Since Georgian businessman Merab Jordania purchased Dutch outfit Vitesse Arnhem in 2010, the relationship between the Gelderlanders and Chelsea has grown considerably with each passing year.
What began as an informal partnership based on a friendship held between Jordania and Roman Abramovich has flourished into a full-blown affiliation in which both clubs are increasingly dependent on each other.
In that fledgling first season, the Blues sent Nemanja Matic, Slobodan Rajkovic and Matej Delac on loan to the Gelredome, hoping that the budding young Eastern Europeans would develop into capable first team contributors. They even held influence over Jordania’s choice of manager, with former Chelsea right-back Albert Ferrer given the role.
It didn’t go particularly well, with only Matic coming out of the campaign with any real credit (he was to eventually become a makeweight in the David Luiz transfer) and Ferrer losing his job well before the end of the season. With a reboot ahead of year two, and many lessons learned, business began to pick up in 2012-13 with Tomas Kalas excelling in defence, Patrick van Aanholt finally kicking on, and Ulises Dávila settling into Europe at a comfortable pace after moving from Mexico.
Kalas and Van Aanholt returned there last season, when they were joined by the mercurial Gael Kakuta. The trio contributed to a title challenge which whilst falling short at the last proved thoroughly entertaining, and gave each of them a considerable career boost, as well as highlighting the excellence of their colleagues.
Kalas has graduated into Jose Mourinho’s first team this season and is joined by Marko Van Ginkel, signed for a considerable fee after becoming a leading figure in a team watched extensively by Chelsea staff as they took in the progress of their own produce. Van Aanholt and Kakuta are once again back in the Netherlands for the coming season, but will be without the prolific Wilfried Bony, who himself earned a big-money move to the Premier League and Swansea.
Shorn of their three most influential players as something of a consequence of their ascent to the upper reaches of Dutch football, Vitesse are set to lean on their illustrious partners more than ever this season as they find it easier said than done to spend their summer windfall. New manager Peter Bosz – again hired with the approval of Stamford Bridge brass – confirmed as much to the media on Friday:
“We are very busy with strengthening the squad, but there aren’t many options so we end up knocking at Chelsea’s door”
They therefore find themselves in a situation where they might finish the summer transfer window with as many as half a dozen young Blues in their midst. Kakuta and Van Aanholt have already been joined by Brazilian forward Lucas Piazon and Chilean winger Cristian Cuevas, whilst an intriguing pair of names were added to the list of potential loanees late last week in Christian Atsu and Sam Hutchinson.
Atsu, a left-sided Ghanaian, is putting the finishing touches to a deal taking him from FC Porto for some £3m, and whilst it may appear a step down from a perennial Champions League challenger to a team no longer in Europe at all, the Eredivisie represents a more physical, quicker league than the Portuguese top flight and an experience much closer to the English league he will hope to eventually play in. The most curious element of the move, however, is that he plays in much the same position as both Cuevas and Piazon, and Chelsea could run the risk of one of their group not playing as much as they would have liked.
Hutchinson, meanwhile, has suffered the angst of a continued series of long-term absences through injury. He spent six months on the sidelines at Nottingham Forest last season after a loan spell which had started so positively went predictably and sadly south, and was due to see his contract expire this summer. With Chelsea having offered no indication whatsoever of his whereabouts during the offseason and him not being involved with any of their teams whatsoever, a guessing game has taken place amongst followers of the youth ranks, but when pictures surfaced of him taking in a training session at Vitesse’s training ground this week, the reality had everybody shocked.
English players rarely travel outside of their comfort zone (read: English-speaking countries), and even rarer still on loan deals. If fit, Hutchinson could conceivably provide the Arnhem side with what they’ve lost in Kalas; a right-sided centre-back who can also fill in at full-back and who brings athleticism and leadership in abundance. The fitness aspect of things will always be a concern, but careful management and a bit of luck can produce decent results.
With the advent of B Teams in the English structure seemingly an impossibility, Michael Emenalo and the football board have been hard at work on a Plan B, it would appear. If they can’t develop their brood here, they’re proving intent on doing it elsewhere, in an environment they can control with a willing partner. The Eredivisie has long since been a strong developmental league and with Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV all becoming every younger, other teams are following suit, not least Vitesse. They are increasingly reaping the rewards of the deal and as the clock ticks towards close of play on Monday evening, they might see a few more Chelsea boys heading their way.