LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 16: Didier Drogba holds the League Cup aloft as the Chelsea Football Team parade their silverware on an open top bus on the Kings Road, Chelsea, on May 16, 2010 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
All spring we heard about the clearout of long time Chelsea players that was coming this summer, but until the recent rumblings about Yuri Zhirkov we haven't heard too many viable rumors linking Chelsea players to the exits. Eventually we will need to replace a large portion of the squad, so I thought today would be an excellent time to take a look at which Chelsea players are entering the final years of their contracts with the club. It might also give us a look at areas that we may need to address very soon, as the list of expirings is surprisingly long. So here are your walk year players:
Nicolas Anelka - Anelka has been a polarizing figure around the bridge for years. "Le Sulk" has generally been either a figure fans love or they hate, and it was a commonly held belief for a long time that he was incapable of being effective with Drogba. While he's been mentioned as a makeweight in a number of rumors, Anelka has made it clear that he's planning to play out this year for Chelsea and then leave on a free. That's exactly what I expect to happen.
Salomon Kalou - Like Anelka, Kalou has been a polarizing figure here for some time. He's fast, has decent size, is decent in the air, passes well, and is good with the ball at his feet. He just has this slight issue with finishing, and that's never a good trait in a striker. He's a valuable depth piece and has quietly gone about his business, but as one of the few players with resale value he might actually be on the move this summer or come January. If a move for Lukaku materializes, I'd guess that spells the end for Kalou.
Yuri Zhirkov - He was a fairly expensive purchase two years ago but injury issues and quality starters on the left have let us see very little of the Russian. Unlike Kalou, Zhirkov is quite unhappy with his lack of a first team role. I'm almost certain that he'll be departing in the next two weeks, and if the rumored price is correct it will be for a surprisingly large amount of money. Even if the sale to Anzhi doesn't go through, I'd expect the chances of an extension are basically non-existent.
Jose Bosingwa - I can't imagine Bosingwa will be leaving this summer unless we sign a replacement who can step in immediately (such as Van der Weil). I wouldn't be surprised if the plan is to play out the season and see how he fares, hoping he can show enough to remain a viable option for this year as we assess young Wallace at Fluminense (whom we already partially own). It's a very encouraging sign that he's now broken into their first team at the age of 17, and if he continues to impress I'd guess we'd look at an older more established player at right back rather than paying huge money for a younger player with Ashley Cole type potential.
Henrique Hilario - He's still here, as he signed a one year deal this summer. As a third choice keeper, we really could do worse. I'd guess this year is it for Hilario, as one of Thibaut Courtois, Matej Delac (if he can get a work permit), or Jamal Blackman will likely be the new #3 by next season.
Slobodan Rajkovic - Rajkovic is perhaps the most intruiging name on this list. When we bought him at 16, he was the most expensive transfer ever under the age of 18. He clearly has the talent to play in the Premier League and he'd qualify as homegrown, so he'd be ideal depth going forward. If the club can't get a work permit this summer, however, it makes little sense to extend his contract. I'd guess we see either an extension or a permanent transfer before the end of the window depending on the outcome of his hearing.
- Didier Drogba - Drogs has been one of the best forwards on the planet for many years. At age 33, Drogs is likely to be at the point of his career where he can no longer anchor the line every single match. That said, he's still a very effective player and seems to be on the verge of extending his contract for one more season. I'd be very happy with that development, as the drogbazooka has been my favorite Chelsea player of the Abramovich era. Seeing him in another shirt now would just make me feel dirty.
If the club makes no moves to extend any of these 7 players, we'll have quite a few holes to fill next summer. We'd also potentially have 6 open roster slots for players who aren't "homegrown", so many moves would be a lot less complicated. I'd expect to see that number drop to 4 between the likely Drogba extension and seemingly inevitable addition of a midfielder combined with a Zhirkov sale, but that is still likely going to lead to an active summer of 2012. For anyone wondering why we've been so quiet this summer, this look at these expiring wage bills may help to explain it.