FanPost

Completing "The Transition"

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via upload.wikimedia.org

In the run up to Chelsea’s League Cup fixture against Arsenal, I thought I’d share my thoughts on what I believe to be one of the biggest issues our club will be facing over the next few years: Completing the final stages of this transitionary phase. This post will be quite a broad one. I will be touching on many interlinked issues, with the goal of gaining a holistic view of where this Chelsea team stands and where it can go from the view of our players.

For the last few years, since the days of Andre Villas Boas and "The Project," Chelsea has been…changing. The much heralded shift away from the Drogba-Lampard-Terry-Cole-Cech spine to a younger, more dynamic team has been in full swing. New heroes, such as Oscar, Hazard, Luiz, Ramires, Mata and others have emerged as the club look to create a new, more aesthetic dynasty. However, much of the old spine remains and, as the summer approaches and contracts begin to run out, Chelsea must think hard about how to complete the transition. Mourinho's recent comments about wanting a new core of players "Made in Chelsea" to spearhead the new generation, coupled with the curtain call of the Old Guard's Chelsea era and the club's commitment to a more financially responsible future, give us clues as to the direction the club is likely to take. It will not be an easy task and we must look to balance several issues:

  1. Creating a core of players who are "Made in Chelsea"
  2. Dampening the negative effect of losing so many experienced players so quickly
  3. Remaining continually competitive for top honours

The Veterans

For nearly a decade now, Chelsea's success has stemmed from a core of players born to bleed blue. 3 Premier League titles, 4 FA Cups, a Champion's League, a Europa League, 2 League Cups, 2 Community Shields and a ton of records along the way; its been quite the haul from Didi Drogs, JT, Super Frank and co. Its been enough to catapult Chelsea Football Club from top 4 challengers to the top table in world football. However, time stands still for no man. Decline inevitably sets in. This, coupled with the club's desire to move towards a more aesthetic style of play, has meant the end of the Old Guard is fast approaching. King Drogba has already departed in a blaze of glory after the Champion's League triumph of 2012. Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and John Terry will all be out of contract in the summer. Petr Cech's time at the club seems likely to be cut short by the indomitable rise of "the Beanstalk from Belgium" and Michael Essien's injuries have curtailed his time at the top of the game. Replacing these legendary players was never going to be easy, and how we do it will determine our success over the next few years.

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via farm7.staticflickr.com

The Talent

However, a golden opportunity has arisen. The decline of the old guard has coincided with the emergence of a set of elite talents the likes of which the Chelsea academy has not seen since the rise of John Terry himself all those years ago. Complementing that, Chelsea’s astute business has seen us identify and sign the stars of tomorrow for just a few million pounds before they explode onto the world stage. I will be focusing only on the midfield and defence/goal in this piece, as that is both where the club finds some of its biggest talents, as well as its departing legends. The players I will be highlighting are Academy trio of Ruben loftus-Cheek, Nathaniel Chalobah and Nathan Ake, as well as the recently acquired Marco Van Ginkel and Emenalo-Woodstock signing, Thibaut Courtois. In these players, we have 2 technically brilliant and physically impressive midfielders in the mould of Michael Ballack, an athletic, versatile Englishmen who did THIS last year, Ruud Gullit's spiritual offspring, and one of the world's top goalkeepers at just age 21.

Now, going from elite talent to Chelsea first team material is no easy feat and there have been many who've not made it before. In the absence of B teams, there are two main routes into the first team squad for English talent*. Firstly, the most common route is through the loan system. This has been extensively used by Chelsea over the last few years, helping the likes of Thibaut Courtois, Nathaniel Chalobah, Ryan Bertrand, Romelu Lukaku, Thorgan Hazard and many more Chelsea-hopefuls prove their worth and gain experience out on the road. On the whole, the loan system is a great one as it allows players to develop at their pace in a less pressurised environment, while gaining valuable experience along the way. However, it is not the only way a player can make the jump up. In some special cases, a player might be more appropriate for what I call the "Apprentice" route; that is, to bypass the loan system and be brought directly into the first team squad to learn, gain experience, and eventually become a key player. This was the route initially earmarked for Marco Van Ginkel before his unfortunate injury and this, I believe, should be the route taken with Ruben Loftus-Cheek. This view has been echoed by others, most recently by Joe Tweeds in his brilliant article on the fantastic Plains of Almeria. Ruben's physical prowess, his incredible technique for such a young player, and his performances against Man City in last season's double header in the USA, all point to him being ready for a similar opportunity to what Van Ginkel was intended to get.

*By English talent, I mean players belonging to English clubs, regardless of their respective nationalities.

Below, I've decided to put a timeline for how I see the final stages of the transition playing out in deep midfield and defence/goal. I have tried to balance the loss in experience and the integration of youth, while keeping Chelsea as competitive as ever.

N.B. I view Nathaniel Chalobah as more of a CB and Ake as a DM in this little exercise, though there's no way to say for sure what their final positions will be long term just yet.

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The Plan

2013/14:

This season so far, Ramires and Lampard have been our two first choice pivoteers, with Mikel as first back up. After that, the two remaining places had been left to one "Apprentice" in Marco Van Ginkel and one experienced veteran in Essien. Marco's devastating injury has vacated his place, so I'd bring Ruben Loftus-Cheek into the 1st team squad to take over this role, starting with today's League Cup match against Arsenal. With a nice run of 7 very winnable Premier League games as well as a decent Champions League game coming up against Steau at home to follow, this really is the time for Ruben to enter the fold. Training with the senior team will hugely help him and a few minutes here and there as well as a few starts across the season, and I'm confident we'll have our very own Paul Pogba on our hands.

2014/2015:

  • Release: Ashley Cole.
  • Resign: John Terry, Frank Lampard, both to 1 year contracts
  • Sell: Petr Cech, one of Michael Essien or Mikel
  • Loan: Nathan Ake, Marco Van Ginkel
  • Bring in: Thibaut Courtois and Nathaniel Chalobah (Internal), LB and CM (external). Luke Shaw and Ilkay Gundogan are my choices

Dependant on whether or not Chelsea can acquire Luke Shaw from Southampton, or someone of similar age and potential, I'd say goodbye to Ashley Cole. This, I feel, will also be the time to say goodbye to Petr Cech who, with two years left on his contract and still one of the best in the world, should command a good transfer fee. Keeping both Cech and Courtois would be nonsensical in my opinion, and Courtois has repeatedly shown he is more than ready. I would however resign John Terry on a 1 year contract, while also bringing back Chalobah to learn from the master, with the view of eventually supplanting him.

As for the midfield, Chelsea lack a world class, tempo-controlling option, so I would look to acquire someone of Ilkay Gundogan's skillset. I would however also resign Lampard on a 1 year contract. Losing Cole and Cech will already cause a massive hit in experience and I think having Lamps and JT in the squad next season will be worth more to the club than just on-field production, especially to Loftus-Cheek and Chalobah. This is sure to be controversial but I'd loan out Marco Van Ginkel as I feel blooding both him and Ruben Loftus Cheek into the squad at the same time would not be wise. Therefore, I'd send him on a rehabilitory /developmental loan with the view of replacing Lampard the following season. I'd also send Nathan Ake on his first loan to gain experience. When all is taken into account, we'd be left with Gundogan and Ramires as first choice in the pivot, Loftus-Cheek and Frank Lampard would battle it out for first back up, with one of Essien or Mikel as 5th Choice, (the other would be sold), providing a more defensively inclined option.

2015/2016:

  • Release: Frank Lampard
  • Resign: John Terry
  • Sell: No one
  • Loan: Nathan Ake
  • Bring in: Marco Van Ginkel (internal)

My hope is that, after 2 seasons with the first team, Ruben Loftus-Cheek's development would be such that he would be pushing the now 28 year old Ramires for a starting role. Top scorer Frank Lampard would depart after an incredible 14 years at the club, with Marco Van Ginkel coming in to replace him as 4th Choice, moving up to 3rd eventually. Nathan Ake would go out on loan for one more year, with the view of being integrated the following year, eventually as 4th Choice, while Mikel would hopefully still be here, offering us that option of a pure holder if we need it. Mikel would most likely have to leave the following season, as we will already have 5 midfielders. With the direction Chelsea has been heading in and with the way football in general is evolving, a physically strong box to box midfielder like Ruben Loftus-Cheek and a defensively solid Deep Lying playmaker sitting just behind a hardworking, compact attacking band would be more than enough against most opponents (Just take a look at Ramires and Lampard this season).

Dependant on the growth of Nathaniel Chalobah and the maturation of David Luiz, as well as the form of the man himself, I would also most likely resign John Terry as I feel his experience and leadership qualities will be invaluable to the young players. Losing both Frank and John in one year would be too much of a risk to the stability of the club. This would be JT's 18th and final year as a player, (18!!), a testament to his determination and incredible leadership qualities.

The Final Result:

To meet the 3 objectives I outlined above, I have:

  1. Identified Chelsea's best young players in midfield and defence/goal
  2. Decided whether they are more suited to the loan system or the apprentice system
  3. Spread the hit on experience over a few seasons, which also ensures we continue to improve every year
  4. Identified two potential external acquisitions to help bring it all together

The end result of this plan would be the integration of Nathaniel Chalobah (in defence), Nathan Ake, Marco Van Ginkel and Ruben Loftus Cheek (all in midfield), and Thibaut Courtois in goal. I have used a staggered approach to releasing the experienced oldies, spread out over three years, while integrating and promoting the kids slowly. There will be plenty of time for the likes of Oscar, David Luiz, Lukaku, Chalobah, etc to emerge as the leaders of this new generation.

Midfield Hierarchy

2013/14

2014/15

2015/16

Final

1st

Ramires

Ramires

Gundogan

Gundogan

2nd

Lampard

Gundogan

Ramires

Loftus-Cheek

3rd

Mikel

Lampard

Loftus-Cheek

Van Ginkel

4th

Loftus-Cheek

Loftus-Cheek

Van Ginkel

Ake

5th

Essien

Mikel

Mikel

Ramires

The incredible thing is that Chelsea have a whole swathe of other bright talents which could all potentially turn out to be that most rare breed of player: one who makes it to the Chelsea first team from the academy. NextGen player of the year 2013 and set piece extraordinaire Lewis Baker has come on massively over the last two seasons and will no doubt be looking to make the jump up. Josh McEachran has shown glimpses of world-class ability ever since Uncle Carlo gave him his chance and, though his development may have stalled a little, you can never count out a player who did THIS only last year. Patrick Van Aanholt, Tomas Kalas, Kenneth Omeruo, the list is huge. Though I have not ruled out any of these players-that would be foolish-I have decided to focus on the 5 I have outlined in this article in midfield and defence as they are the ones I feel who can make the biggest impact and replace some of our legends. In case you were curious, I see Kalas as more of a future Ivanovic replacement and Omeruo as an extra option in defence.

Not since the days a young, red faced John Terry emerged out of the academy to lead us to new heights, have we had a true "Made in Chelsea" lad in the team. Now, we may just end up with a whole bunch of them.

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via upload.wikimedia.org

My hope is that this article will open up some good debate on how Chelsea should go about completing the transition while fulfilling the 3 objectives set out at the start, and I would love to hear some alternative views and strategies. And feel free to recommend this fanpost if you enjoyed it!

Rafi :D

P.S. I tried my best to use only pictures which were free to share, in case I've missed one, I'd just like to make it clear that I do not own any of the media used in this article.

This FanPost was contributed by a member of the community and was not subject to any sort of approval process. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions held by the editors of this site.

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