What does Chelsea's inactivity really say?
Chelsea fans have become used to exciting transfer windows. For most of Roman Abramovich’s ownership of the club, the Blues have splashed millions and millions of pounds on high profile targets.
At the same time, rival fans have criticized Chelsea. The allegation is that Abramovich has “ruined” football, by making the game about whoever has the most money. Whoever spent the most would win the most.Yet this summer, the roles have been switched entirely.
United have already dropped £70 million on improvements, and there are no indications that Louis Van Gaal is stopping any time soon. Arsenal has brought in Petr Cech, for almost £10 million, a massive step towards solidifying their backline.
City spent nearly £50 million on Raheem Sterling alone, and another £8 million on Fabian Delph. Liverpool has brought in Roberto Firmino and Nathaniel Clyne for a combined £41 million. Meanwhile, Chelsea has bought… who? Falcao was brought in on loan, and Asmir Begovic has replaced Cech as the number two keeper. Nathan, a young Brazilian, was also purchased. None of these players are really the big names that Chelsea fans were looking for. Falcao is seemingly washed up, three years out of his prime, and will only feature when Diego Costa needs rest. While a solid backup to Thibaut Courtois is important, it isn’t flashy.
The lack of activity has worried fans. While Chelsea’s main title rivals are improving their squads, Jose Mourinho is seemingly content with his. Players have vocalized that feeling. Nemanja Matic told the Daily Mail “Our team was champion and a team that is champions is ready for everything. I think we have enough.”
Matic continued “Maybe other teams will sign lots of players but that may be worse for them. It is sometimes better to stay with the same team for stability. I am sure that if we stick to doing what we are capable of, we can achieve a lot this season.”
Branislav Ivanovic agreed with Matic’s assessment, saying “When teams are not happy with their situations, they need to make big signings but we know what we have to do. We have to look at ourselves, be strong mentally and more ready for extra pressure.”
Both Matic and Ivanovic said that, at the moment, Chelsea’s squad is strong enough to defend the title. Matic said later in the piece that winning the Champions League was not a matter of upgrades in talent, but upgrades in focus.
Matic: Maybe others will sign lots of players but that maybe worse for them. It is sometimes better to stay with the same team for stability
— ChelsTransfer (@ChelsTransfer) July 20, 2015
Yet, no one outside of Stamford Bridge denies that Chelsea does need, in some places, significant upgrades.
Eden Hazard is responsible for the vast majority of Chelsea’s offence. He is the only player in Chelsea’s team who can create all on his own. He can score and assist. His runs tear apart defenses. Because Chelsea has only one such player, however, teams can shut down Hazard, and thus shut down the Blues attack.
Another player in Hazard’s type would transform the Blues from the dominant English team to one of the best in Europe. Mario Götze, Gareth Bale, or Antoine Griezmann all present viable options to share Hazard’s burden.
Chelsea could use another upgrade in the center of the park, as well. Since Frank Lampard left, and even before that, the Blues have lacked the box-to-box midfielder that he was in his prime. A player who can defend with strength, break with pace, create for others, and score crucial goals. Paul Pogba looks like just the player to fill that hole. He is more athletic and physical than Lampard ever was, and is defensively solid. Although he lacks what Lampard brought in playmaking, Pogba is a definite goal scorer, and will take a burden off Hazard.
And yet, Chelsea has taken no action. Some light rumors have linked Götze and Griezmann with Stamford Bridge, but neither move seems to be anywhere in the foreseeable future. Bale, on the other hand, looks set to gain a new role of importance in Rafa Benitez’s Real side. Mourinho actually shot down any Pogba speculation several days ago. “I think everyone has an interest in Pogba,” he told the Guardian. “But there are things you can do and things you cannot do. I love the Eiffel Tower but I can’t have the Eiffel Tower in my garden. I can’t even have the Eiffel Tower of Las Vegas.”
In the context of the article, where Mourinho earlier said that any team Pogba goes to immediately becomes better, that quote makes no sense. If Pogba is that good of a player, then why should he say that Chelsea can’t afford him? This is Roman Abramovich we’re talking about, a man who spent £2 billion on the club in his first decade at the Bridge.
There are several ways to explain Chelsea’s inactivity this window, and a lack of funds is not one of them.
Firstly, Mourinho and the management could genuinely be satisfied with the squad. Even as United, City and Arsenal all reload for title challenges, Chelsea looks like the only one without a hole in the starting XI. Sure, some parts need to be improved upon, but for now, the Blues should be okay.
Secondly, this could indicate a shift in Chelsea’s transfer and youth policies. Previously, the club had sought to improve only through transfers. The academy was unimportant.
But recent events have shifted Abramovich and Chelsea away from reckless spending. The most important was the Fernando Torres incident. The Blues spent £50 million on Torres, only to have the Spaniard score just 20 goals in 110 appearances.
Abramovich had wasted money before, but this was different. Torres went long periods without goals (his first 910 minutes with the club were barren), and often looked timid in front of the net. Although he scored important goals, and found his form briefly under Benitez, the Torres of Chelsea was never the prolific goal scorer of Liverpool.
The embarrassment of Torres has since spurred Abramovich to spend more carefully. On top of that, the new FFP restrictions have made balancing the books more important than ever. Now, Chelsea seeks to not only buy players for good prices, but also sell them for good prices.
Most importantly, both of those events pushed Chelsea towards developing its academy. Young talents, like Ruben Loftus Cheek and Dom Solanke, have been at the club for most of Abramovich’s time. But only in the past two or three years have fans begun to pay attention to, and care about, the youth teams.
The fact that Jose isn’t looking to Pogba, Bale, or Griezmann to fill in the gaps could mean that he is looking to the youths. Solanke, Loftus-Cheek and Jeremie Boga could all be playing more important roles at the club this year, and in coming years.
There is also a third way to explain the lack of activity, but it is a much more unlikely possibility. It could be that Jose actually doesn’t want anyone on the market right now. Maybe he actually doesn’t think that Pogba is all that good, or at the least worth the money.
Maybe he would like Bale or Griezmann, but wants to wait it out. Benitez is doing everything he can to keep a discontented Bale at Real, even giving him a new, more central role. But maybe after one more year of hate from his own fans, Bale will be ready for a move back to the UK, and Jose will be waiting with arms open.
Greizmann has only played one year at a top club, and Jose might be keeping his distance until he sees more of what he likes. With Euro 2016 in the summer, Mourinho might even wait till August to make his move.
In reality, Chelsea’s lack of activity can be explained by some combination of the first two. Chelsea’s XI really is better than those of the Arsenal, United and City, and continuity is a factor that cannot be undervalued in an ever changing league.
Mourinho really does seem to genuinely want to give youths a chance, and has talked about Loftus-Cheek gaining consistent minutes this season. Given Loftus-Cheek’s style, bringing in Pogba would be redundant, and would kill the youngster’s hopes of ever breaking into the first XI. Both are box-to-box midfielders, and while Pogba is ready now, Loftus Cheek has time to study under Matic, one of the best holding midfielders in the world, before he needs to take over the starting role.
Chelsea fans shouldn’t be worried about the lack of activity. While the other title challengers certainly look much stronger than they were this time last year, it will be hard to knock the Blues off the pedestal.
This summer shows that Chelsea and Mourinho don’t conform to others. As rivals load up on talent, the champions sit back. As United, Arsenal, Liverpool and City all spend buckets on upgrades, Mourinho works on perfecting the squad he has. Chelsea fans have no reason to be worried. The Blues are doing just fine.
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