It’s hardly been a stellar first third of the season as far as Chelsea’s young loan army are concerned. Now sure, it’d be unfair to compare things to the 2013-14 campaign when a record-breaking 126 goals were scored by more than thirty players at in excess of forty clubs; that sort of production simply isn’t achievable on a consistent basis.
Yet as winter draws ever closer and the January transfer window begins to loom ever larger, decisions need to be made as to the best way to handle those who haven’t found their temporary homes to be as accommodating as they would have liked.
There are twenty-six players currently away from Stamford Bridge for one reason or another. Some are legitimately one good run of performances away from being able to convince Jose Mourinho that they deserve a shot, whilst a clutch of guys are undoubtedly hovering around the exit door and are playing for their next contract at a club yet to be decided. For the majority though, bumps in the road aren’t welcome as they seek every possible advantage in trying to break through the ever-tougher glass ceiling and into the first team squad.
This year’s crop can be neatly divided into three distinctive groups reflecting their involvement so far:
[table class=”table table-striped”]
Patrick Bamford,Christian Atsu,Jamal Blackman
Ryan Bertrand,Nathaniel Chalobah,Islam Feruz
Thorgan Hazard,Uli Dávila,Tomas Kalas
Gael Kakuta,Matej Delac,Marko Marin
Victor Moses,Mario Pasalic,Josh McEachran
Kenneth Omeruo,Lucas Piazón,John Swift
Stipe Perica,Joao Rodriguez,Marco van Ginkel
Oriol Romeu,,Cristian Cuevas
At first glance it might appear as if things are in rude health with 11 guys in the most positive tier, but upon closer inspection the picture becomes tainted. Bertrand, Kakuta, Moses, Romeu and Torres are unlikely to combine for one more Chelsea appearance between them, immediately halving the number of players doing well who may have a future at the club. Hazard has just one Bundesliga start for Borussia Mönchengladbach and absolutely none of the rest are plying their trade in a recognised top-tier league.
That in itself could just as easily be a quirk of the assorted stages of development they’re at but a year removed from Thibaut Courtois, Romelu Lukaku and Kurt Zouma, it’s certainly a little disappointing that there isn’t a sure-fire prospect worthy of integrating into the 15-16 squad right now. And that’s just amongst those who are actually playing.
Of those who aren’t, it’s especially frustrating to see Tomas Kalas doing nothing after faring so well at Anfield on his senior debut in April. It’s saddening to watch talented imports like Atsu, Piazón and Van Ginkel sit on the bench whilst their teams struggle without them and it’s an immense source of disappointment that home-grown, club-raised prospects like Chalobah, Swift, Blackman and McEachran toil away for nought at clubs who have no vested interest in their development.
It’s not an easy task for Eddie Newton to line up suitable places for these guys to play, but questions do need to be asked. Atsu’s move to Everton almost fell through amidst concerns that he wouldn’t play very often, but a deal was still thrashed out and although Chelsea probably receive some sort of compensation every time the Ghanaian doesn’t play, the financial return is barely significant compared to the potential reward were he developing on the pitch.
Rotherham were said to have beaten off interest from ten Championship (and overseas) clubs to claim the coveted signature of Swift, but he’s not had a single minute of first-team football since August 18th. The Millers signed more than two dozen players upon their return to the second tier this summer; it was entirely conceivable that Swift would struggle to get games under a notoriously hard-to-please manager yet the move went ahead.
Chalobah, meanwhile, has watched his stock plummet from arguably the country’s most exciting teenage talent at Watford in 2012-13 to yet another uncertainty after a series of less-than-ideal situations. A disagreement with Billy Davies scuppered his Nottingham Forest spell and whilst he bounced back well at Middlesbrough, he’d already outgrown the Championship and needed a Premier League move. That came in the form of heading to Burnley in August, a club many would have expected him to at least see the pitch at, but he’s been confined to the bench despite the Clarets having failed to win a game all season until this past weekend.
The tale of woe continues almost unabated across Europe. Van Ginkel’s early-season injury has left him as an afterthought at Milan; McEachran couldn’t get into Vitesse’s midfield before hurting his ankle and will struggle to when fully fit; Pasalic has appeared a little too flaky for an Elche team battling relegation and oddest of all, Feruz is riding the pine in Greece following a failed move to Russia in a summer where he was hawked around by an agent attached to Dimitri Seluk as Chelsea bid to cut their losses on the diminutive forward.
No doubt everyone at the club would prefer some form of B Team arrangement where they could control an entire squad of developmental prospects in a trusted environment, but the idea was shot down so quickly amongst English football’s tradition-first masses that it’s never going to happen. The controversy over seven players winding up in Arnhem last term may have soured that relationship a little, with a vastly reduced influence in the Gelredome this time around, and so Newton and co. have to cast their nets far and wide in hope of snaring a trusted club and a manager who is on board with their plans.
Some form of failure is always going to happen; not every player can make it and certainly there are those who are clearly not good enough and will move on sooner rather than later. It’s also very much part of the process for these players to overcome adversity and fight for their places. Nothing is handed to anybody in professional football on a plate and if a different player is preferred for whatever reason it’s incumbent on the loser to prove his manager wrong and find a way to impress whenever opportunities arise.
But two months or more without any meaningful glimmers of light mean it’s time to explore different avenues. When it comes to those who actually have a chance, better decisions are required. There’s hardly a lack of a market for their talents and in almost all cases there will have been an alternative turned down that, with hindsight, would have yielded better returns. Those players deserve better and they deserve it in January, else their careers could be unreasonably damaged.
Whether they make it at Chelsea at some point down the line or not, many of them are approaching a crucial stage of their careers and cannot afford another bad move.