It’s natural that when things go as badly as they have done this year, for there to be an abundance of vague suggestions in the media (and on social media), that a ‘clear out’ of sorts, is to be in order very soon. Right now, I don’t think there have ever been so many players in the current Chelsea first team, whose departure would leave the fans completely indifferent. It may actually be a quicker process to list the players we definitely want to keep, rather than the ones we wouldn’t be upset to see sold in the upcoming window.
With so many senior squad members at an apparent crossroads in their careers, there are plenty of big decisions for Antonio Conte to make, with regards to which players he wants to work with for the foreseeable future. An overhaul of the squad seems unlikely. But the same time, there seems an unusually broad of scope of options for the incoming coach, to make consequential changes in personnel.
The purpose of this blog is to examine each of these decisions, individually, and to consider which players are most at risk of being moved on, before the Conte regime is to begin in earnest…
Thibaut Courtois – This hasn’t been a good week for the public image of the Belgian goalkeeper. His unthoughtful comments made to the media this week, denigrating the comparative quality of his Chelsea teammates, next to his fellow Belgian internationals, though not exactly ‘out of character’, were of the nature he is now too old to be making. The sort of comments, in other words, that can’t be dismissed as the result of a youthful enthusiasm for his own ability.
It’s clear he’s not committed to the club in the long term, however, he is still by a distance one of the most talented goalkeepers in the world and will surely, at this stage, feature in Conte’s plans. Only in the event of a monumental offer from Real Madrid, and a public request of a transfer from the player can I see him leaving this summer.
Gary Cahill – The captain of England’s victorious side in Berlin last night was open about his consideration of his future earlier in the year, having lost his place in the side to Kurt Zouma. He may still hold hopes of having a future in the first team, with John Terry seemingly leaving, and with Conte potentially considering playing with a back three, good depth at centre half will be necessary. Though with Branislav Ivanovic having moved back into the centre, big new signings being rumoured and with young Andreas Christensen earning huge plaudits in Germany, it may be time for Cahill to move on.
Verdict: Open to offers
Mikel John Obi – The last few months have witnessed a mini turnaround in his long stalling career, but with young central midfielders coming through, and with other being names (i.e. Radja Nainggolan and Arturo Vidal) being rumoured, it looks as though the Nigerian’s decade long tenure at the club is finally coming to an end.
Verdict: Open to offers
Nemanja Matic – After that of Eden Hazard, the consistently poor form of the Serb this season has been the biggest disappointment. Whilst it’s tempting to give players of his quality the benefit of the doubt that his form can and will be rediscovered, after struggling for so long it would be understandable if he feels a change of club would be best to re-ignite his career.
Personally, I hope this isn’t the case. After two years of covering for the two of the least mobile midfielders in the Premier League (Mikel and Cesc), the introduction of some genuine top level box to box runners, should we manage to sign any, may allow Matic to resume a more proactive role in the side. Simply, when at his best, he’s too valuable to give up on after a single bad season.
Oscar – It feels as though this year was the Brazilian’s chance to show whether or not he had the tenacity to become a leader as well as key player for Chelsea, as he moves into the prime of his career. It would be harsh to accuse him of having plainly failed, given the respective performances of his teammates have been hardly any better, but patience with Oscar, from his managers as well as the fans, seems to have all but ran out. If the club can cash in now on a decent offer, I doubt many complaints will be heard.
Verdict: Open to offers (£25m+)
Eden Hazard – By now, the fan base has well and truly fallen out of love with its current Player of the Year, the apathetic performances, combined with the strong suspicion of his having been instrumental in Mourinho’s departure means few tears will be shed, should be pack his bags and fly off to Paris or Madrid after the Euros. For any incoming manager, the opportunity of working with a player of Hazard’s talent is one you could never begrudge him holding onto. At the same time, if Conte is determined to build a team that can succeed and dominate in the long run, as he was able to do at Juventus, the advantage of having an extra £70/80m to spend by virtue of selling the Belgian may just be too useful to ignore.
Verdict: Open to stupid offers
Just to add as a side note, it seems extremely likely that Loic Remy will seek a move this summer, in addition to Alex Pato and Radamel Falcao ending their respective loan agreements. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Nathan Ake, Marco Van Ginkel, Patrick Bamford and Mohamed Salah permanently moved on either. In which case, realistically, the club may find it is able to generate a good £60/70m in transfer fees, even without a mega money sale of Hazard or Courtois.
The pre-occupation of the incoming manager with his court case next month, and the European Championships in June are likely to make things difficult. I think it’s essential he finds time to discuss and make clear his plans with regards to which players he wants and doesn’t want to work with. If ever there was a summer in which hesitation or indecision in the market could prove fatal, then it’s this one. Surely we can’t make the same mistakes four windows in a row?