Back at the start of October, at the height of Chelsea’s early season mini-crisis, Antonio Conte talked about how he wasn’t waiting on the January transfer window to find solutions for Chelsea’s problems, even as rumors of another Abramovich-funded shopping spree were starting to emerge. “I don't see an opportunity in January to spend money or change things,” said the Chelsea boss before getting down to work on the new 3-4-3 tactical scheme that proved to be the magic wand that not even he himself believed existed.
As we got closer to January and Chelsea’s fortunes turned around, the need to spend was no longer a major concern. Sure, as with any squad, there was room for improvement, but Conte stressed that we would only go after the right targets, just as in the summer. Ideally, Conte added, if we can “find the right solutions at home” (i.e. among youngsters or loanees), then even better!
And so, it’s perhaps entirely unsurprising that Chelsea’s only additions this month were young players returning or getting recalled from loan. Nathan Aké is the biggest prize, and the 21-year-old versatile defender is expected to contribute both at left wing-back and at center back. He played both positions against Brentford in the FA Cup already before Chelsea rejected an £18m bid for him from former loan-club AFC Bournemouth on deadline day.
Youngsters Kenedy and Charly Musonda have been kept at the club as well following disappointing loan spells in the first half of the season. Musonda was briefly linked with a loan move to AS Roma, but the Giallorossi decided against it. Kenedy meanwhile was linked with a return to Brazil on loan, but that never materialized either. He also played in the FA Cup this past weekend, already signaling Conte’s intent to keep him, while Musonda has been training and traveling with the squad for the past few weeks. Both youngsters should see some playing time in the FA Cup going forward.
Chelsea added one youngster to the Academy, signing free agent Kyle Jameson. The club also made over a dozen loan moves, but that’s par for the course when over two teams’ worth of loanees have to be managed.
The big action was on the outgoing side of the ledger. Chelsea set a new club record sale with Oscar’s £52m (possibly £60m?) transfer to China (Shanghai SIPG) at the start of the month, followed shortly after by Mikel’s free transfer to the Chinese Super League (Tianjin TEDA) as well. Chelsea collected another handsome pile of cash for once highly promising Patrick Bamford, who re-joined Middlesbrough for £6m (plus another £4m is potential add-ons), the scene of his last successes back in 2014-15. At the time of transfer window-closing, Zenit St. Petersburg were still finalizing the signing of Branislav Ivanović. Like Mikel, this latest Chelsea legend to leave us will also do so on a free transfer.
Backup goalkeeper Asmir Begović asked for a transfer as well (with bids of £10m and £12m from Watford and Bournemouth, respectively on the table), but Chelsea were unable to secure a replacement. Both Salvatore Sirigu and Tim Krul joined other clubs on loan, while Diego Lopez and Craig Gordon were happy enough to stay where they were. The backup goalkeeper issue will no doubt have to be revisited in a few months.
So that’s roughly £60m in pure profit for Chelsea, helping to balance the books a bit and set the club up for another big purchase or two in the summer. That should be fun.
Despite the inaction, Chelsea were linked with several players and, by all accounts, we did try to make a couple signings. Schalke 04 confirmed an approach for versatile defender Sead Kolašinac, who’s set to become a free agent at the end of the season, and rumors have it that we bid at least £35m for Celtic’s Moussa Dembélé, who’s likely to be a big star in a future transfer window, perhaps as early as this summer. Slightly less inspiring rumors included Inter’s unused winger Jonathan Biabiany as well as just about any player doing semi-well in Serie A. A few intriguing rumors did slip in, and interest in Franck Kessié is sure to surface again before the end of the season.
No transfer window would be complete without outrageous and far-fetched rumors, with Gareth Bale’s €200m move and anything James Rodriguez-related probably taking the cake there. That’s only scratching the surface of the giant pile of transfer rumor BS that was heaped upon our doorsteps this month of course, and we hadn’t even mentioned the Diego Costa situation (whatever all the nonsense over injury, training, or transfer to China was), the Michy Batshuayi situation (constant exit rumors via loans to wherever; Fernando Llorente involved, too), or the Courtois or the Fàbregas or... Well, you get the picture. You cannot stop Silly Season, you can only hope to contain it.
But now that window has slammed shut and we get a respite ... for a day or two. The summer transfer window is just around the corner!