Earlier tonight we saw some news that Chelsea had been granted permission to speak with 19-year old goalkeeper Jack Butland in advance of a potential move to Chelsea, and that brought up the question of why. I can think of several reasons why this makes all sorts of sense for the club, and thought I'd go ahead and break it down.
Let's just start with the most important point. Jack Butland is a very good goalkeeper. He's starting regularly at the Championship level at the age of 19, and he's probably an upgrade to the first choice goalkeeper of about half of the teams currently in the Premier League. Forget Thibaut Courtois and Petr Cech for the moment, Jack Butland is an excellent player. I don't think there is a single other Premier League fanbase that would be anything but thrilled at being linked to Butland at the price we are hearing mentioned.
A transfer fee of just £3.5 million would seem ridiculously low for a prospect of Jack Butland's caliber, especially when Birmingham reportedly turned down offers of almost double that over the past summer. Buying low is always a good thing, and taking advantage of poor financial management at Birmingham could see Chelsea get a real steal on a top young player. At just 19 with no top flight experience (and playing keeper), he's not going to command much of a wage either.
I've never liked seeing a club using two or more international roster spots on goalkeepers, as one of those players is unlikely to see more than a handful of starts in most seasons. Butland would qualify as homegrown by FA rules and association trained by UEFA rules, and he wouldn't require an FA roster spot for a few seasons because of his age anyway.
He'd Give Chelsea Options
This is where a potential move for Butland becomes very interesting. What exactly would Chelsea do with their goalkeeping surplus? For the moment we're just going to focus on Butland, Cech, and Courtois, as both Ross Turnbull and Henrique Hilario are out of contract at the end of this season*.
*Some of you will ask about Sam Walker, Matej Delac, or Jamal Blackman here. My take? Walker just isn't anywhere close to Chelsea caliber, Delac probably won't ever be granted a work permit, and Blackman is a long, long way from ready for the Chelsea first team.
The interesting thing with this trio is that I'd probably be comfortable with any of them in the Chelsea goal for an extended period of time right now. All three are capable of playing in the Premier League today, so Chelsea will be in good shape regardless of whom they choose to play in net.
Thibaut Courtois has been having a sensational season, so naturally the rumors of interest from some of the biggest clubs in the world have already started. Where Chelsea want to go with the Courtois/Cech situation is still unknown, but Butland would be a perfect compliment to either. Should Chelsea opt to move Cech at some point, they'd now have a second top young keeper should Courtois struggle at Chelsea. This could be exceptionally valuable, as Anders Lindegaard has proven to be at Manchester United while David de Gea was adapting.
Should Chelsea decide to go the other route and move the blossoming Belgian, they'd have done a nice job of replacing him with another ultra talented young shot stopper. Most will (correctly) point out that Courtois is at a much higher level than Butland at the moment, but it's worth noting that Chelsea managed to seal the deal for Courtois before he had the opportunity to become a household name.
This wouldn't necessarily force a move right away either, as Chelsea would still have the option to find a veteran on a short term deal this summer to backup Petr Cech. This would allow them to loan both Butland and Courtois out for another year, continuing their development while building up their value. They are eventually going to have to move either Courtois or Cech though, and Butland makes an awful lot of sense with whichever route they decide to go.
Financial Fair Play
This is where things make the most sense for me, as FFP is going to force Chelsea to change the way they operate a bit. Unfortunately, Chelsea won't be able to spend in the same way that they used to to fill any holes that they have. The days of having world class players backing up world class players at every position are probably over, and the era of rounding out the squad with younger, unproven players is coming.
One of the ways Chelsea can give themselves more spending power is to sell some players for a profit. That's not going to happen very often with players are purchased in their primes, so Chelsea really need to develop enough youth that they have a surplus that they can sell at a profit, and make smart buys on young players that they feel are on the verge of breaking out (see Courtois, Thibaut).
From the reaction I'm seeing all over the internet, I think that my view that this would be a brilliant deal is in the minority. I really don't see the downside to having too many excellent young players, especially when the fee involved is so ridiculously small that it won't hamper Chelsea in any way. Too many options is always a better problem than not having enough, and proactively dealing with future issues is something that I always support. If only Rafa Benitez would do more of that...