There were 29 players on the plane to Los Angeles to begin Chelsea’s preseason tour of the USA. By the time the team arrived in Las Vegas a few days later, those numbers swelled to 32. And while some were injured or unfit, and some were fresh arrivals who were just getting acclimated, that was clearly way too many players for one team. And so, the decision was made to cut that down to 28 — still a lot, but a bit more manageable.
This was Thomas Tuchel’s explanation as well when quizzed about it today as Chelsea began the second week of the tour in Orlando, FL.
“It is never easy and I didn’t like to do it because everyone deserves to stay with the squad, but we had a very big squad already and then players came additionally on top. [...] In the end we had to take the decision to keep the quality high in training so we decided for 24 players as a maximum and that’s why we went a bit smaller.”
Now obviously 24 is not 28, but a few players are still on individual fitness training, and the four goalkeepers are on their own anyway, so it just about balances out.
The problem is of course not that the squad was cut down, but the identity of the players who were sent away. We didn’t send, for example, Ross Barkley or Kenedy or Malang Sarr or Emerson away. Instead, we sent three senior-ready kids to train with the Development Squad, and sent one back to England under the guise of an injury, which may be real but is also quite clearly inconsequential beyond just right this very minute.
“Armando had to travel home. He had a little accident in training. He twisted his ankle and he needs further examinations and treatment in London. It did not make sense to just have him as an additional player because we need all capacities of treatment for the guys who are actually fit and on the pitch so the best way for him to get the best treatment and as soon as possible back on the pitch was to leave for London.”
“[And] some players like Kovačić are not fit again to train with the group so we cut it down and sent some young players to the reserve team who are also in America. It’s a very difficult decision because nobody deserved to go. I would have loved to have had everybody here because Tino, Harvey and Billy had trained at a very high level and it would also have been nice to see them in some matches.”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: Evening Standard
Even if Billy Gilmour, Tino Anjorin, Harvey Vale, and Armando Broja aren’t necessarily ready to be part of the Chelsea first-team this season, they surely have a much greater chance of being ready in the future than Barkley, whom we’re trying to give away, or Kenedy, who barely sniffed the pitch after his recall in January, or Sarr, who continues to not impress, or Emerson, who didn’t even want to be here. Or Batshuayi or Alonso or even Azpilicueta, if he’s leaving anyway.
Last month Chelsea extended Billy's deal by a year to 2024. If he goes on loan again this year, the club will be in the same position next summer but without being able to deny him the supposed leverage that comes with going into the final year of his contract. https://t.co/GICquA7sRQ— Chelsea Youth (@chelseayouth) July 18, 2022
And that’s before we add the homegrown factor into the equation (even if Gilmour joined “only” as a teenager from Rangers as opposed to at a very early age like the others). Having them stay (and play) with the first-team instead of the “deadwood” might not convince these four to stay in the end, but at the very least it would send the correct message to those coming up next in the Academy — that not only do we talk about giving chances to the kids, but we do actually give chances. And not just token chances either!
I'm not gonna do this again but when Mount and James were added to the first team squad, Chelsea still had Pedro, Bakayoko and Zappacosta under contract while in a transfer ban. There is always a choice, you either want to or you don't. https://t.co/bfyU2STbhh— Chelsea Youth (@chelseayouth) July 18, 2022
Granted, things are looking good in the case of Conor Gallagher. And Ethan Ampadu and Levi Colwill are still with the team. (For now.) And we already have a fairly strong and quite impactful Academy contingent with Mason Mount, Reece James, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and Trevoh Chalobah (and Ruben Loftus-Cheek). And also had Andreas Christensen until just recently, and Tammy Abraham and Fikayo Tomori not so long ago. But it could be even better, and there’s little reason to not make it better.
This ownership transition — right now, this year — is the perfect time to set a new overarching direction for the club, a clear plan to truly start utilizing the Academy and build the first-team squad. There may be no Raheem Sterlings or Kalidou Koulibalys in the youth academy, but there are plenty of Barkleys, Kenedys, and Sarrs.