Chelsea right to sell Premier League trio despite their rise to stardom
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is a divisive figure, someone who goes against the grain. Much to the frustration of his critics, he has still achieved everything he has wanted at Stamford Bridge since taking over the club in 2003. Patience is not a word in the Russian tycoon’s dictionary; he demands success immediately. He isn’t afraid to chop and change his managers until he finds the man for him.
There are no guarantees at Chelsea
But Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti will testify that even winning trophies doesn’t guarantee a job if things start to go south. Roberto Di Matteo was, rather ironically, only an interim when he brought the Champions League trophy to West London in 2012. It was Abramovich’s holy grail; the competition he made his burning ambition to win, and after spending millions on the biggest name players and managers, there was something rather funny about a man who fell into the job after the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas earlier in the season, leading a team written off for being too old and past their best to the greatest prize of all.
That achievement afforded Di Matteo the job permanently, but it wasn’t enough to stop the axe wielding when results quickly went awry.
Abramovich has hired and nine different managers in his tenure, some more than once, and there are even reports that current incumbent of the dugout, Antonio Conte, could make way at the end of the season as he struggles to keep hold of the Premier League crown.
In a way, there can be no arguing with Abramovich’s methods because he has such a great track record. But there have been some real negatives during hid reign, mainly centring on player development. Talent is bought in bulk, which blocks the route for young players like Tammy Abraham and Ruben Loftus- Cheek, on loan at Swansea City and Crystal Palace respectively, who helped the club’s academy to FA Youth Cup wins.
But having over 30 players away on loan at one time tells a story in itself. Being bought for big money guarantees nothing in terms of first team opportunities, and the loan market, designed to help players gain experience and improve, feels like it is viewed more as a shop window for Chelsea to make a profit. If they aren’t good enough, no matter their age, they are cast aside. No coach ever has the confidence to take a risk because they know they won’t last if results slip.
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. Andreas Christensen has made it to the top and, at 22 years of age, is thriving in the centre of Chelsea defence. But so many players have slipped through the net; three of whom scored for direct Premier League rivals over the weekend.
If one manager has found something akin to common ground with Abramovich, it is Mourinho. Throughout his career, the Portuguese has not cared about much other than winning, and because he had set his own targets to win quickly in different countries, he has never been the kind of manager willing to give young players time. Kevin de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Mohamed Salah all fell foul of his approach during his second spell in charge at Chelsea.
Trio shine away from the Bridge
The trio have all gone onto great things elsewhere in England; Mourinho, now at Manchester United, signed Lukaku from Everton in a £75million deal in the summer. Both the coach and Chelsea have been ridiculed for letting three of English football’s best players, all on the road to superstardom, slip from their grasp. Under Abramovich’s rule, though, they never had the support to grow into the players they are. Chelsea came too soon for each and, at the time, they weren’t good enough; but they will always wonder if they’d have reached their potential on the King’s Road.
It was more understandable that neither Salah nor de Bruyne really looked comfortable in Blue under Mourinho than Lukaku. He is a coach with a peculiar relationship with playmakers; he wants them to work hard and be physically strong and will not give them the free role they desire. Henrikh Mkhitaryan is finding it tough at Old Trafford right now, Juan Mata has endured a bumpy ride
and Mesut Özil certainly had some tough times with Mourinho at Real Madrid. The cruel irony from his point of view is that both de Bruyne and Salah have become the players Mourinho needed them to be and they now play for his biggest rivals, Manchester City and Liverpool.
There was also a lot of competition for them both. Salah arrived as de Bruyne left in January 2014, with Oscar, Willian and Eden Hazard to contend with, as well as Andre Schurrle and later Cesc Fabregas. Mourinho chose three of those five to play in behind the striker, and it became abundantly clear that both Salah and de Bruyne would need to leave to hit their stride. The former did so at Fiorentina on loan and then Roma, the latter at Wolfsburg. It wasn’t until after they left Chelsea, with a run of Serie A and Bundesliga games under their belts that they began to shine.
Yet Lukaku was different; he was the ultimate young striker and perfectly positioned to be nurtured by Mourinho. The Belgian had scored goals galore at West Brom and Everton on loan, but by the time he was ready to make the step up at Chelsea, Mourinho opted to sell him to the Toffees after signing an immediate option in Diego Costa. The Blues then missed out on Lukaku to Mourinho and Manchester United, signing Alvaro Morata instead.
Here are three cases of how Abramovich’s lack of patience has harmed Chelsea, with Lukaku, de Bruyne and Salah all now the real deal in the Premier League. But the assumption that they would have all become that at Stamford Bridge is wrong; it was arguably leaving Chelsea that set them free.