Silence by the board may be golden in the end.
I want to say a big welcome to a new EPL season, the off season looked like it was going to last for eternity, but thank God the new season is here and weekend boredom finally out of the window.
As one would expect, every football team has been spending money in a bid to improve the numbers and quality of their squad (except if you are Spurs of course), ahead of what promises to be one the most keenly contested seasons in the EPL.
The Manchester clubs are at the forefront in England as one would expect, while a team like Everton is also showing it is ready to make the next step.
Outside England, PSG is making a mockery of FFP, and so far I have had a good fun laughing at Barcelona who has loads of cash from Neymar's departure, but are still struggling to get-in decent replacements.
Chelsea Football Club has also bought well, although the fact that we released a couple of veterans last season and also sold/loaned promising youths to satisfy their quest for playing time means we still need to do a little more, before we can conclude our transfer business and be finally ready to go.
For fans observing closely, it is easy to see that model of operations around player recruitment at Chelsea Football Club continues to change (gone are the days of sugar daddy frivolous spending), with the club now showing a great intent to become self-sufficient by trying to spend within its means - a move that is very key for the future of the club.
While most fans desire that Chelsea continues to bring in world class players, like the Verratti`s and the Sandro`s of this world, I think we need to be more realistic with our expectations, especially in the grand context of where the club Is heading. I can guarantee that if we continue on our current trajectory and with a bit of luck, we will be able to buy as many world class players as we need in the near future as a club. But now is the time to be humble and frugal, while also remaining competitive and winning things.
This is where the fine balance exists. Many (Including myself) have been critical of the board with regards to transfers. For me, while I know we have already added quality players to a good team, my concern is that if we do not sign the remaining 2 - 4 players needed for a bit more quality and depth, then it will be as if did nothing because the squad will remain thin and Conte may be hung out to dry if injuries mount in the course of the season.
A good look at our plausible bench against Burnley gives a good sense of how injury to a few players in the starting 11 can alter things significantly, when the squad is thin. Within this context of what the club is trying to do (in terms of success on the field balanced with acute financial prudence), I have been asking myself, what is the board up to in terms of the remaining 'little bit' of our transfer window?
The lack of action is clearly frustrating to fans and even to Conte himself, as expressed in some of his recent interviews. Of course, there are no easy answers to this question, especially since as fans we only have an outsider view of the club's activities. However, what is clear is that while the club will be definitely willing to buy couple of more players, it has decided to wait/pause before making further moves - it has been 3 weeks since we last announced a new signing, even though the squad is obviously thin, a situation further worsened by injury to some of our key players.
Then I asked, what could be the reason for the recent in-action by the board seeing how thin our squad is. The more I thought about it, the clearer it became to me that the club now appears to be focused on bargain hunting for quality players, in a crazy market.
While the top end of the market has gone totally berserk (Neymar sold for €222m, 18 year old Mbappe being quoted at €200m, €100m for Coutinho rejected and Dortmund demanding €130m for a player they bought €13m 2 years ago), interesting options are beginning to gradually emerge at the other end of the market.
I am listing below couple of players very close to the end of their contracts and that looks more than likely to be available for transfers for a variety of reasons:
• Ross Barkley (Contract expires in 2018)
• Oxlade-Chamberlin (Contract expires in 2018)
• Matuidi (Contract expires in 2018)
• Giroud (Contract expires in 2019)
• Llorente (Contract expires in 2018)
• Leon Goretzka (Contract expires 2018 - he is probably off to Bayern already)
• Wilshere (Contract expires in 2018)
• Gibbs (Contact expires in 2018)
There are also some other decent players that appear to have been transfer listed by their clubs and still waiting to find new clubs.
• Sergi Aurier
• Grzegorz Krychowiak
• Ben Arfa
• Andre Gomes (depending on how many players Barca manages to bring in)
• Arda Turan
and so on. While some of these players may not be 'Chelsea quality', but this sample gives a sense of how the last days of the transfer window will likely turn out and for me what makes this transfer window a little different from the other ones is the number of decent players that are close to the end of their current contract with their clubs.
To put it plainly, there will be some sort fire-sale in a couple of clubs, and if we are able to take advantage of that, we will be a good position, so maybe the waiting tactic by the board might lead to an interesting end. Of course, there are risks that things don't work out and we run out of time to get alternatives, but I want to believe anyone with this sort of tactic will already have back-ups planned.
From the list of players, I thought deeply of which combination would make our current team the strongest, while not spending unrealistic amount of money. I have picked just 3 players from this list:
• Ox Chamberlin
Just a brief on these 3 players.
Oxlade Chamberlin: I am sure every fan will have a good idea of why Ox would be a good fit at Chelsea - he is young, versatile, has a good engine and adds to our home-grown quota. Here, the key question that comes to mind is will Wenger sell? - At first, given the rhetoric from Wenger's numerous interviews, I thought no way he sells Ox to Chelsea. But on a more careful thought, I think it makes more sense for Wenger to sell, it makes sense for the player to move and it also makes sense for Chelsea.
Of late, Wenger has played OX has a wingback, but once Mustafi and Koscielny returns, I expect Kolasinac will be the starting LWB (Monreal as back-up), while Bellerin will remain at RWB. Ox will have to compete with these 3 players for a wingback spot and there is no guarantee how that will work out in terms of playing time. Arsenal's central and attacking midfield areas are both loaded, and there is no clear-cut space for OX in those areas.
At Chelsea, we have space for him almost all over. He upgrades Moses at RWB, will compete (and very well) with Alonso at LWB. He is also a capable playing back-up to Hazard as a left forward. If we manage to get him, he will get more minutes here for sure and of course our wage bill has really shrunk so we will probably also pay him handsomely. For me, I think the club can go as high as £35-40 million for Ox, I do not think Wenger will turn down this type of money for a player who will not be a guaranteed starter (unlike Sanchez and Ozil) and who has only one year left on his contract.
Matuidi: The tricky bit here is the player's age - he is 30. But I think he upgrades Matic in all honesty with tonnes of top-level experience (he is still bang on starter for the French national team). This feels like a sort of Makelele signing that could really give us a bit more quality. He currently earns €150,000 per week (£110,000), and I still think he has 2-3 years left at top level. So a 3 year contract (similar to what Man united gave Matic) on Fabregas-like wages (£160,000 per week which comes to like €210,000 per week - that is like a 40% pay rise) should be an attractive proposition in my opinion.
PSG's rumoured asking price is €25m (£20m) and I believe we might still be able to pay a little cheaper (in terms of transfer fees) if the deal is closer to the end of window and if PSG pulls through with their latest push for Fabinho. Will playing time be a concern for Matuidi especially in a World Cup year? - it should not be at all, in my opinion. In fact, he gives us interesting options for a midfield 2 or 3 depending on opposition.
Because of his rugged engine and maturity, he is the sort of player we can pair with any of the remaining 3 midfielders (Kante, Bakayoko and Cesc) and the team will still be fairly solid. In a midfield 3, Cesc can easily be sandwiched between Bakayoko - Kante or Bakayoko Matuidi or Kante -Matuidi. Irony is he will likely be available for only £20m (in line with PSG's rumoured €25m euros asking price), with Juve (who might not be able to match our wage offer) the only real competition.
For me, even at 30, I will take Matuidi at this price and wages than Daniel Drinkwater at £30-35m. I like Daniel Drinkwater and he would be my choice if Matuidi does not work out, but for this team and our CL ambition, I think Matuidi will be the better fit.
Llorente: There is not much to write here - he is Conte's boy. The real question is will Swansea be open to sell and at what price. Again, I don't think Swansea can hold this player. He has just one year left on his current deal, he is 32 and currently earns £35,000 per week. I reckon a 2-year deal from us at fairly higher wages will get this done. At his age, he knows he won`t start all the time (this likely gives Michy a little more breathing space), but he knows he has one last chance to contribute and win something important.
Even though he was important for Swansea last year, I am sure the hierarchy knows that getting £12-15m for him will be an excellent business especially with Tammy already there and showing really good signs. I think the rumoured £30m asking price at the start of the transfer market was bluff.
Rumour has it that once Siggurdsson is sold, Clement intends to bring in Bony and Chadli, which again tells me that even the coach is preparing for more depth in his centre forward position.
These 3 players (Ox - £35-40m, Matuidi - £20m, Lloriente - £12-15m) will cost us around £75m in all and will leave us with a solid squad to fight. Let me mention that these purchases can easily be funded from sale proceed of Matic (£35m) and Costa (£40m - hopefully), so money will not even be an issue and we may not need to bother Roman too much on these ones.
To summarize, while it is totally frustrating that our squad is currently thin and the board seems not to be doing much at the moment, a part of me thinks we might be better off for it in the end if we are able to take advantage of quality bargain opportunities that are begining to emerge. Of course, this means we will have to find way to continue to win our matches on the field pending these arrivals. While not everybody (or the board) will agree with my choice of players (which is not the real purpose of this article), I think this narrative sort of gives an idea of the depth of opportunities that we might eventually have as the transfer market draws to an end and players scramble for new clubs.
So, it`s not all gloomy, let us try to stay calm, hope for the best and support this team. They wrote us off last year too, and they are all waiting for Conte to get the sack by December this season. We will see if they get their wish - but I don't think they will. Here`s hoping to blue flag! flies the highest again this year.