FIFA handing Chelsea a two-window transfer ban for breaching rules concerning the signing of youth players will come as a shock to many of the club’s fans this morning. However, how much of a shock will it come to Chelsea? And how much of a disaster will it turn out to be?
In an age where high spending is virtually essential to keep up with the top teams of Europe’s elite five leagues, many Chelsea fans will be concerned that the ever-hardening task of achieving Champions League football and silverware has been exacerbated. The Blues have been known for their lavish spending since Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003, and now that they are unable to do so, there will be fears of a demise in the club’s success.
Whilst Tottenham Hotspur’s relative success without acquiring new players should resemble a good blueprint for Chelsea, Mauricio Pochettino has had a long-term project. Given the recent anxieties over Maurizio Sarri’s future, it would seem difficult for The Blues to emulate this. However, it appears that the powers-at-be at Chelsea have seen this coming. The £57.6 million paid to Borussia Dortmund for the transfer of Christian Pulisic is a handsome sum of money for a player that will not join the squad until the summer. Furthermore, Gonzalo Higuain was signed on a somewhat “creative” deal that gives Chelsea the option to extend his time at the club, be it on a temporary or permanent basis.
However, in the face of adversity, Chelsea fans can find optimism in their academy products. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Andreas Christensen, Ethan Ampadu and, above all, sparkling teenager Callum Hudson-Odoi have received rich backing from the Chelsea faithful. Their lack of playing time however, has led to concerns over their future at the club and even to a string of rejected bids from Bayern Munich for Hudson-Odoi. Having received such infrequent opportunities, perhaps now is their time to capitalise on inevitably increased quantities of game time – Chelsea fans will certainly be wanting and expecting them to do so.
What of Chelsea’s “Loan Army” as well? The club boasts a vast 41 players on loan – a goldmine for talent when the club cannot obtain players from anywhere else. Tammy Abraham, for example, has been in fine goal scoring form for Aston Villa, and is currently the Championship’s 3rd top goal scorer. Mason Mount, on loan at Frank Lampard’s Derby County, earned himself a recent England call up and has even been likened to his current manager. Then there is England Under-19 Euros winner Reece James who has found himself in a purple streak of form at Wigan and former Chelsea Young Player of the Year Kurt Zouma has been performing well at Everton. For years Chelsea, have had one of the highest number players out on loan of all of Europe’s top clubs but have arguably failed to maximise their potential – now appears to be a better time than ever to do so.
The serious concern for Chelsea will now be over what effects the ban has for their managerial situation. After a series of poor results and heavy losses to Bournemouth and Manchester City, many Chelsea fans have lambasted Maurizio Sarri for his failure to adapt, stubbornness in tactics and for the predictability of “Sarri-ball”. Many others wish for the Italian to be given more time, however, if in the eventuality that the current Chelsea boss is the next manager to face the club’s notorious revolving door, how keen will potential replacements be to take the helm? Whilst Zinedine Zidane, Laurent Blanc and Frank Lampard (although surely even director Marina Granovskaia wouldn’t risk tainting his legacy) have been rumoured to be lined up to replace Sarri next season, there will be huge worries for Chelsea. The historical lack of longevity for Chelsea managers combined with the inability to make transfers may take away all attraction of the job, perhaps even regardless of the size of cheque that Mr Abramovich writes.
However, this cloud may have one massive silver lining; namely, the future of star player Eden Hazard. The Belgian has long admitted his desire to pursue his “dream move” to Real Madrid, whilst also making his respect and admiration for Chelsea and his contentment with London family-life very clear. Although Hazard’s quality and Chelsea’s poor form has made it seem increasingly likely that he will join Real Madrid at the end of this season, he has repeatedly said that he is yet to make his mind up. Perhaps Chelsea will not give him the option to make the decision himself though. The transfer embargo placed upon Chelsea would make it impossible to replace Hazard if he left, which could result in the club blocking his transfer. It would be a risky ploy given that his contract expires next summer – losing him for free would be a disaster – but Chelsea fans will have their fingers crossed that the three-time Chelsea Player of the Year’s appreciation for the club may make him put pen to paper and extend his stay at Stamford Bridge once again.
Chelsea released a statement on their website shortly after FIFA announced the ban stating that the club “categorically refutes the findings…and will therefore be appealing the decision”. This may facilitate an ability for Chelsea to sign players as normal in this summer’s window, or even, although it seems unlikely, for the ban to be dropped altogether. Regardless of the eventuality, there is a strong case for Chelsea fans to not fret. In spite of the probable embargo, with the careful and appropriate management of the club’s current first-team, loan and youth players, there is no reason that Chelsea cannot replicate their recent successes.