Out of the discarded players of Chelsea in recent years two must stick out for their incoming manager Antonio Conte: Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku. Chelsea banked a combined £45m selling that pair and it will take significantly more to get them back. Conte used Carlos Tevez as something of a battering ram and focal point at Juventus and Lukaku was surely envisaged to do the same when he first signed by Chelsea.
Lukaku’s 18 Premier League goals is superior to Costa, Hazard and Oscar combined. Chelsea seem to have heeded the Lukaku lesson with Bertrand Traore getting more chances whether by design or due to their injury problems.
Kevin De Bruyne is exactly what Chelsea are lacking, he’s a penetrative midfielder with a superb shot and has huge game intelligence. The manner in which he took his shot in the game against PSG just underlines how lethal it is. Even in today’s vastly inflated prices £54m is looking good value with 6 Premier League goals and 9 assists. De Bruyne is also very fluid and can play in many systems a trait Conte likes in his players and squad.
David Luiz is probably least missed and the £50m was tremendous business. Felipe Luiz has re-established himself at Athletico Madrid and didn’t seem to settle in London. Petr Cech didn’t wish to while away the remaining years of his playing life on the bench so that was perhaps practical too.
The creative players Juan Cuadrado and Mo Salah have played extremely well in Italy since being released by Chelsea on loan/sale. Juan Cuadrado has 3 goals for Juventus and Mo Salah has 11 goals for Roma, while Andrei Schurrle has 5 goals for Wolfsburg. One can always argue they are easier leagues or leagues they are previously familiar with in the case of Cuadrado and Schurrle, but it’s hard to dismiss the idea that they deserved more time at Stamford Bridge to try and blossom.
Football is a very speculative game when un-earthing talent, and keeping 4 or 5 prospects to un-earth one Kevin De Bruyne is considered well worth it by top Premier League clubs.
Juan Mata has delivered for Manchester United with 15 Premier League goals and 12 assists over 2.5 seasons and having been Chelsea’s player of the year two years in succession, he was another talent Mourinho should have kept. The creative over-burden on Eden Hazard has been over-bearing this year and Mata had an astonishing record for assists at Chelsea. Willian, Oscar, Pedro do not have his creative edge or game intelligence, or his nous in pressure situations. In today’s market the £35m he was sold for meant he was well worth keeping as an option. He was a model professional and never moaned about being sat on the bench.
Robert Huth has had a better season than any Chelsea centre-back with Leicester conceding only 32 Premier League goals all season with Huth keeping 13 clean sheets in the process. Nathan Ake (although only on loan from Chelsea) has played well for Watford, and proven his versatility and arguably deserves a chance at Stamford Bridge ahead of Matt Miazga who played last week.
The lesson for Chelsea is not to be so abrupt in assessing talented acquisitions, the tale of Harry Redknapp trying to sell Gareth Bale to Birmingham City from Spurs for £2.5m in October 2009, is a case in point. Much like the De Bruyne story, Bale’s trajectory has been phenomenal from those poor/average days.
Chelsea have to now be very conscious of acquiring a reputation where new talent will be reluctant to go there due to their high churn rates. You start attracting the mercenary footballer only interested in the wages much like their experience with Winston Bogarde the Dutch international, (9 appearances 2000-2004 in four years, £40,000 per week equates to almost £1m per each appearance.)
Chelsea have the hugely remunerated Radamel Falcao offering hardly anything and yet cut their losses on some supremely talented players extremely quickly, presumably to save wages; it’s a strange contradiction. With 30 players on loan who history predicts are unlikely to see much game time at Stamford Bridge, Antonio Conte has to reconfigure the entire process of talent acquisition, talent assimilation and inject a better blueprint.