While the football world gushes over Alexis Sanchez’s big move to Manchester United, their competitors for the second spot in the Premier League have been linked to much less glamorous names in recent times
Not that there is a lack of talent available out there, it just seems that Chelsea are making it look like an impossible job of finding them. Their traditional cross-town rivals, Arsenal, notorious for not signing big players, are, by all accounts, going gung-ho this January transfer window.
If recent reports are to be believed, the Blues have been linked with a host of ‘big men’ including Andy Carroll, Peter Crouch and more recently Edin Dzeko. The two former Liverpool players have been reportedly scouted for their aerial prowess and hold-up play around the box. Twenty-nine-year-old Carroll and thirty-six-year-old Crouch have both been at a big club, but failed to make an impression while there.
Edin Dzeko has been a proven goalscorer throughout, notching up an impressive 246 career goals in 556 club appearances and 3 league titles in Germany and England to boot. The problem with him, though, is that this feels like a stop-gap for both him and the club – a temporary solution to a much deeper problem at Chelsea. Moreover, the Bosnian will turn 32 in March — not exactly the right age for a back up striker at the reigning Premier League champions.
What is even more surprising, though, is that the Blues already have a striker who is good in the air – so good that rival fans cheer sarcastically when he scores with his feet. Maybe it is about giving Alvaro Morata a back up or just the fact that Chelsea miss Diego Costa, who was adept at holding the ball, running with it or even being the ‘big man’ when needed.
Michy Batshuayi has flattered to deceive, only making his place in Shed End folklore because of the goal he scored against West Brom last season that won Chelsea the title. So much so that Antonio Conte had to try out his much illustrious compatriot Eden Hazard as a false-nine even when the former Marseille man was available. The lack of a viable back-up has hurt Chelsea, with Tammy Abraham loaned out and Dominic Solanke being sold to Liverpool.
All of this happened while Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alexis Sanchez swapped clubs and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is being strongly linked to Arsenal. Chelsea’s alarming lack of ambition in even going for Sanchez or Aubameyang may point to a bigger issue than the one that appears. A problem that starts right at the top of the decision makers at the club.
For a few years now, it has been abundantly clear that Chelsea plan to stick to a revised policy of not spending too much on players, with Morata being the only exception in recent times. The Spaniard was still second choice behind Romelu Lukaku in their plans, and that too only came about because of immense pressure from fans to find a replacement for the outgoing Diego Costa.
Instead, the club have been focusing on selling players and leveraging their profit, getting more than £100m in the sale of two players alone (Costa and Oscar) and recovering significant amounts of revenue from the sale of Nemanja Matic, Nathan Ake and Juan Cuadrado among others. Instead of trying to compete with the Manchester clubs financially, the Blues now seem to be focused on trying to make the best of what they have.
This may, however, mean good news for the academy players coming through. Chelsea’s youth teams, in recent years, have been one of the best in terms of trophies and the quality of players churning out. Instead of being loaned out to oblivion, they can now dream of playing in that senior side sooner rather than later. Even with Conte’s recent league and FA Cup squads, it looks like the focus is now more on developing their own rather than buying from outside.
Then again, the shift towards youth may mean a longer wait for trophies and in turn, playing with the patience of fans and the board alike. Conte, who has so far managed to be in the good books of the Stamford Bridge faithful, may be looking for a new job sooner than anticipated if that so happens. It is a vicious cycle that all stakeholders would want to avoid.
The Italian boss, too, seems frustrated with the current scenario, yet again stressing that he cannot compete with the free-spending clubs in England any more. A tight purse-string has led to a tense relationship between him and the board ever since his arrival, and it may ultimately prove to be his death knell as Chelsea boss. There is palpable tension in the air around Stamford Bridge – one that a couple of big-name signings may not change.
It is remarkable that we talk about Conte this way, though. He won the league playing the same system last season, with only the addition of only a few fresh faces this term. The expectations were from Chelsea to break the bank in the summer, but poor transfer dealings meant only a second-choice Morata arrived while Matic was sold to a direct rival. That the Spaniard’s transfer worked immediately is why the Blues find themselves in a relatively comfortable position in the table.
Belgian superstars Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois have been reportedly tempted by offers from Madrid, and at least one of their departures feels imminent. If replacing Costa was a big ask, replacing either of the Belgians will turn out to be an even bigger one. The fans will demand no less than a world class player in return, and it would again mean deviating from their recent transfer policy of ‘breaking the bank’ for a player.
To be fair to both Carroll and Dzeko, though, the transfer might turn out to be a hugely successful one and we may be forced to eat our words. That, however, does not seem right from a Chelsea perspective. While clubs around them are going for the likes of Aubmeyang and Fred, the Blues do not want to be stuck with a 29-year-old who averages less than 19 league appearances per season over his 13-year career.