Europe’s most notorious loan empire has just finished another record-breaking season, but it might also be on the verge of finally downsizing.
Over the past ten months, 39 players have played more than 80,000 combined minutes over 1050+ matches, scoring 99 goals, keeping 37 clean sheets, winning titles, securing promotion, lifting cups, and experiencing the heartache of relegation. It’s a familiar story to regular readers of the Loan Report, with Chelsea having expanded their operations beyond Europe and out into the rest of the world over the past few years.
Often ridiculed yet increasingly imitated, there is annual speculation at just how much longer the Blues can maintain such an expansive programme, and whether or not it truly serves a purpose beyond the balance sheet. Chelsea, for their part, have steadfastly continued with their plan, and reaped some rewards, but the departure of Michael Emenalo in November could have a dramatic impact on the future of the Loan Army.
As the driving force behind the strategy, the former Nigerian international made sure that the dozens of prospects farmed out every season were adequately supported by a dedicated team led by Eddie Newton, and it was only this time last year that he briefed club staff on increasing the coverage and establishing the importance of the group. It was a fairly fruitful year that followed too, as Marco van Ginkel and Mason Mount made regular headlines in the Netherlands, Ruben Loftus-Cheek parlayed a Premier League season into a World Cup call-up with England (whilst Tammy Abraham earned his first senior cap after an impressive start at Swansea City), Michy Batshuayi boosted his reputation and price tag with a goal-filled few months at Dortmund, and a number of others saw their stars ascend.
Yet, the same question is raised at this time every year; just how much does this all matter? Time is an endless circle for a Chelsea loanee, as 28 of the 39 had already spent time away from Cobham before 2017-18 had even kicked off, and will no doubt have pondered what lies ahead in preparation of potentially doing so again this summer.
Or perhaps not? The upheaval at the club has not been restricted to Emenalo leaving, as a streamlined scouting team led by Scott McLachlan and a withered-down chain of command where Marina Granovskaia wields almost unrivalled power hints at a vision shift, and that’s all without taking the imminent departure of Antonio Conte into account. It now looks as if Chelsea are finally prepared to cut ties with the majority of the more speculative, mostly foreign signings, who have never made so much as an academy appearance in blue and have struggled to make sufficient progress.
They include, but are not limited to Victorien Angban, Cristian Cuevas, Michael Hector, Nathan, Kenneth Omeruo, Danilo Pantic, and Joao Rodriguez, whilst some of the older players developed at home will also be given the opportunity to move on. Jordan Houghton, Fankaty Dabo, Tomas Kalas, Todd Kane and Lucas Piazon represent those that have carved out a respectable professional career for themselves, but are well into their 20s now, and are better served by making a clean break.
By whittling down the field to refocus predominantly on younger academy talent still in need of refinement – Jeremie Boga, Izzy Brown, Charlie Colkett, Charly Musonda, Iké Ugbo et al – they can spread their resources more evenly over a smaller crop of fifteen to twenty hopefuls, and ensure that they’re given the best advice and put in the best place for them to take the next step. With due respect to the work being done, roughly one-third of the moves made every season utterly fail and, whilst the player themselves has to assume responsibility for some of that, decisions like sending Lewis Baker to Middlesbrough, Jake Clarke-Salter to Sunderland and Josimar Quintero to Russian Premier League side Rostov seemed doomed from the outset.
What can we expect in terms of moves next term? Some will have to reset and try again at the same level after not playing as much as they would have liked last season; the likes of Kasey Palmer, Fikayo Tomori, Kenedy and maybe even Abraham. For Mount, Jay Dasilva, Matt Miazga, Ola Aina, Nathan Baxter etc., they’ll be seeking a bigger challenge; Dasilva could look at a Championship move, whilst Mount and Miazga have attracted interest from the Bundesliga, with Werder Bremen believed to be very keen on taking Mount for a year. The calls for Mount to be integrated back into the first team fold under whoever replaces Conte have increased in volume during a stellar last month in Arnhem but, ever the pragmatists, Chelsea are more likely to be inclined to take the longer road where available.
In any event, with Mount and Miazga leaving, our friends at Vitesse will have some gaps to fill, and new manager Leonid Slutskiy has been extremely active over the past six months preparing for his next role by taking in plenty of academy matches in England whilst watching on with interest in Arnhem. Seeking a new left-back, striker, and central midfielder, don’t be surprised if Juan Castillo attracts interest from his native league and, although Slutskiy might also want his compatriot Daishawn Redan, it’s more likely Chelsea look to kick-start Ugbo’s development with a season in the Eredivisie after struggling at Barnsley and Milton Keynes.
That moves us nicely towards other members of the Development Squad who are about ready to dip their toes into professional waters; Dujon Sterling, Josh Grant, Trevoh Chalobah (who has also received plenty of interesting offers, notably from Germany), Jacob Maddox, Kyle Scott and Harvey St Clair are all approaching that stage of their careers, and although Callum Hudson-Odoi will have clubs queuing around the block for him, one hopes he’ll be involved in the first-team picture at Stamford Bridge instead.
Whether it’s thirteen players or thirty-three out on loan, TheChels.net will always have unrivalled coverage of the Loan Army, and it promises to be a most intriguing off-season.