Yesterday, Chelsea’s technical director Michael Emenalo spoke about players coming into the squad, youth development and the pre-season. In part two of the interview today, he looks at loans…
Anyone who observed Chelsea in the transfer market and our use of the loan system in the last couple of years is likely to have noticed a trend.
Players with youth on their side but good first team experience in other leagues, and often with international caps to their names too, have been signed and then loaned out to play top-flight football elsewhere.
Potentially those players had an immediate part to play in the Chelsea squad but in the case of Kevin De Bruyne, an extra season impressing in the Bundesliga following a half-season loan at his former club in Belgium made sure he was ready for this season at the Bridge.
Regular action at Vitesse Arnhem helped Tomas Kalas win his first Czech Republic cap and convince Jose Mourinho he could play a part this year.
This summer Wallace went on loan to Inter Milan and current Ghana international Christian Atsu is at Vitesse having been recruited from Porto. Romelu Lukaku and Thibaut Courtios continue as loan players in top-level leagues, and there are a range of other loans through the younger ages at the club.
‘It is a pattern,’ confirms Chelsea’s technical director Michael Emenalo, ‘and this season is a good test for what we’ve implemented with young players given the stipulations of Financial Fair Play, but even regardless of the Financial Fair Play regulations, we think this is the best way to go.’
The loan policy is one the club believes has merit in ensuring the conveyor belt of developing players heading towards the first team has an even spread of potential along its length, and not just clusters at particular ages. Young players coming into the first team at Chelsea are asked to begin at a very high standard indeed, and they need to be ready for that.
‘When I came here six years ago we had great players but what we had below those great players were players too young and too far apart to be able to integrate them. Now we have great players and they are not so far apart. Now we have a player like Frank Lampard at 35 but then we have quality players in Ramires, John Mikel Obi, Michael Essien and Marco van Ginkel, and then we have from the Academy young players who can come in and do the job like Nathaniel Chalobah and Josh McEachran.
‘We are trying to bridge the gap and at left-back now behind Ashley Cole we have Ryan Bertand but we also have Patrick van Aanholt.
‘We have Romelu Lukaku who soon will be able to come back in and Juan Mata is 25, Oscar and Hazard are 22 but behind them from the Academy, in terms of age, Lewis Baker, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Jeremie Boga are not too far away.
‘By the time those older guys are 27, the younger ones will be around 22 and ready. The gap is not too big and that makes it easier to bring through young players.’
As current Academy players progress towards a regular place in the first team squad, time out on loan at some stage is highly likely despite optimism that the reconfigured Under-21 League is raising the standard of the competition at that level. Emenalo spoke yesterday about the importance of more games for developing players.
Comparisons have recently been made in the media between the number of players Chelsea have out on loan and the number for other top clubs in Europe, but that can be misleading given for instance the ‘B’ sides of the Spanish giants playing in the lower divisions there.
‘We are trying to find a way because given Financial Fair Play stipulations we need to recruit young and we also need to have a reservoir of talent that we develop,’ says Emenalo.
‘We identified that for young players, the ages of 18 to 21 is the most difficult time as they wonder if they are good enough for the Chelsea first team and what is next for them. When they only play in the Reserves/Under-21s from 18 to 20 you don’t get them to ascend to the level where they are ready to come into the first team and do a job properly.
‘We felt it is better for them at that age to go on loan to somewhere where they get visibility and good competition. For psychological and physical reasons that is the best thing to do at that age. They test themselves and they feel good about competing at a higher level, and it also gives us a chance to evaluate them and know if they are ready to come back.
‘While we are doing that, the players who are very talented from 16 to 18-years-old get the opportunity to play 45 games in a very good Under-21 league, the UEFA Youth League and the FA Youth Cup. So the development from 16 to 18 is perfect because they have the right games to play, and from 18 to 21 they can go on loan and have the right games to play and it gives us the opportunity to develop them properly and to evaluate them.
‘What is happening with the Under-21 league is a good thing but it still doesn’t help with a talented Chelsea player at 20. He is aspiring to a higher level if you look at Kenneth Omeruo who is not even 20 yet, or Tomas Kalas.’
Omeruo, who is a full Nigeria international, and Kalas (pictured above left) were on loan last season and were near-ever-presents in the Dutch top flight. Similar applies to slightly older players like Van Aanholt and Gael Kakuta.
With the reasons why players are sent on loan clear, the other question is where to send them. There are offers every year from many clubs who want an informal relationship for us to help each other out regarding loans, and plenty of clubs have been involved in loans with Chelsea.
‘If it is working with Vitesse it is because the Dutch league plays in a desirable way and they have done what they promised,’ explains Emenalo.
‘When they say they want a player and we say are you sure you need him and they say yes, the player actually does play.
‘If tomorrow a Championship team in England wants the same kind of relationship with us it is no problem, Vitesse has no exclusivity. We sent Josh McEachran to Middlesbrough and he played a lot and we were very happy with that, and if Middlesbrough want a player in the future we will be happy to send him because we think we have a good relationship and we have confidence the player will be very well looked after.
‘The loan process at Chelsea has become very professional and a good deal of thought has gone into it,’ Emenalo sums up.
‘We don’t send players out because we are trying to recover some money, we send them because we want them to play and develop and we want to monitor them. We have a system in place, headed by me and with Eddie Newton supported by [head of player welfare] Kevin Campello, that means we keep a close eye on them and the manager knows exactly what is happening at all times.’