News on Tuesday confirmed what has long been suspected around Chelsea. Dominic Solanke, unable agree terms on a new contract at the club, will become a free agent on July 1st, and has agreed to join Premier League rivals Liverpool.
The disappointment is palpable yet the predictability of it somewhat tempers the frustration. All paths have been leading up to this since the start of the season as Chelsea’s stance of refusing to indulge teenage contract rebels is nothing new. Ola Aina missed significant portions of last season only to put pen to paper with a month or so remaining, whilst we can go back further to remind ourselves of Fabio Borini’s exile from the then-Reserve team ranks before heading to Roma via Parma, and eventually onto Liverpool and Sunderland.
A formal apology from the written press was issued to Solanke earlier this year following claims that he was seeking £50,000 p/w from the Blues, but it can be taken as fact that the 19 year-old forward was unhappy with both the terms offered and the pathways available at Stamford Bridge, and so the impasse began. Criticism followed, unfair and misplaced for the most part, with claims of ‘having his head turned’ and ‘chasing the money’ as inane and uninformed a pair of cliches as those issuing them.
Conventional wisdom tells us that he should simply have gotten his head down and focused on his craft, working hard for the rewards that would follow if he stayed the course. That’s all well and good and might have once been the case, but this is 2017, where football is a very different animal. As a youngster who has been consistently ahead of the curve – dominating Under-18 football as a schoolboy, reserve team football as a 17 year-old, and playing a full professional season in a top European league at 18 – Solanke knew his place as a sought-after commodity, and had every right to explore his options.
As a free agent commodity to boot, he had his pick of the open market. We’re in the richest period the sport has ever known; clubs have more money than ever before and are not shy in throwing it around. When squad depth options are earning in the region of £100,000 a week, it’s not unreasonable for the best and brightest of the next generation to ask for an appropriate fraction. This is negotiations for dummies; no agent worth his salt is going to undersell his client at a time like this, not least when everyone knows what everyone else is earning.
Even if you disagree with that, Solanke – and others like him – should still be encouraged to seek the most available to them. Their careers are short and their window for maximising and realising their earning potential is brief. One major injury could change it all, just as waiting around for a day that never comes at Chelsea could. The comparison to the man on the street doesn’t always stand up to close scrutiny due to the wildly different numbers involved but lambasting a footballer for disloyalty and seeking a better salary whilst then going about the same themselves seems rather specious and insincere.
The market in this case has valued Solanke higher than Chelsea have, and the discussion of whether he merits it or not becomes irrelevant. For every year spent in their academy, count the many great sacrifices made by him and his family to focus on a target less than 1% of his contemporaries throughout the years will have reached, and the club will be duly compensated at the end of it by a tribunal fee likely to start at £3m and rise depending on his success; more than the player’s career earnings to date too, you may note.
Football fans have a hard time accepting players getting a fair share of the pie whilst the clubs they support get richer directly off them by the second. The academy staff will be saddened by the whole episode, as they’ve been emotionally invested in his journey, but the first team staff will barely blink before dropping £70m on a ready-made first-team striker and, as long as they’re able to do that, the likes of Solanke will always be afterthoughts. Attentions will quickly turn to Tammy Abraham, who everyone ‘rated higher anyway’ of course, but what happens when it’s his turn to face the same dilemma?
As fans, we find it hard to accept that footballers aren’t as attached to the blue shirt as we are, even more when it’s a player who’s come through the ranks. Some of the academy players are Chelsea supporters and most of them feel an affinity towards the club but, at the end of the day, this is their job. Solanke’s not the first to leave like this, and he’s unlikely to be the last, as the landscape for young footballers at bigger clubs is becoming more and more muddied with each passing season.
If they’re being prevented from doing it, they’re free to seek gainful employment elsewhere, and as Solanke moves on, we should wish him a measure of good luck – though as he’ll be playing for a rival you might want to send an altogether different sentiment his way – and hope that one day he can return to Stamford Bridge to make the sort of impact we once thought he might be capable of.