The sale of Bertrand Traoré to Lyon this week followed a similar pattern as many Chelsea departures before him. Traoré was a highly rated youngster, who went out on loan to a European club where he impressed, and was then sold off for a profit. The cost of €10m was somewhat surprising considering Traoré’s young age and bags of potential, but nonetheless his sale wasn’t earth-shatteringly unique. It’s become the norm for Chelsea to flog their most talented youngsters, with the likes of Dominic Solanke and probably Nathan Aké reinforcing this.
Solanke realised he wasn’t going to receive the first team football he craved and departed for Liverpool. The club he chose to join causes some confusion. What are the chances Solanke pushes Daniel Sturridge, Danny Ings, Divock Origi out of the first team? Even if Jürgen Klopp prefers him, the German manager has played Roberto Firmino in a false 9 position before, and the arrival of Mohammed Salah means another player well ahead of Solanke in the pecking order. The 19-year-old may well rue the choice to join Liverpool, but certainly won’t regret leaving Chelsea. He was never going to get a proper chance, and he knew that all too well.
The Blues stand to make around £3-10m via a tribunal for Solanke’s exit. Add in the money received for Traoré and the rumored amount for Aké from Bournemouth, and the club will be sitting on £30m from sales of players who weren’t in their plans.
One has to wonder, was there anything at all they could have possibly done to become a part of that plan? Aké started in an FA Cup semi-final against arch-rivals Tottenham, and despite being at fault for one of the opponent’s two goals, he was arguably the best defender for Antonio Conte’s side on that day. He showed good awareness, chose his tackles well, dealt with Harry Kane well for most of the game, and was also calm when in possession. Yet, with talk of £60m-men Alex Sandro and Virgil van Dijk, what sort of future is there for Aké at Chelsea?
Bournemouth will be drooling at the prospect of bringing in a player who impressed them immensely while on loan last season. There’s hope that a buy-back clause can be inserted into any deal, should Aké live up to whatever level of potential would make Chelsea sit up and take notice. In that regard, the club don’t want to repeat past mistakes. But why let him go in the first place?
Much like Traoré, Aké has the talent to become a regular team member. We can debate endlessly why Chelsea don’t offer their young studs a chance to sink-or-swim in the first team, but the general consensus is that the academy members aren’t there to become Chelsea players. They’re there to be groomed, sent out on loan and then sold to finance moves for more experienced players from other teams. Chelsea haven’t done much to alter that narrative, and selling off Traoré for a measly €10m proves that.
Traoré didn’t come from the academy but he’s only 21 years old and has impressed when given the opportunity. He scored four goals in five games during a spell of multiple appearances under Guus Hiddink, and after last year’s success with Ajax, the hope was he would return to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea need reinforcements in the attacking department, and Traoré would have been a good squad player to have in the ranks. But the damage had already been done as Bertrand himself revealed in his first media appearances as a Lyon player.
"It was time to land in a more stable project, considering my age and my development, it was the moment for me to leave Chelsea.”
"I could stay and play games, knowing full well that a starting place was never going to come. I was trained at the club, I did everything, two seasons ago I even pushed the holders a bit, but we all saw what happened. I made a very good preseason and finally I was forced to go on loan, I did not want to repeat the same scenario this season.”
"It was time to look for stability in a club where I would play a leading role, where I would be a 'cadre' of the team, I think that here I can do everything to be among these sort of people."
-Bertrand Traoré; source: Star
Which brings us back to Aké. If the player himself pushes for a move, there’s little the board can do but accept his wishes. Though, perhaps if he was reassured he would get his chance, even just as a part of a five-defender committee as Chelsea deal with a heavier fixture list, then he might be content to stay. David Luiz, César Azpilicueta, and Gary Cahill aren’t going anywhere. The talk of bringing in a Virgil Van Dijk or Leonardo Bonucci complicates things further, but when there’s four competitions to deal with, having 4-5 players for 3 positions is required.
There’s no doubt Van Dijk is one of the Premier League’s best defenders, but from what Aké produced last year while at the Cherries, there’s an argument to be made he could become just as good with just as much playing time. Unfortunately, as with Traoré and so many others before him, it looks as if Chelsea have decided the answer to that question already.