In general, people seem quite happy with Chelsea’s 2022 summer transfer window. A little over 50 per cent in our incredibly uber-scientific poll rated it a “smiley face”, while the “grinning face” and the “neutral face” each got about one-fifth of the vote. Only six per cent were unhappy or very unhappy.
The Deadline Day departure of Billy Gilmour however was probably one of the least popular moves of the window, especially with Brighton & Hove Albion paying less than £10m. The 21-year-old tiny yet feisty midfielder quickly became a fan favorite when he burst onto the scene in 2020, with his back-to-back performances against Merseyside teams on the Eve of the COVID-19 Pandemic sticking strongly in the mind in the 100 football-less days that were to follow. And while Billy’s loan to Norwich City last season was hardly a rousing success, it was still a decent foundation from which to keep building his Premier League credentials.
Alas, he will continue doing so at Brighton, and without coming back to us next summer ... or the foreseeable future with Chelsea lacking a(n official) buy-back option.
So what transpired behind the scenes that would eventually subject us to the utter silliness a “Happy Gilmore” reference? (That’s a classic, kids!)
Thomas Tuchel explained it thusly:
“We had high hopes [for him] and he played for us in the first half a year when I was at Chelsea. He played some important matches for us and looked for a new challenge that did not go so well for him with Norwich.
“We expected more, he expected more so it was like, without pointing a finger, but it is difficult also for him and for us to not succeed, to not play at Norwich, to be relegated and then suddenly be a central midfielder for Chelsea and competing for top four and for every title.
“There’s a huge step in between so we were looking, the ideal solution would have been maybe that he goes again on loan as the concurrence is huge for us in central midfield and we felt like he is not the age where he can live again with five or six or seven matches during a whole season to fulfill his own potential so ideally, it would have been another loan.
“Billy did not want to go on loan, it was a no-go for him so in the end, we agreed to a sale.”
It’s certainly a familiar conundrum, and it indeed had been painfully obvious from the start of preseason that Gilmour was simply not going to be given a shot at the first-team this summer. I can only surmise that we then tried to convince him that a second season away on loan would be the right move, but it’s tough to blame the kid for not wanting to go down that route. He’s not the first, and he won’t be the last to make this choice.
Chelsea’s sudden decision to bring in another midfielder on Deadline Day however did cast this decision in a different light. But as Tuchel says, it wasn’t just about having another pair of legs, it was about having the right mix of pairs of legs. And the glaring hole among our midfield options was another defensively minded player, which Zakaria in theory could indeed fill. And the structure of his deal makes him a low-risk option for the club — much like Saúl’s loan was last year (with Conor Gallagher the player going out on yet another loan at that time). Perhaps Gilmour could’ve followed a similar pathway, but he made what looks to be a safer, better choice for his own career.
Zakaria, who has taken Callum Hudson-Odoi’s No.20 shirt, adds a bit of versatility as well, always a welcome quality in any backup.
“This was maybe a last-minute or last days option. That was kind of on top of what was needed. He gives us in my opinion a lot of options because he has a lot of speed, height and physicality to bring to this group. He can play in a back three.
“He played for Mönchengladbach in a back four as a central defender even, he can play in a back three as a defender. He can play both positions in midfield.
“He can play at even wing-back because he is fast enough and has the volume so I think giving the risks that you mentioned with Saul, he has a bit more positions to play in and a bit more of a physical profile hopefully.”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: Evening Standard
We can only hope that all this works out as well as everyone has imagined it for themselves that it would.