Ben Chilwell completed his move to Chelsea on Wednesday, with the Guardian reporting the fee as £50 million. This will make him the third most expensive left-back of all time, behind Lucas Hernandez (£70m) and Benjamin Mendy (£52m), albeit the former is considered a centre back by many.
A fair comparison is Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who joined Manchester United for the same fee last summer. With 99 Premier League appearances under his belt, Chilwell is much more experienced than the right-back was at the time of his big money move. He had played 42 times in the League for Palace.
Although it can be argued that the deal for Chilwell is a better than the Wan-Bissaka one, both players’ transfer fee increased due to their passport. A consequence of squad registration rules has been the emergence of a British premium, with homegrown players attracting bigger fees. This is increased further if they have international caps to their name.
Nicolas Tagliafico, Alex Telles and Sergio Reguilon were all linked to Chelsea, but Chilwell was preferred, despite the higher fee. Their recent youth drive under Frank Lampard makes it less pressing to sign British players. However, with plenty of overseas investment this summer, Chilwell’s arrival will prevent any squad registration issues in the future.
The arrivals of Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner have excited Chelsea supporters, but the left back position needed to be rectified. Lampard will be hoping that Chilwell can secure the shirt for years to come. At the age of 23 with 11 England caps to his name, there is belief that he can develop further in addition to improving the starting eleven now.
Wan-Bissaka was discussed above and there are further parallels to draw between the two young English full-backs. While the Manchester United full-back is excellent defensively and limited in the attacking half, Chilwell is the opposite. His main critics have focused on his defensive frailties and this will concern Blues’ supporters, as their main weakness is at the back. That said, Wan-Bissaka has shown improvement in attack during the course of the last 12 months. It will be hoped that Chilwell can show similar development in his defensive work when stepping up to a bigger club.
Chelsea have had major issues at left-back over the past campaign. Lampard has not trusted either Marcos Alonso or Emerson Palmieri. In terms of his attacking quality, Chilwell should be able to replace Alonso sufficiently. According to FB Ref (powered by Statsbomb), the Spaniard averaged 0.38 goal creating actions and 2.96 shot creating actions per ninety minutes. Meanwhile, Emerson didn’t contribute a single goal or assist and averaged 2.46 shot creating actions per ninety minutes.
For Leicester, Chilwell averaged 0.27 goal creating actions and 2.35 shot creating actions per ninety minutes. This was across a larger sample size, as he played more often than either of the Chelsea left backs, showing an impressive consistency.
Few players can match Alonso’s attacking output, but he struggles to thrive as part of a back four. That is one of the key reasons why Lampard wanted to sign a starting left-back. Chilwell has the energy and work rate to perform in a back four. This is the role that he has played the majority of his minutes at Leicester City. Chelsea need their left-back to overlap and add a creativity with Christian Pulisic moving into central areas. Their new signing will have no issues providing that.
As touched on above, the worries with Chilwell are defensive and he will need to improve that quickly. Chelsea conceded more than any other top half team last season. They can’t afford a similarly poor season at the back. Lampard will be hoping that more consistency in selection on that flank will lead to an improvement, even if the 23-year-old isn’t the best defender.
In 2006, Chelsea signed Ashley Cole, the England left-back at the time, and he locked down the role for close to a decade. Cole was a master of his craft. Despite arriving as England’s first-choice left-back, Chilwell isn’t in the same class and he will be learning on the job, to an extent, at Stamford Bridge.
It is a huge show of faith from Lampard and the club, as they could have signed a more complete player from the continent. All of the players talked about above were linked with Chelsea and could have been signed for a much lower fee. However, Chilwell was brought in for his knowledge of the Premier League and homegrown status, in addition to his potential.
Chilwell isn’t a £50 million player now, but he shouldn’t be judged as one. The player can’t be at fault for the British premium that exists.
If he can continue to develop, he should become an excellent full-back for Chelsea.