Going back as far as the 17/18 season, Chelsea’s transfer strategy was functional and born out of necessity rather than a well thought out, long-term plan. The signings of older, expensive professionals like Olivier Giroud, Danny Drinkwater and Davide Zappacosta is emblematic of this. That summer window is arguably the poorest of recent seasons with so many of the players failing to stake their claim in blue.
Alongside Drinkwater and Zappacosta, Tiemoué Bakayoko and Alvaro Morata, though younger, were similarly unsuccessful, failing to appear in the side for longer than one season. Giroud aside, these four players combined for nearly €170 million in transfer fees, expensive shortcomings indeed.
When the transfer ban was shortened by the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) thereby allowing the club to sign players in January of this year, many expected Chelsea to break the bank to plug the perceived gaps in the squad. Rumours to 33-year-old Napoli forward Dries Mertens persisted and the older, experienced trend appeared to rear its head once again. In the end, the club didn’t sign Mertens nor anyone else.
This was, perhaps, in lieu of what was to come. Just days after the window ended, Chelsea moved quickly to tie down the services of exciting (then) Ajax forward Hakim Ziyech. At 27, Ziyech is younger than players like Giroud, Drinkwater and Zappacosta and has a proven track record of success in the UEFA Champions League.
Chelsea’s New Players: Young and Hungry
Fast forward a few months to July of this year, and Chelsea wrap up the remarkable signing of 24-year old Germany forward Timo Werner. A young, talented and hungry player with a high developmental ceiling, Werner very much embodies the profile of the type of player Chelsea are now looking at.
Compare Ziyech and Werner and a trend begins to develop. Both are young, have European pedigree, have high market value and have produced incredible amounts of goals and assists for two formidable European teams in Ajax and RB Leipzig. Both players are in stark contrast to the failings of the 17/18 window and set the tone for Chelsea’s transfer future which purports to be concentrated on players like these two prodigies.
Werner’s signing in particular was quite the coup. Openly courted by Liverpool, the stage was set for Werner to join his compatriot in Jurgen Klopp at the Merseyside club. With the Reds dominating the Premier League and Europe for the last two years, the young German can be forgiven for wanting a taste of the action. However, Chelsea’s swift act to secure Werner whilst Liverpool baulked at his release clause is indicative of the attitude the Blues hierarchy have taken. They intend to move quickly and quietly to secure the targets that will fulfill the ambition to return to the upper echelons of the English and European game.
The same can be said of Ziyech. Another enticing prospect, the Algerian alerted everyone to his talents during Ajax’s run to the semi finals of the Champions League in 2018/19. With a wand of a left foot, Ziyech could have slid quite easily into most top European sides. Capable of playing wing, as a central attacker or in central midfield, his versatility lends itself to playing in any good side and delivering consistent double figures for goals and assists.
It’s notable that for the same price of Morata and Bakayoko, Chelsea have reinforced the side with Werner and Ziyech. Out of the ashes, a phoenix has risen.
The Rumour Mill: The Strategy Persists
Taking a look at the rumours that persist about players like Kai Havertz, Declan Rice and Ben Chilwell and the pattern persists. All three players are young, Rice and Havertz are 21 and Chilwell is 23, also have room to grow and develop, potentially forming the core of a side for the next five to ten years.
All three players have proven themselves at the highest level, with Havertz standing out as the one with Champions League experience. Nonetheless, all three are capped internationals and are set to form the backbone of their national teams for years to come.
Should they ultimately sign for Chelsea, they will stand alongside academy graduates like Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Fikayo Tomori and Reece James as the backbone of Chelsea sides for years to come.
If 2017/18 was a season where the club focused on short-term fixes, the hierarchy now seem to be planning for a longer, sustainable future which is until this point unprecedented under the ownership of Roman Abramovich.