As the dust settled and minutes ticked over the midnight deadline ending Jim White’s fanfare of the January transfer window there was an air of resentment and deep frustration among Chelsea supporters. However, for once, Chelsea not acting in this window might benefit them in retrospect come the end of the summer.
It is easy to forget that as recent as the start of December Chelsea’s hierarchy were still uncertain as to whether they would be able to take part in this window or have to sit out a second with CAS’s decision still to be made on overturning the transfer ban.
As soon as the verdict was a positive one, the floodgates of speculation and rumour burst open.
A flurry of targets – Jadon Sancho, Wilfried Zaha, Timo Werner, Moussa Dembele, Ben Chilwell and Nathan Ake all were linked with a big money move to Stamford Bridge.
Even with the accepted knowledge that the month is a notoriously difficult one to achieve big deals, still fan hope grew and the modern obsession with transfers festered.
It became quickly apparent any of the Blues “Major” targets would have to be pushed to the longer summer window. Lyon were unprepared to enter any negations on Dembele, RB Leipzig’s Werner – despite comments praising Premier League football – never came close to departing an exciting project under Julian Nagelsmann leading the Bundesliga.
Sancho is likely to be subject to a bidding war in the summer as all of Europe’s biggest hitters chase the coveted prize of acquiring one of the world’s rising stars. Even if he still has a Chelsea shirt tucked away and exchanges texts regularly with Tammy Abraham and Callum Hudson-Odoi, Sancho will still demand a mind-bending fee.
As those bigger targets faded, there were murmurs of fan discontent. Though it appeared that the club might have been learning from previous January mistakes.
A vast field of green with rich fruits under the summer sunlight looks more like a baron wasteland in the winter, the club were considering keeping their powder dry.
Though results are the ever–changing and vital piece of any club’s mood.
In November, when CAS’s appeal date was set, Chelsea were in their best winning run of the season. Playing wonderfully energetic and effective football. They were nine clear of 5th place, they had achieved some glorious wins and the young and the old of Frank Lampard’s squad were flourishing.
Inspect the mood on social media then and many were not too fussed with CAS’s verdict. In some corners, supporters were fully signed up to a transitional season and with a sense of overachievement and a feel-good factor running through the veins of the club, the craving for new names were not top of the agenda.
Then – things changed.
Chelsea would lose 6 of their next 12 Premier League games. The football became less enjoyable – slower and turgid. The goals also, which were liberally going in at both ends of the pitch had now dried up from Chelsea’s attack.
The gap between the west Londoners and the likes of Manchester United and Tottenham had closed.
By the time Issac Hayden’s header rippled the net at St.James Park to steal all three points, all that could be talked about was transfers. It was the only answer, the shining beacon of hope – the torch to carry.
Chelsea’s financial results for 2019 had shone light onto the worrying revelation that Champions League qualification was needed under the current structure to keep the club sustainable, putting more weight onto the conclusion of this season.
Pursuits to improve at left-back, right-wing and centre-back had all been halted, it was now about goals and for the third-season running, Chelsea’s January dealings would surround the chase for a needed striker. In 2018 it was Olivier Giroud, in 2019 it was Gonzalo Higuain and for 2020 – the names of Edinson Cavani and Dries Mertens were on the menu.
Bruce Buck’s wry smile and joke before a Frank Lampard presser gave many belief something substantial was in the works behind the scenes, but as the days went by this joke became just that – a joke.
Lampard gave his most transparent take on his desire for new blood after the win at Hull. His comments were sharp and to the point – but with a stern confidence something would change.
Fast forward five days and Lampard was less energetic, more reserved and a swift in his answers, clearly irritated. He simply stated the window was “95% shut for us” – the remaining 5% was assumedly left for the departure of Tariq Lamptey to Brighton which was confirmed on Friday evening.
As one Twitter profile comedically put it, Lampard’s comments went down like a fart in a lift.
The mood on social media gave little room for optimism or nuance regarding Chelsea’s decision to not sign any players in this short window.
“Lampard’s hasn’t been backed”, “Sack Marina”, “F**k the board” – just a smattering of the reactions.
Even if those targets simply were unattainable this month, why allow Lampard to make those hopes so public? It feels like the 41-year-old has been slightly hung out to dry and like his predecessors, might go to sleep with a tinge of resentment towards his bosses.
That resentment grew and grew under Antonio Conte which led to a very public fallout which has only recently come to its conclusion. Not to draw a comparison of character between Lampard and the Italian – but the link is there to be drawn, not dismissing the flaws of Conte.
However in Chelsea not acting, may have dodged a couple of bullets.
Cavani and Mertens for those still scarred by Falcao and Higuain will know this road more than most. The ageing striker, for bloated fees on a short contract has more than once bitten Chelsea. With Napoli demanding upwards of £34m for a 32-year-old with only six-months left on his current contract, is that a deal worth making? Could that money eat in to a potential fee further down the line for a Werner, or a Chilwell?
To dismiss the club’s well mocked track record of being the place once-great strikers go to die is simply out of blind hope.
As Chelsea prepare for the summer, they will gaze up North to see Manchester United scrambling to get a last-minute deal for former Watford striker Odion Igahlo over the line – a player with the characteristics of a quick panic-buy for Chelsea. This time, that player won’t be wearing blue and that may turn out a good move. (Famous last words as Chelsea face United in a couple of week’s time.)
Not acting can sometimes be wiser than acting.
Many have been decrying this act of treachery as a turn against moving in a new direction under Lampard. But when you cast your minds back to the 31st January 2011, Chelsea were the club running around, printing out forms and restocking ink to finalise a club-record fee for Fernando Torres.
That – like many times before and since – was the act of a club solely thinking about the next couple of months and not the next couple of years.
Sticking to the norm would have been pushing out the boat to bow to Cavani’s high wages and demands to play ahead of the club’s current top scorer and developing player. Going for players who may have not even been on the radar at the start – the second, the third, the fourth choice. Just get a signing, because it is something we must do now. Why?
People may point to Bruno Fernandes moving to Manchester United or looking back to Virgil van Dijk’s arrival on Merseyside in 2018. In both cases, the player had been chased by the employer for longer than just the singular month. A deal held on pause from the summer – an inevitability. Fernandes was the same. The midfielder wanted the move and the club needed to sell, just like Southampton. To a lesser extent Ross Barkley fits into this category with his switch from Everton to Chelsea – put on hold for a couple of months as the midfielder worked his way back to fitness.
IF this decision of inaction, leaves the kitty open for younger, fresher, bolder players to fill the gaps in the summer – Chelsea can look forward in a new direction and not be stuck in a constant loop of sticking tape over cracks with players who do not fit a longer vision.
The same people crying to the heavens about how poor this window has been will also regularly list all the recent transfer duds. The infamous 2017 summer window of Bakayoko, Morata, Drinkwater and Zappacosta.
If you don’t trust the people behind that window can you blame them for taking stock and thinking deeper on this one?
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