Chelsea’s policy of farming out young talent and generally being awful at transfer for years has come back to bit them on the backside following Fifa’s transfer ban.
In light of Friday’s news that Chelsea will serve a two-year ban for breaching Fifa’s rules on signing foreign players under the age of 18, it has become achingly clear that club’s transfer and recruitment policy has finally bitten them on the arse.
Think of it in terms of compound interest, but instead of getting more money year on year, you’re just getting another welt on each cheek until it becomes impossible to sit down. That’s where the Blues have found themselves after this week’s ruling. And they have no one to blame but themselves.
When Roman Abramovich first rolled into southwest London, the club was able to achieve incredible success simply by throwing a shit ton of money at the team, acquiring star power from all over the world. Some of the acquisitions were exceptional, while many turned out to be turgid, but for a long time it didn’t really matter; the bad transfers were simply cancelled out by the great ones.
Behind the record transfer fees and marquee names, Chelsea instituted a policy of stockpiling the best young talent from the UK and around the world, which eventually became the ire of the sport’s governing body, but at the time it was all part of a strategic business plan.
As we are all aware by now, the club rarely promoted any of their academy graduates to the senior side; they instead were shuffled into a loan army, where they could be sent to Dutch feeder club Vitesse Arnhem or scattered all over Europe, with the goal of selling on at a profit later on. Daniel Sturridge and Romelu Lukaku are two of the most profitable examples, earning the club over £50m. In some instances, as has become an increasingly more common trend, they receive a loan fee.
According to Transfermarkt, Chelsea has 21 players out on loan right now, 22 if you count the recently signed Christian Pulisic. Eternal loanee Matt Miazga has been sent out twice this season, to Reading and Nantes, while Michy Batshuayi has earned the club over £4m in loan fees from Valencia and Crystal Palace.
The Belgian is also a clear illustration of the club’s steadily deteriorating transfer business in recent years. Squeezed out of the top end of the market by the likes of Man City and PSG, they simply don’t wield the kind of financial muscle they once possessed.
Batshuayi was arguably the first in a series of bad buys the club proceed to make over the next five transfer windows; the likes of Ross Barkley, Danny Drinkwater, David Zappacosta, Emerson, Tiemoue Bakayoko, and Alvaro Morata. Each one more disappointing than the last.
Over the last few windows they have fluctuated between spending high amounts and hardly spending any at all, but the one thing that never changed was their refusal to promote youth. Part of that is the overall policy of using young talent as a conveyor belt for profit, but it also comes with the short-term nature of sacking every manager they hire; who has the patience to develop an 18-year-old when every day the objective is to get the win every single match?
The objective here is not to point and laugh at the current predicament Chelsea find themselves in (although we all are anyway), but to demonstrate how the club’s wounds are compounded by this week’s news. Their incoherent strategy, if you could even call it that, over the years makes it all the worse for them now.
The transfer embargo puts the club at a crossroads. With the team struggling on the pitch and looking like they might not qualify for the Champions League, they may be pushed out of the Top Four picture altogether and struggle to break back in for years. Manchester United and City have enough money to overwhelm them, while Spurs are slowly but steadily catching them (and Arsenal) in terms of revenue.
There’s also every chance that Sarri turns things around, qualifies Chelsea for the Champions League via the top four or by winning the Europa League, keeps his job and raids Napoli for players to fit his philosophy. Or the club win their appeal to CAS and business continues as usual. One or both of these scenarios happening would make this conversation futile.
One way or the other it is in Chelsea’s best interest to start thinking smarter and spending more wisely. Actually promoting youth for once would be a good start, rather than trotting Callum Hudson-Odoi out in the Carabao Cup every once in a while. Otherwise, the days of success on the Fulham Road are numbered.