?It may seem weird to evoke words like ‘crisis’ and ‘identity’ just a day after your club has completed its third highest transfer ever. Yes, it’s a privileged position. No, I won’t backtrack.
In fact, that transfer itself has contributed heavily to this ‘crisis’. But we’ll get to that in a bit. For now, let’s concentrate on the outcasts to be. First of all, the more likely, and lesser blow, at least for the future – Cesc Fabregas.
Now, it’s probably not a surprise to see ?Fabregas is keen to move on from Chelsea and get one more meaningful sojourn in before his retirement. However, it is strange to consider that he’s still only 31 years old – it feels like he was that old when we got him – especially when you realise that David Silva will be 33 next week.
In any case, the Spaniard has been out of the first team picture in earnest ever since Maurizio Sarri joined the club with Jorginho in tow. But, while his departure may on the surface solely signal the loss of an ageing fringe player, the most pressing issue it presents is in that most intangible and overlooked of spheres – team spirit and chemistry.
There was one brief moment — the three RATS!!! — when Fabregas fell out of favour with Blues fans (as they did with *performs sign of the cross gesture, bows down, recites seven Hail Marys* Eden Hazard), but apart from that, the midfielder was one the most celebrated players at the club, and the creative centrepiece of two title winning teams.
When he goes, presumably next week in a €10m deal to Monaco, that title experience, know-how and camaraderie will go with him. Only four other players have had the same prosperity at Stamford Bridge in this squad – ?Hazard, Cesar Azpilicueta, Willian and Gary Cahill, who is also likely to leave (in a much more appealing set of circumstances).
With Willian entering the final 18 months of his contract and already over the hill that 30 is ironically deemed within the halls of the Pensioners, and Hazard’s future tantalisingly up in the air, that number could be reduced to one as soon as this summer.
Not only does that represent a significant shift from the spine-reliant days of Petr Cech, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba, it’s also an indictment of the club’s transfer policy and squad building from recent seasons.
Which brings us to Christian Pulisic, and ultimately to Callum Hudson-Odoi. The Pulisic signing is an intriguing one. Its ceiling comprises the addition of one of the world’s hottest young prospects from one of the biggest possible markets becoming one of the world’s best players at one of the world’s best clubs. That sounds great fun all round.
Its floor is overrated 20-year-old moves too soon, and for too many off rather than on-field reasons, inadvertently displacing a potentially generational homegrown talent in an attempt to either placate or replace possibly the most talented player the club has ever seen.
Oh. That’s not great.
Which leads us to the crisis in identity. Now, it would be foolish to claim that the ignoring of an academy player to the point of enforced exit is in any way shape or form a diversion from the club’s identity in recent years. No, that’s the identity all right. But, with the most successful youth development programme in the country – title and talent wise – that’s surely what they should be aiming for.
They thus face a fork in the road, or two, in the coming months. Replacements must likely be found (but surely not FROM the academy?!?!?) for Cahill, David Luiz, Fabregas, Danny Drinkwater, Olivier Giroud or Alvaro Morata as well as any combination of Hudson-Odoi, Willian, Pedro and *repeats religious gestures* Hazard – though Pulisic will fill one gap.
That’s quite the overhaul, and it’s everywhere you look. And, don’t forget the subsequent indoctrination that would be required of those would-be ten players into the ways of Maurizio Sarri, right after a first season of successes and stumblings. That’s a whole lot of question marks, before we’ve even got to questions of character, personality and spirit.
Ever since the Roman Abramovich era began, ?Chelsea have been a team of ruthless and relentless winners. That may not be an applicable trait in the future, but the Hudson-Odoi saga also means the appealing alternative of noble youth-developers probably won’t be possible either.
That leaves the club stuck in a purgatory-like quagmire of the undesirable, personality-less qualities that exist between those two states. That’s what it feels like we’re heading towards. An undesirable mixture of Manchester United (the marketing-driven overspenders) and Tottenham (the underspending trophy-less youth-utilisers). Jesus Christ.
And it’s that lack of identity that’s being reflected on the pitch right now. The ethos is so convoluted, the future so hinged on Hazard and so cloudy because of its uncertainty, that all Sarri’s joyous football is being swathed in a malaise of doubt and scepticism.
There are problem areas at the top of the pitch, and at the top of the club, and while I don’t necessarily have all the answers for what they should do to rectify this, cutting ties with your prized youth asset and chiseled veteran doesn’t seem the best place to start, even if a generational talent may be arriving in the ides of June.