Now that Chelsea have hired a permanent manager (or coach) to replace Jose Mourinho, we can officially turn our attention to the players the club should acquire in order to make their absence from the Champions League a short one. We'll undoubtedly be linked to quite a few names between now and the end of the summer, with Antonio Conte's Italian background leading to quite a few rumors of interest in Serie A players.
Already, we've seen quite a few transfer rumors, so it's probably time to start taking a look at what some of these players would bring to the table. Up first, one of the more believable ones that I've heard...Roma's Miralem Pjanic.
Pjanic is likely a name that most readers are familiar with, as he's been linked to La Liga and Premier League sides for what seems like forever. The 26-year old made his debut for Bosnia and Herzegovina at the tender age of 18, and has been playing at a pair of the more recognizable clubs in Europe over that span.
Miralem began his career at Metz, a smaller club in France, but after just one season as a first team regular, earned a transfer to Olympique Lyon. He spent the next three seasons at the seven-time Ligue 1 champions, before completing an €11 million move to Roma.
Since joining the Serie A side Pjanic has developed into one of the more intriguing player in Europe, and has been linked to top European clubs like Real Madrid, Chelsea, and Barcelona, as well as others, such as Liverpool. Since the Conte rumors began, the Chelsea links have picked up, and the Blues now look like the favorites to land the playmaker this summer.
When watching Roma play, it's easy enough to see why Pjanic would be of interest to Conte. The 5'11" (180cm) midfielder can play a number of roles, and his flashy style is impossible to miss no matter where on the pitch he's playing. I asked Kirsten Schlewitz, who follows both Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serie A far more closely than I ever have, to share a few thoughts on Pjanic and how he'd fit in the Premier League:
Having just turned 26, Miralem Pjanic (that's more pee-yawn-ich than pjanic!, sorry y'all) is having the best season of his career - so what better time for Chelsea to buy him? He's always been a decent playmaker and a key cog in the Roma side for the past five years, but he's finally blossomed this season.
One of the most visible signs of his progress are the number of goals scored, having notched nine in Serie A already. He's always been an impressive free-kick taker, but now his goals look to be increasing thanks to improved shot selection. That's the sort of thing that's likely to get better over the next few years, not worse. I also doubt he's going to be adversely affected by the higher tempo of the Premier League, even if he's not the fastest player around. It's not a perfect comparison, but think Luka Modric moving to Real Madrid (also at the same age). Similar styles, and likely similar ability to adapt and then thrive at a higher level.
Modric is certainly an interesting comparison, and while it wasn't one that came to mind immediately, it's pretty apt. I'd have probably described him as the player we all hoped Oscar would become, which I suppose amounts to more or less the same thing.
As Kirsten noted, Pjanic is an awfully good good playmaker that's one of the elite set piece takers in Europe. He's also got an excellent first touch, and likel quite a few guys in the durrent Chelsea squad, has the ability to dribble past defenders. He wouldn't be one of the faster members of the Chelsea squad (though he's not Cesc Fabregas, either), but he's capable of making something out of nothing with a single pass, and has become a legitimate goal scoring threat, as well.
For the most part, he plays a deeper midfield position with Roma, similar to what we're used to seeing from Cesc Fabregas, or what Andrea Pirlo used to provide for Conte's Juventus sides. Unlike that pair, however, Pjanic has shown the ability to play just as effectively in a more advanced role, making it conceivable that he'd work very well in conjunction with Fabregas, as opposed to being just an alternative.
One big negative of Pjanic's game is his propensity to accumulate cards at a somewhat alarming rate. Domestically, he has already racked up ten yellows and a red this season, and I'm a bit concerned that those totals would actually increase with the faster pace of the Premier League.
If Chelsea are serious about landing the 26-year old, they probably shouldn't have too much difficulty negotiating a deal. The player reportedly has a €40 million release clause built into his contract (which will have two years left to run at the completion of the campaign), a reasonable figure for a player of his caliber, even without Champions League football money available. They could obviously offer a much larger wage than Roma, as well, and while they won't have Champions League football to offer this season, they're almost certainly a safer bet to have it going forward than Roma would be, so that likely wouldn't be a hindrance to the Blues.
If Miralem Pjanic is at or near the top of Antonio Conte's wishlist, I'd expect to see him in London come August.