to keep him. There was serious talk of recalling Reece James in January, and the club didn’t buy the CM that Sarri requested in January as they allegedly wanted to keep an opening for Mason Mount. There have been suggestions from some quarters that they are actually pressurising manager Maurizio Sarri to play the likes of Hudson-Odoi and Ampadu more often, and not just in cup ties or Europa games.
Which brings me to the next point. The model the club will now have to adopt, requires a head coach who will buy into this philosophy, a coach who will give legitimate opportunities to young talent, who the club will back to build a new, young team over the next few years. In a sense the transfer ban takes the pressure off, and gives a coach more licence to risk playing youth, even if results don’t go brilliantly at first, because no one will expect us to seriously challenge for the title, certainly not next season, maybe not even the following season.
And this leads us to Maurizio Sarri. I personally love his footballing philosophy. I believe wholeheartedly that if seriously backed in the market and given time, he’d create a great team here. I completely understand how his philosophy takes time, and why sticking with him would make sense.
From a philosophy point of view, there’s every reason to stick with Sarri, and be patient.
When you look at how Chelsea need to be going forward and the profile of manager the club needs, right now, the evidence suggests he may not fit with it. We don’t have the £300-400m he would want to rebuild this squad. And his frankly shoddy treatment of our youth this season speaks volumes.
Since December we’ve been on an awful run, with several players performing poorly. But even then, and despite impressing when given rare games, the likes of Hudson-Odoi, Christensen and Ampadu still have only 2 league starts between them.
We heard from Sarri after the win against Malmo that he’d have to sell two wingers before Hudson-Odoi could be a first choice starter, and stated, incorrectly, that other players his age weren’t getting as many minutes, and he had to wait.
We’ve heard this before, and it simply carries no weight when you have the likes of Pedro and Willian both performing poorly. And the argument that big players demand to be played doesn’t wash with me either. Yes, players have too much power at the club and that needs to be ended – but that’s no excuse to pick underperforming players.
The RB position is another example of this. Most Chelsea fans have seen the incredible progress Reece James has made this season, and the club even considered recalling him because of it. However, it’s been widely reported that Sarri wants us to buy Hysaj from Napoli, a RB, to compete with or start over Cesar Azpilcueta ,who has just signed a new long term deal. That would mean Sarri’s demands causing the effective end of Reece James’ Chelsea career and the club dropping £40m on a player with a lower ceiling, who we don’t need.
A manager who does this, is not a manager who believes in our academy, or who wants to give legitimate opportunities to young talent. Any other argument, I’m afraid, is simply myth making and fantasy.
Unless he changes dramatically – and I still have some hope he might – the long term future of the Chelsea project, is not going to be served by Maurizio Sarri.
I’m not going to advocate for any specific individual as a replacement, but instead focus on the profile of manager required. We need a head coach who has a history of promoting and developing young players, has proven he can build teams, who plays the right kind of football, is tactically sound and flexible, and has the mentality and man management skills to deal with a club like Chelsea. A manager who can commit to a project and see it through. And it’s really important the club ensure their selection process is exhaustive and extensive.
This is the only way the club can return to the top of English football and compete again for the big prizes in the long-term.
Ironically, having this transfer ban could well be the kick the club needs to finally allow our own young talent to shine, and create a new team which the club can be proud of and fans have a real connection to.
The future can be bright, no matter what the naysayers might have you think.
And though I would prefer it to be under Maurizio Sarri, I’m still not 100% convinced it can be.