Friday 9 December 2016

No guarantee that Chelsea will bounce straight back

Published 21/03/2016 | 02:30

John Terry makes his point during Chelsea's draw against West Ham Photo: Reuters
John Terry makes his point during Chelsea's draw against West Ham Photo: Reuters

Bertrand Traore may well turn out to be a fine player but when the sixth richest club in the world needs a goal with half an hour remaining to stay in the sport's most prestigious club competition, he wouldn't be high on the list of names that they would, ideally, choose.

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Yet when Diego Costa pulled up injured after an hour in Chelsea's last-16 game against Paris Saint Germain, it was Traore, a 20-year-old with four club appearances, that manager Gus Hiddink decided to bring on.

On the other dug-out, if they had needed a goal, Laurent Blanc had the option of Edinson Cavani, who may be a little over-rated but at least has managed 28 goals in 72 games for Uruguay. By comparison, Traore has two in 24 for Burkina Faso.

Perhaps it was a gut feeling on Hiddink's part that Traore might prove an unlikely hero and, when his other options were Pedro and Loic Remy, it's difficult to argue that his decision was completely unjustified.

What it did, however, was shine a light on just how much this Chelsea squad will need to be overhauled - again - this summer because they are now heading down the same route as Manchester United where they have gone from years of competing for trophies to a point where fourth place next season could be considered to be an acceptable achievement.

Resumed

There's an assumption that normal service will be resumed at Stamford Bridge once they throw money at the issue and, if they manage to dodge qualification for the Europa League, there's a possibility that the lack of European action could work to their benefit in much the same way as it is for Leicester this season. Yet it is quite the comedown from a team who were in the process of winning the Premier League this time last season that Leicester City might be the template to replicate next season.

The problem for Chelsea is that, next season, there will be no logical reason for any big-name player to sign for them because they can get whatever Chelsea can offer them, and more, elsewhere.

Arsenal are regularly pilloried for the idea that finishing fourth is an achievement but try signing the likes of Alexis Sanchez or Mesut Ozil without the opportunity to play in the Champions League next season and see how far you get.

For the majority of the 13 years since Roman Abramovich bought the club, they have been in the perfect position of having a manager who players are intrigued about playing under in Jose Mourinho; a team capable of competing for trophies; the location in one of the world's most famous cities and an owner who will pay a player six figures every week.

One by one, however, these advantages have eroded. Antonio Conte is a fine manager but doesn't quite come with the personality that is likely to swing potential signings towards Chelsea if they are competing with, say, Pep Guardiola at Manchester City or Arsene Wenger at Arsenal for a player who wants to play in the Champions League.

If a player wants to join a re-building project - complete with compensatory additional wages for forgoing the Champions League - they will have the option of Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool or, potentially, Mourinho at Manchester United.

For most of the last decade, Chelsea's only competition for players came from Manchester with either United or City having the financial clout to compete. Liverpool were heavily linked with Mohamed Salah and Juan Cuadrado but the end result was usually that if Chelsea wanted a player, they got him. Then, in those two cases, they discarded them almost as quickly.

It's a measure of the amount of money flooding the Premier League that having a multi-billionaire owner is now not necessarily a crucial competitive advantage.

In other seasons, Chelsea could easily snap up some of the best performers from other clubs like Jamie Vardy or Dimitri Payet with the promise of a huge increase in their wages, yet the sands have shifted to the point where Leicester City and West Ham can now afford to pay them £80,000- and £120,000-a-week to ward off the swooping big boys.

Hiddink again done a decent job as caretaker - a sort of billionaire's version of Tony Parkes - and were his points per game replicated across the season, they would have 55 from 30 games and be level with Arsenal.

The record, however, comes with an asterisk given how well Chelsea players have reacted to a new manager in other seasons - winning an FA Cup with Hiddink and a Champions League with Roberto Di Matteo - which suggests that it's not about how much they like the new guy but how much they disliked the old one.

Conte will at least not have to face the conundrum encountered by David Moyes at Old Trafford of an influential cohort of experienced players whose minds are a couple of years behind their body in terms of what they are capable of doing.

John Terry's imminent departure means that decision has already been made for Conte but, with him gone, the number of players to build a team around are pretty thin on the ground.

The fact that enough people at Chelsea, other than his agent Jorge Mendes, thought that signing Radamel Falcao was a good idea wouldn't fill anyone with confidence and the same could be said Alexandre Pato and his agent Kia Joorabchian.

Perhaps those two agents are the two who will find the players to close the gap on the likes of Tottenham, who they finished 23 points ahead of last season but find themselves 20 points behind this time around.

If he can motivate Diego Costa and Eden Hazard back to their best, there's definitely the quality available to get back in the hunt for trophies rather than league positions. But, as United have shown by spending over £250m in the two seasons after a winning a league, there's no guarantee that once a team drops away, they are certain to bounce back.

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