The island of misfit toys, so the story goes, is inhabited by unloved playthings. Isolated and unwanted, there they stay under the rule of King Moonraiser until someone wants them, and a toy is never truly happy until it is loved by a child.
As the 2016-17 loan season begins in earnest we can apply some of this classic tale to affairs at Chelsea. Michael Emenalo is our King Moonraiser, looking after the several dozen developmental talents – many of whom are unloved at Stamford Bridge – and grafts daily in an effort to find them suitable permanent homes.
Granted, there are several gifted youngsters in the group, youngsters with significant potential, but they are but a fraction of a group that continues to expand annually and draws plenty of attention for being quite unlike anything previously witnessed in the English game.
The good news however is that those younger hopefuls – the ones we can hang our hats on turning into players of true Chelsea quality – reside at the bottleneck of the group and are truly on the verge of breaking out. A year from now it’s an entirely realistic proposition to consider welcoming Andreas Christensen, Charly Musonda, Jeremie Boga and Nathan Aké back from high-level loans and into the first-team picture, and it’s not too much of a stretch to think similar of Lewis Baker and one or two others if all goes well.
Broadly, the loan situation is what it is. Chelsea’s efforts in speculating to accumulate has been consistently growing since 2010 and, with more than seventy senior professionals under contract, quite the overspill exists. Seasons of thirty-plus players going out on loans of varying degrees of success have become commonplace and there appears to be no end in sight.
At the business end of things, though, the best prospects are getting the best moves. Musonda spent five months dazzling La Liga with Real Betis last season and will return to Los Verdiblancos for another break-out campaign, whilst Boga and Ivorian midfielder Victorien Angban will bed in just down the road at Granada. The Spanish league promises to be appointment viewing with two unquestionably gifted individual prospects lighting things up on a weekly basis (all being well) and their pre-season exploits have already set tongues wagging.
The best preparation for a long-term career in the upper echelons of the English game is to gain experience at an appropriate stand and, accordingly, the Premier League and the Bundesliga have featured prominently in Emenalo’s plans this summer. Christensen returns for his second season at Borussia Mönchengladbach after establishing himself as perhaps Europe’s best young centre-back there last season and, understandably, die Fohlen are doing everything they can to sign him permanently.
That isn’t expected to happen and instead Christensen should refine his game further in anticipation of becoming part of the furniture in SW6 from 2017 onwards. Aké, meanwhile, swaps the yellow and black of Watford for the red and black of Bournemouth as a season in midfield beckons. Previously seen as a left-back by Jose Mourinho, it appears as if Antonio Conte prefers the Dutchman in his preferred engine room role and so has turned to Eddie Howe for some help in getting him back up to speed in the middle of the park.
Four players, four fascinating stories to follow and four realistic targets for assimilation twelve months from now. Any more than that is pie-in-the-sky stuff but, from such a large group, anyone can emerge. Baker impressed more often than not at Vitesse last season and was welcomed back to Arnhem with open arms after a stunning Toulon Tournament for England’s Under-21s in which he finished as the competition’s leading goalscorer.
Make no mistake, the Eredivisie isn’t quite up to the same standard as the continent’s leading leagues, but many a player has made the leap from the Netherlands onto the big stage and a year of goals and outstanding consistency will do the 21 year-old’s prospects the world of good.
The remainder of the moves confirmed so far are no less interesting despite their diminishing likelihood of reaping immediate rewards. Certainly, Kasey Palmer’s year at Huddersfield Town will be scrutinised closely to see if he can take his penchant for the spectacular and build upon it in the professional game, whilst Tomas Kalas will also spend the season in the Championship with Fulham in a bid to get a promising career back on track. Tammy Abraham has joined them in the second tier at Bristol City and, having only ever scored goals at every age group, he must now display the ability to do it against men.
Longer shots exist in the form of Nathan (Vitesse again), Alex Kiwomya (Crewe Alexandra) and Mitchell Beeney (Crawley Town) but all three have time on their side and, at the very least, have a chance of putting themselves in the shop window to have a long and productive senior career. Matej Delač, on the other hand, is almost 24 and his sojourn to Royal Excel Mouscron represents his tenth temporary departure from Chelsea since 2009, and it might well be his last.
Joao Rodriguez (Independiente Santa Fe) and Wallace (Gremio) have returned to their native countries in South America to try to figure themselves out and, with most of August still to come, it’s the deals that are yet to be made that are of particular interest ahead of the big kick-off.Dominic Solanke will score goals wherever he goes and has been linked with moves both home and abroad, being mentioned in dispatches alongside both Musonda and Boga back in Spain.
Patrick Bamford too has seen his name bandied around in connection with Betis as well as Celtic and a host of Championship clubs after a dismal year in the Premier League. Now almost 23, it would be easy to forget that he was building a burgeoning reputation prior to wrong turns at Crystal Palace and Norwich, but it would take just one good decision and a handful of goals to reclaim his share of the spotlight in 2016-17.
Midfielders Marco van Ginkel and Mario Pašalić did enough last season to boost their respective stocks yet neither have come close to featuring in Conte’s plans this summer. Pašalić at least has been injured since February with a serious back injury and has remained in Croatia for extensive rehabilitation, but Van Ginkel has spent a summer in limbo as PSV make overtures to bring him to the Philips Stadion permanently. Expect traction on that one to build.
Also on the road out of Chelsea are Kenneth Omeruo, Christian Atsu and Marko Marin, who have endured their share of disappointments down the years. Omeruo is believed to be closing on a move to Besiktas after proving himself capable of handling the Turkish league at Kasimpasa last year (although curiously he may be extending his Blues contract at the same time…) whilst wingers Atsu and Marin can be had by a good home to the first interested bidder. Cagliari’s name has cropped up for Atsu as have several Turkish clubs, where Marin may also return having impressed with Trabzonspor.
Izzy Brown, Islam Feruz and Lucas Piazon are still young enough to be believed in but each will need to do better than a year ago, whilst Cristian Cuevas, Jordan Houghton (on the verge of joining Doncaster), Danilo Pantic, Jamal Blackman, Alex Davey and Michael Hector are all expected to be plying their trade somewhere else in the coming weeks and months. Todd Kane, a stand-out for NEC Nijmegen in last season’s Eredivisie, suffered an unfortunate torn cruciate ligament in April and will not be returning to action until the late autumn at the earliest.
And what of Victor Moses, Juan Cuadrado and Papy Djilobodji? They’ve all been part of Conte’s group over the past fortnight to mixed success but only Cuadrado figures to have a real shot of sticking around such is Conte’s opinion of him. In the absence of a buyer’s market for the other two, you might as well draw a name from a hat to find out where they’ll play this season.
A host – a veritable host – of other youngsters could otherwise feasibly get their first taste of the world of adult football if things fall into place too. To that end, keep your eyes on Jake Clarke-Salter, Fikayo Tomori, Fankaty Dabo, Charlie Colkett, Jay Dasilva, Dion Conroy and Kyle Scott for interesting developments before August is out. The Football League’s emergency loan window has finally been scrapped, meaning anyone who doesn’t secure a move before the transfer deadline must then wait until January, and so the right move really has to be the right one.
The loan programme at Chelsea has grown into a beast the size of an entire club, demanding the coaching services of Eddie Newton, Paulo Ferreira and Joe Edwards plus a strong supporting cast. The Blues are arguably ahead of the curve in operating on such a scale, regardless of the questionable and absurd (and questionably absurd) aspects of things, and one only has to look at Manchester City and Liverpool to see how they are expanding similar ideas.
You can keep up with absolutely everything you’ll need to know about the #CFC #LoanArmy all season here at TheChels.net and on Twitter @chelseayouth. If we’re lucky, some of those misfit toys may finally find the love they deserve.