Thursday 18 October 2018

Chelsea's bizarre targets brings short-termism home to roost

Chelsea's Eden Hazard
Chelsea's Eden Hazard
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

Last month, Billy Gilmour was the subject of a 'day in the life' feature on Chelsea TV which gives an insight into the lives of players in the club's youth team.

In his bedroom, there's a pillow given to him as a present by his parents with a message which reads: "A great big hug across 433 miles. From Ardrossan to Cobham. Love Mum, Dad & Harvey xxx." For the 16-year-old now living in digs in London, it's a reminder of his home 30 miles outside Glasgow.

At 8.40, he tells us, Gilmour leaves for training. At 9.0, he has breakfast at the training ground of toast, eggs and beans.

At 9.30, he sits at a computer for some video analysis which, as a midfielder, focuses on trying to integrate the best features of Cesc Fabregas into his own game.

Gilmour shows his Individual Action Plan (IAP) which is all about making him a better player, with traffic light indications of where he needs to focus his attention.

Red is the marker for "things he really needs to work on" which is speed, power, variation of passing on both feet, work-rate and influence off the ball. There's a couple of amber lights which are "good but could be better" and, as you would expect for a 16-year-old, no green lights for any skill that has been perfected.

Mannequins

At 10am, Gilmour heads for his IAP training as video clips show him curling free-kicks over mannequins and into the top corner and smashing technically difficult volleys into the net.

"Most of my days after training I do gym work," he says. "I'm not going to be that tall but I need to get myself powerful."

At 2.30, he goes to a workshop which on this particular day is media training before going home to watch Netflix or play PS4.

If he is successful in the days, weeks and months ahead, Gilmour might be part of Chelsea's team which, this season, bids for its fifth consecutive FA Youth Cup.

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After that, if those teams are anything to go by, Gilmour might need an Individual Action Plan about avoiding running into the brick wall that is progress into the Chelsea first team.

In all, the Chelsea website lists 35 players out on loan and while some like Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Crystal Palace), Kenedy (Newcastle) or Kurt Zouma (Stoke City) might have designs on a return, others find themselves at a halfway house to the exit door.

It seems unlikely that Kenneth Omoruo is going to catch Antonio Conte's eye at Kasimpasa in Turkey, and the same goes for Danilo Pantic (Partizan Belgrade), Mario Pasalic (Spartak Moscow) or Todd Kane who, at 24, is counting down the remaining months of his contract in the Netherlands with FC Groningen.

And yet, with every passing transfer rumour, the recruitment policy moves from bizarre to farcical, which can neither be pleasing to its potential stars of the future or the couple of world-class players they have in their squad.

In 2012, Eden Hazard (below) was signed as a 21-year-old from Lille along with 20-year-old Oscar; Victor Moses (21), and Cesar Azpilicueta (22) to a club that - albeit slightly fortuitiously - had just won the Champions League.

That came in the brief Roberto di Matteo era with transfers being handled by technical director Michael Emenalo, who then offered to resign when Jose Mourinho was appointed in 2013.

From then, the policy shifted to ready-made players, which suggested a manager with little faith in what was coming through, or a club with little interest in demanding that the young talent that was there be given time to develop.

Mourinho's first major signing was Willian who, at 25, was the same age as Nemanja Matic when he arrived the following January. Diego Costa (25), Fabregas (27), Juan Cuadrado (26), Filipe Luis (28) and Loic Remy (27) came the next year and were followed by Pedro (28) and a loan move for Falcao (29) before Mourinho was sacked in late 2015.

Conte chose a similar method to Mourinho's in his marquee signings by recruiting N'Golo Kante (25), David Luiz (29) and Marcos Alonso (25), which was crucial in winning a league title but, like Mourinho, meant that once the message of the manager moved from intensity to irritation with an established group of players, cracks began to show.

And yet at a time when they need reinforcements, one of the richest clubs in the world made a January move for Andy Carroll and were linked with Peter Crouch.

With Carroll injured, they have turned their attention to 31-year-old Edin Dzeko, who was rarely guaranteed his place in Manchester City's team four years ago, while one of their own, Tammy Abraham, toils at Swansea City.

Multiple

Abraham might not be the next Didier Drogba - who must be expecting a call soon - but having signed for the club as an U-8, having won multiple youth trophies and with a contract until 2022 it would at least show their academy players there is a future beyond a healthy bank balance and probable loan move to Vitesse Arnhem.

It would be instructive to learn if he thinks he could do a better job that Carroll or Crouch, or if Loftus-Cheek feels he could have fulfilled the role which Chelsea spent £35m getting Danny Drinkwater to do.

Of more concern, however, should be the thoughts of Hazard who has two years left on his deal, is attracting significant interest from Real Madrid and now finds himself at a club linked with players who, even at their peak, weren't in his league.

If he goes, the rampant short-termism might truly come home to roost.

Given their policy, however, it's doubtful they'll give the likes of Billy Gilmour a chance to bring them back to glory.

Irish Independent

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