Chelsea’s summer activity: a leopard doesn’t change its spots that easily

For all Chelsea’s recent triumphs and seemingly prudent player acquisitions, there is still something that grates about the manner in which they go about their business. No degree of footballing success can educate Roman Abramovich in the matters of treating a great game and its players with the right respect, and this can be seen in his latest splurging on Eden Hazard, Marko Marin and Oscar. Other clubs might have recognised that they were buying players for the future, whose redoubtable talent would need patience and careful management to be unlocked. Yet it is clear by the sums spent on players labelled “starlets”, that Abramovich’s cherry-picking of them has been motivated by the same attitude that saw him spend £50 million for Fernando Torres and expect him to start scoring straightaway. These are players who command the club’s interest for as long as they perceived to be “stars” of the game, and whose lack of a tailored support system once they arrive often means their careers shrivel and falter. It was bad enough for Torres, but to expect three young players – two still in their teens – to shoulder a Premier League title bid next season is an unfair allocation of responsibility that reveals Abramovich’s ongoing failure to understand that signing a chequebook is only the beginning of a club’s investment in a player.

If Oscar, Marin and Hazard thought they had hit the bull’s-eye by signing with a club that reconciled a player’s two great aims of being financially secure and playing at a successful team where they could grow as footballers, they should have taken a second look at the troubles of Romelu Lukaku and Gael Kakuta. Lukaku has spoken openly of the lack of joy and involvement he felt at Chelsea’s double success last season, in which he played a minimal role. It is understandable that his playing time would have been limited by the ceaseless influence of Didier Drogba, but the way his discontent grew away from the pitch suggested that Chelsea have not backed up the money they spend on the best young talent around by investing in a suitable support system and giving them a clear sense of progression and development. Lukaku has now gone on loan at West Brom – something that Gael Kakuta has already done on three separate occasions during his time at the club. Once hailed as the “future of Chelsea”, this young talent is now being discussed in the corridors of power at the club only in the context of including him as part of an exchange deal for the latest young player to catch their fancy – Spanish right-back Cesar Azpilicueta of Marseille. If Kakuta does leave, it will conclude five ruinous years that have seen his career come to a shuddering halt and that illustrate the power Chelsea have to sully even the brightest talents with their myopic approach to team-building.

4 thoughts on “Chelsea’s summer activity: a leopard doesn’t change its spots that easily

  1. I agree on your views on Roman… and PSG seems to be following his philosophy! Let’s see how their season goes this year! When it comes to grooming young talent, Chelsea is no Arsenal… But having said that, let’s see if Di Matteo can “be a Wenger” for the new recruits!

    • Yes, that’s a good point. If there’s one man at Chelsea who can ensure the new recruits don’t get trampled on, it’s Roberto Di Matteo. He’s a football man through and through, and a good manager to boot who will be aware of what’s required for Hazard and co to unlock their confidence. Chelsea are lucky to have him, and he thoroughly deserves his big break.

      As for PSG, apparently they were cheeky enough to bid £40 million for Balotelli after buying Ibrahimovic! Even among the big-spenders, that’s jaw-dropping stuff!

  2. You’re right about Chelsea’s failure to groom talent to build for a sustainable future. I think there are 2 problems. Surely the youth/reserve leagues are not preparing the youngsters well enough to cope with the Prem? (I guess this is the reason why Wenger brings the youngsters into the 1st team as soon as possible). The 2nd is that the youth players are not being integrated with the more experienced players effectively. Chelsea’s old guard have a lot to offer the ‘starlets’ but they are not being given the opportunity to learn.

    • Of course PL experience is important, and playing every week in the reserves after being a top striker for Anderlecht must have given Lukaku a feeling of stalled momentum in his career arc. However, a lot of Arsenal’s youngsters are bought, not immediately loaned out or played in the first team, and still don’t develop the same sense of dissatisfaction evident in some of Chelsea’s younger players. I might be wrong, but it is tempting to link this to the fact that Abramovich – in whose image the club is sculpted every day – does not place anywhere near as much of his time and energy in strengthening the club’s youth development system as he does hunting players. He simply buys them and expects them to perform instantly, which is no different to a real-life version of the PC game Football Manager. If a well-planned and sophisticated youth structure was in place to nurture the youngsters and give them a sense of career development – as is the case at Arsenal – perhaps they wouldn’t develop such anxiety about where their careers are heading.

      You’re right that Chelsea could have been a bit braver in blooding youngsters alongside experienced players – but then again, any manager facing Abramovich’s imperative of having to win straightaway would have been tempted to pick their best team rather than think about the long-term viability of Chelsea. Any attempts at reaping the rewards of long-term planning are sabotaged by Abramovich’s ad-hoc aims. I think he sees his acquisition of a clutch of young players this summer as some form of long-term planning against the backdrop of UEFA’s FFP rules, but it’s not the real thing. Why? Because he expects these young players, none of whom are hardened winners (you have only to look at Oscar’s glaring miss in the dying minutes of the match against Mexico in the Olympics final to realise that), to catapult Chelsea to further glory this season, and in a way worthy of the most attractive passing sides. Unreasonable expectations placed on young shoulders, from a man who doesn’t expect to have to work for his rewards.

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