Transfer Talent Turnover: Why the Change at Chelsea was Inevitable
Kai Havertz and Timo Werner of Chelsea arrives at the stadium prior to the Premier League match between Chelsea and Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge on October 03, 2020 in London, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Turn the clock back a decade and a half to 2004 and Jose Mourinho was the benefactor of an unprecedented summer outlay of over £100million catapulting Chelsea into the upper echelons of European football.

For an owner in Roman Abramovich who is accustomed only to the finest quality, this was his way of announcing himself to his new world; his chance to get Europe to sit up and take notice. Five league titles, three major European trophies and five FA Cup trophies have done just that.

No Longer the New Kid on the Block

However, the emergence of Manchester City, resurgence of Liverpool, the continued financial strength of Manchester United and Arsenal as well as the competitive edge brought by Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City have diluted the position once held by Chelsea as the new kid on the block, the cash rich club and the one best placed to take the transfer market by storm.

Taking in a transfer ban and losing Eden Hazard is an often-sought-after narrative which further hampered the West Londoners’ ability to acquire talent and boast an envious playing squad. It forced a different kind of approach, an unusual one for the club that had a more romantic and less commercial feel. In turning to their academy, Chelsea struck a chord with football fans of the kind of pure footballing identity that transcends the English footballing pyramid and, more famously, draws a parallel with European giants Barcelona.

Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James were all bred through Chelsea’s famed academy and were in every way the famous five who had tread a path to the first team that was so infrequently trodden. That they so capably contributed and delivered on the Blues’ immediate ambition to maintain Champions League football against the hurdles the club faced and not having been truly acclimatized to the top level is testament to the ability of these players.

The determination, desire and doggedness showed by Abraham, Mount and Hudson-Odoi in redressing the 3-0 deficit to West Bromwich Albion in the previous league outing was a reminder of their value to the club in the face of what has been an unprecedented transfer window for the club.

However, for a club with ambitions of continuing to maintain its status among Europe’s elite clubs, it was inevitable that that a significant transfer spend would occur. For, as trophies have become habitual at the Bridge, so has transfer expenditure with Abramovich having invested over a billion pounds in the club since his arrival in 2003.

Transfer Turn Around

As the global pandemic has laid siege to all things normal, the football financial landscape has been drastically altered at least in the immediate term as clubs scramble to meet their financial obligations and reinforce ahead of a punishingly packed new season.

Chelsea have leveraged two windows of transfer saving and the financial shortfall of European rivals to make a statement that is very much in keeping with bygone eras at the club. Seeking to steal a march, Chelsea have recruited young, exciting attacking talents in Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, and Hakim Ziyech to complement their already handsome squad. Add to that outlays on Ben Chilwell and Edouard Mendy plus Thiago Silva and Malang Sarr albeit for free and this translates into the kind of statement synonymous with Roman Abramovich’s famous club.

Granted players like Havertz, Werner and Ziyech have been long-term targets, the short-term, high volume of spending skews the narrative towards statement rather than strategy. All the players recruited will be very much a part of Chelsea going forward, the hope being that they usher in the latest era of success for the London outfit.

Not Out with the Old, In with the New

While it’s understandable that the new signings have affected the romance of the story of the academy graduates’ journey to the first team particularly given the fact they were under the tutelage of the iconic Frank Lampard, it has been clear that they are here to stay.

Mount has played all but one of the games so far this season and James, Tomori, Abraham and Hudson-Odoi have made appearances in a significant number of games. The demands on these five will increase with a flurry of international talent to compete with for a starting place but, as Lampard will hope, it may encourage them to raise their games.

It is romantic to consider the notion of a team full of academy graduates conquering Europe together as the famous Class of ’92 did for Manchester United in 1999. In many ways, the modern era of competitiveness and Chelsea’s penchant for exciting, high quality signings probably meant that that was unlikely ever to happen.

They may, though, hit on a happy hybrid in their quest for a comeback to the top of the European game where the academy and the new blood work in tandem to return the colour blue to where its owner and expectant fan base believe it belongs.