The nine months ahead are the testing ground for much hard work, preparation and thinking that went before, but with the pre-season completed and the squad finalised until January at least with the closing of the transfer window, now is the time to sit down with technical director Michael Emenalo to review the summer moves, plus the planning for the current campaign and seasons to come.
The official Chelsea website did just that this week and in part two of the interview tomorrow, Emenalo will look in detail at the use of the loan system by the club. Today he considers player recruitment, youth development and this summer’s pre-season.
‘The first thing to say is we are happy to have Jose [Mourinho] back,’ Emenalo says.
‘He is a very good decision maker and a trusted component in the decision-making process due to what he has achieved here. He came in with clear ideas of what he wanted to do, which were not dissimilar from what we were already in the process of doing, and that helped.
‘I am very happy with the squad we have created. You can’t always get exactly what you want but in the main we were very close.
‘With the ambition of the club and the owner, and his goodwill in following that ambition with investment, we try to have a short-term and a long-term project and we feel we are satisfying that.’
Those projects mean recruiting players who can deliver on the pitch in the immediate future and players who will help the club continue to grow for a long time ahead. The squad additions for this season include young players purchased during the last few years but then loaned to play at a high level elsewhere before returning, a policy Emenalo will discuss tomorrow.
They also include totally fresh faces including young ones of great potential plus the experience of Mark Schwarzer and Samuel Eto’o. The striker’s arrival last week showed the club will still sign well-established star names when the time is right.
‘We are looking for continuity at the top level, a very high standard, so when we recruit an older player we hope it is one that will give us that continuity, and we also look to have the right base in that particular position.
‘In the case of Samuel Eto’o, it was an open secret that we wanted Wayne Rooney and I don’t need to explain what the idea is behind wanting a player like Rooney.
‘But we are not desperate and we know for the future we have Romelu Lukaku and incredible hope that he will come through and lead the line. People keep forgetting that he is only 20 and looking at the short-term plan, we don’t want to put too much pressure on a young player like him.
‘So if we weren’t able to get Rooney and we had Lukaku, Ba and Torres, we felt comfortable with them but we also felt comfortable to bring Eto’o to give us a little bit of competition, because we wanted to freshen up that position. We have every confidence in Torres, Ba and Lukaku but with Eto’o we have bought experience.’
The younger players added to the squad have been acquired from other clubs but hopes are high that the Chelsea Academy is soon to be a main source. Changes to competition structure for the teams below first team level are considered crucial in allowing that to happen.
‘We are very happy we now have a system for both academy and Under-21 teams that allows the young players to play a lot of games, because the only way you develop young players is for them to play,’ insists Emenalo.
‘When I first came to Chelsea, the reserves had an 18-game schedule and that was not going to prepare a young player for the first team and to compete with someone like Frank Lampard who was playing 60 games, or Michael Essien who was playing 55.
‘It wasn’t right and it unfortunately affected some young players who were in the first team squad and weren’t playing a lot. At the end of the season some had a combined total at all levels of 16 games or even less, so you lose a season and I feel convinced that if those players over a two-year period had played 35 games a season like Lewis Baker has just done, they would be much closer to the first team than they are now.’
Emenalo highlights the importance especially of an increased game load for the Under-21 team due to their league format changing, and has already noted the benefit.
‘When Nathan Ake had his chance with the first team last season he did not have one single moment of cramp. When we took Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Andreas Christensen to play in America against Manchester City at the end of the season, they survived it without cramps too and that is because they play a huge amount of games now which helps their lung capacity and their legs, and they are able to sustain difficult games at high intensity so that is a big change.
‘When the next batch of players come from the Academy or come back from loan, they are much more ready than they used to be, and we have very good young English players and young foreign players we have developed here who we feel in the near future will come to the first team and will stay.’
First team physical, technical and tactical preparation this summer took place in Asia and the United States as well as a week at Cobham at the start and at the end, and our technical director reports very positively on an important six weeks.
‘The pre-season was outstanding,’ he says.
‘The manager was incredible, with great ideas which he started to implement with the players from day one. The players responded amazingly and it was one of the best pre-seasons I have seen here.
‘We had to do a lot of travelling to make it all happen and in the early games against Hull and Aston Villa we suffered physically a little because we came back and players had to go on international duties, but in terms of preparation, work and bonding it was absolutely wonderful and the level of matches we played was good preparation.’