With the transfer window now shut until the summer, our Chelsea legend columnist writes about the influx of exciting new talent, how it reminds him of a time at Stamford Bridge 40 years ago, and he also says farewell to a particular personal favourite Blue…
In this column a couple of weeks ago I picked a Chelsea under-23 team of outfield players that looked very tasty indeed, but that was before we signed Enzo Fernandez and had a real chance to look at David Fofana and Noni Madueke.
It looked impressive before but now it looks like it could be something closer to extraordinary, if and when all or most of these young players flourish together at Stamford Bridge.
In the game against Fulham on Friday there was a temptation to make snap judgments on the ‘new’ team, a temptation that many who should know better noticeably failed to resist. It wasn’t a great performance obviously, just a good one. The introduction of Enzo Fernandez however as well as Mykhailo Mudryk starting his first game - shame he wasn’t feeling very well – in addition to Benoit Badiashile cruising around like an experienced international, was nothing more than a taster of things to come, not the entire banquet.
With Madueke and Fofana also making appearances and hinting at rather good things too, I suppose a win would have led to an explosion of hyperbolic excitement, with ridiculous expectations to boot, and maybe that would have been a bit unfair. We came very close to getting the win however.
Fofana’s effort cleared off the line and of course Kai Havertz, another one of the 23-or-unders, hit the post and was very unlucky.
Adding to the availability
What it did show was promise and I, like a lot of Chelsea fans, can’t wait until everyone is back fit and up to match speed. The reintroduction of Reece James is huge for us obviously, but he clearly needs a game or two under his belt to be firing on all cylinders which hopefully will be very soon.
He’s another 23-year-old and when you add Ben Chilwell’s imminent full return as well, it’s looking close to what we want to see available at last.
I was asked an interesting question on the radio the other day, ‘Isn’t it a problem that the manager Graham Potter has too many choices, too many top players available when everyone is fit and that could make life difficult?’
It was a fair enquiry, as many coaches over the years have said there is a limit to how many top players you can keep happy when there are only 11 starting slots and limited numbers on the bench. So the point is taken, but it also happens to be up there with the very best problems any coach can possibly have. Too many good players? I bet Frank Lampard would have loved that dilemma when he was struggling at Everton a few weeks ago and try saying that to the Southampton gaffer or indeed any manager on the planet outside a very, very few elite clubs.
It is all about the mix now and getting time to find out what and who works together. I am sure I am not the only one who wants to see what a fully fit Mudryk, a settled Fernandez and an unbanned Joao Felix would look like together in the same team for a few weeks in a row. I am not sure when this will happen and it may fit perfectly or it might not, but I would like to see it at some point and I am sure Graham Potter does too.
Millions equals billions
Getting all these young players in together does take me back to my own arrival at Chelsea many years ago. In a very short period of just a few weeks Kerry Dixon, Nigel Spackman, Joe McLaughlin, Eddie Niedzwiecki and myself came into the club with an average age of 22. It clicked immediately and we all were regular first-team starters for years to come.
We did have a couple of advantages over the current crop. We had a pre-season together to get to know each other and we weren’t expected to be at the top of English, European and indeed world football right away. It took us a year to be competitive at the top level in England because of where the club was back then, and that is why I am always willing to give new and especially young players a bit of time to bed in. Okay, on our side of the debate, way back when, we came at a combined cost of less than half-a-million pounds - yes you read that right, it’s not a typo – but these are very changed days in English football. Getting it right in the Premier League is harder these days when you are changing a squad.
So millions in those days means billions now, but in the end it is about building, or in our case rebuilding a squad that will be expected to take us into the next dynasty.
Maybe this is the important thing about Chelsea just now, very few people want to put up with the promise of jam tomorrow, but sometimes it is necessary. It is difficult for some Chelsea fans to be patient, as we have been basically bathing in a swimming pool full of jam for the past two decades, so it is understandable that you might get used to that as the norm. Right now however, the investment looks promising but it is only in the next few months, not the next few games, that we will get a real insight into how close it is to successful.
A final note on a couple of other players. As I write about the youngsters, I refuse to ignore the experienced players too. A perfect example was Cesar Azpilicueta who came on for Reece James against Fulham and was utterly superb. Both he and Thiago Silva will leave huge gaps when they eventually depart. I hope it isn’t for quite some time yet with both of them.
The other of course is Jorginho who has had a career that mixed opinions with fans just about more than any Chelsea player I know from modern history. Well, maybe alongside David Luiz. Like David, I personally adored what Jorginho did for the club both on and off the field, I was a massive fan.
Of his generation, few players have been able to control games the way he did and I will forever salute his talent and his bravery on the ball. I would like to wish him all the best, well maybe all the best after he leaves his current club!