As we enter another season in which the amount of players that are on loan from Chelsea (40) completely dwarfs the number of players in their named 2018/19 squad (28), various questions are beginning to get thrown around.
Firstly, is it worth stockpiling all this talent if it never actually materialises into quality on the pitch? Because as it turns out, for every Thibaut Courtois there are five Matej Delacs. Nevertheless, Chelsea continue to make big profits from holding on to a player’s potential for several years. Surely it cannot be ethical to see talent solely as turnover? Lastly, if we flashback to last season there were nightmarish scenes as Lukaku, De Bruyne and Salah all scored against Chelsea in pivotal games. But why were they allowed to leave in the first place?
To dissect such a huge topic we need to back-track to 2003, when Roman Abramovich had just bought Chelsea FC for a fee of around £140m from the long-standing owner Ken Bates. Within a year Claudio Ranieri’s total of 5 players on loan had doubled. Within a couple years, Roman Abramovich appointed his own associates into the club. For instance the ‘associate’ Eugene Tenenbaum was a business partner of the Russian from former their Soviet Union days and was soon appointed as director at the club.
As the acceleration of Abramovich’s business programme came into fruition, Chelsea began to build an established network with notable clubs that served for loan-player development. By 2010, Abramovich had taken the club out of its debt and into a substantial profit margin, when at this time the team had a grand total of 17 players out on loan.
From the excessive list of satellite-clubs that are in consistent business with Chelsea, Vitesse Arnhem has been the most prolific stomping ground for Stamford Bridge prospects. Leeds United and Bristol City also rank highly for receiving Chelsea players on an annual basis. Yet in the last 8 years, Chelsea have loaned an astonishing number of 26 players to East Holland. In theory, the temporary development programme is designed to give youth players a taste of first-team action at a professional standard in the Eredivisie.
However, after it emerged that the two clubs’ relationship had been fostered from shady business dealings between Abramovich and his Russian Oligarch buddy Alexander Chigirinsky. (Who took over ownership of Vitesse mysteriously from former-player Jordania in 2013) It seems that the financial aspect of their alliance is the all-important priority.
Allegedly the takeover of SBV Vitesse’s ownership was overseen by Abramovich’s associates Tenenbaum and Paul Heargen who work with Fordstam Ltd, the company registered as the outright owner of Chelsea FC since 2003. The ‘denied’ joint ownership of the two clubs has given way to a heap of loaned talent deals. Among the real successes from spells at the Dutch-sister club are: Nemanja Matic, Patrick van Aanholt, Tomas Kalas, Christian Atsu, Bertrand Traore and Dominic Solanke. Each of which have generated huge revenue for the club or have gone onto achieve success with other top-tier teams.
However, the likes of Jhao Rodriguez, James Maddox, Bekanty Angban, Gaël Kakuta and Matej Delac are the prospects that go virtually unheard of. Often players are churned out on a continual loop and sadly some of these names have stood as some of the longest serving Chelsea players in the last decade. For example, Matej Delac spent 8 years with Chelsea from joining them in 2010 from Inter Zapresic. The talented goalkeeper had work permit issues and was loaned out 9 times, receiving a just 114 appearances. At Vitesse and other teams, he was never given game-time. Astonishingly, he left this summer to Danish team AC Horsens and at the time he stood as Chelsea’s longest serving player having never actually played for the first team. Likewise Lucas Piazon who has appeared 3 times for Chelsea in 6 years at the club, spoke out in 2016 expressing that his loan move at Vitesse was a troubling period for him:
‘It is not good for any player in my experience — or the experience of the other boys. I don’t see it as a positive thing any more. To be in a different place every year is not good for me at 22.’ [DM, 2016].
The Brazilian then spent time on loan with Fulham in their successful championship promotion campaign in 2017/18 and is current still at Chelsea out with injury. However, his comments taint the seemingly prosperous loan-partner system with clubs like Vitesse.
In recent years, the appointment of former players Paulo Ferreira and Eddie Newton as loan coaches has been intended to give a greater cohesion to the large amount of players on their loan-register. It has even been reported that they have to call in their performance to a senior member of staff and some have even gone as far as suggesting that the loanees have their own whatsapp group. The control exercised by the club seems to document their progression but with little reflection on their future at the club and rather as a commodity for an exchangeable value.
Undeniably, the Blues accrue a steady profit from harnessing talent until they are ready to depart the club. Patrick Bamford, for example, was bought by Chelsea for £1.5m from Forest and sold for a cool £6m to Middlesbrough after 6 years with the club. Ryan Bertrand from youth to a £10m sale or Nathan Aké who was sold for £20m (with a buyback clause of £35m incase they regret it) are all showcase examples of a prosperous loan-investment system.
On the other hand, if we turn our attention to the first team and the developments in the squad in recent seasons, huge amounts are continually splashed on big names. Morata, Drinkwater, Bakayoko, Kepa and Jorginho have all contributed to a negative net spend total of £143.4m in the last two seasons [via transfermrkt]. These figures make it exceptionally difficult to comprehend the point of the effort gone into the loan-development system. This is especially poignant when these names perhaps aren’t as good as the ones they let go in the first place. Reports from 2017 that Chelsea tried to hijack United’s bids for Lukaku for £30m more than they sold him for, suits as an apt epitome of this struggle. A real head-scratcher.
The Chelsea Youth team is undoubtedly one of the best in the world. They have impressed the nation by winning the FA Youth Cup 5 consecutive times with scores in the final of 7-1 and 6-2 in recent years. But since the 2000/01 season Andreas Christensen is the first Chelsea academy graduate to play 90 minutes in 3 consecutive first-team matches. The fact stands that even if there is such indisputable youth dominance, fans remain mystified as to why youth players like Loftus-Cheek aren’t being given first time action.
Hypothetically, as soon as a spell of bad results start to impact the fan base they will look towards youth as the saving grace. Future prospects are one of the most effective tools of mood-lifting, for instance Marcus Rashford relieving Manchester United misery in the 2016 season. However, last season as Kevin de Bruyne thumped home a stunning winner at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea supporters couldn’t help but feel the pain of one of their own returning to haunt. Not for the first time.
Every fan wants to see young talent come through the ranks and with the added pressure of a reputation for squandering big players a difficult stretch isn’t too unimaginable in the near future for Chelsea. The steady income from their vast loan empire may boost funds to soften the blow of recent stellar-signings, but only time will tell if we’ll ever see it translate into young first team players.
Photo: (Chelsea loan destinations just in Europe. Graphic by @AMKFootball)