Chelsea transfer news as Mauricio Pochettino encounters long-term recruitment issue with historic deals causing current problems for Cobham hopefuls
Mauricio Pochettino has to balance his first team with youth and academy stars.
So much of football is about connections. Be it a striker and their often smaller partner with a telepathic understanding as they link up, or the wily centre-backs with a combined age of 73 and over 1,000 senior appearances between them. There’s the fans and their connection to clubs and certain players, to stadia and moments around the place; the manager themselves needs a connection to get across to his players, foster a team, family-like atmosphere with adjoined goals.
The game is a connecting tool for people across the world, an intangible link of ideas and thoughts, methodology and hypotheses. There are overlaps in understanding and values, lessons learnt and ideologies copied, expanded, torn up and other ripped apart.
What is perhaps an understated part of the game is just how valuable these connections and relationships tend to be. The managers who get their players to go to war and the players who get their teammates to follow. Plenty is done on reputation and those that don’t have it struggle to make a name.
Meritocracy is spoken of but rarely seen. If it truly existed more commonly then academy players, here comes the Cobham splurge, would surely be afforded more time and opportunities considering the talent, time and effort spent to develop them?
Just where is the logic in pumping money towards academy systems to scour grassroots football across the country and then the world, giving years of time, dedication and expertise towards making better footballers and people, building the connections between kid and club, just to see them as money making tools at the final stage?
If this is all a business game then don’t pretend otherwise because players and fans are the founding members of this thing that we all adore and to see them go to waste or be used as pawns in an otherworldly PR spin is underwhelming.
There are other businesses that do very similar with other products, not human beings, that are more profitable and predictable than talent on a football pitch. Nevertheless, big business dictates that players must be sold for big money because, quite often in the eyes of modern day owners, money is more valuable than points and connections.
‘Can I buy a new Romelu Lukaku for 72 points?’
‘But that will get Champions League football.’
‘Oh well, may as well leave it and cash in then.’
In a world whereby more and more of football is becoming money centric, perhaps it would be more logical – in fact it almost certainly would – to not spend millions on transfer fees for countless young players when there are countless young players closer to home that are begging for some attention after their 17th birthday.
Clubs, Chelsea included, know their own academy better than anyone else. They have more responsibility on a personal level and professional level to make the boys they raise become well-rounded and successful. The point at which they are sold can be harshly compared to lambs for slaughter.
If nobody is going to be making it through to the first team because the club think there’s better elsewhere, then cut the false pretences.
Nobody would know who Kylian Mbappe was if he hadn’t played for Monaco’s first team and that happened due to trust and chance. Not enough are given that chance, instead they are tossed aside because someone else somewhere looks shinier and maybe better. The grass isn’t always greener, especially not if you look after and care for your own grass.
So here we are. In a 12 month span that they have signed some of the most talented teenagers across the planet, throw some attention to those that now won’t get a chance, because that’s all they often want, to make a breakthrough in the senior side.
The argument for this is to create a bigger and better competition vacuum, to push those at Cobham to new heights and to breed bigger beasts that are ready early. The issue is that Cobham hopefuls don’t lose value when they aren’t being played or tried, because there is no assigned value.
LONDON, ENGLAND – APRIL 26: The Chelsea squad line up during the FA Youth Cup Final, second leg between Chelsea and Mancherster City at Stamford Bridge on April 26, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
However, their often foreign and unnamed competition that usually comes from Brazil for £10million always has the need from a business perspective to earn back that fee in some way, shape or form. Be that with goals, clean sheets or performances that help recoup that money or from getting just about good enough to be sold on.
Make any amount of profit on them and the job is done, little care for the disruption to potentially better players within the system that have been lost or damaged. Well done, rinse and repeat; a few more of those and we get our Lukaku money anyway.
Say that the two players are in the same position and age group though and the chances are that the homegrown one hasn’t had the same opportunity to progress. Therefore you simply don’t know how good these players might have been or could become later on.
This is nothing new but does ascertain that there’s trust with the money, follow that and you’re onto something good rather than the perceived risk of looking within. It is questionable in the current system, therefore, at just how many players Chelsea are looking to sign on long-term deal as youngsters, but delve deeper and it’s not a surprise.
Chelsea’s owners, who want to boost what was already a healthy flow of cash coming in from player trading – often Cobham’s underappreciate and undervalued – in order to massively increase their revenue on a large scale, have looked in new markets.
The club have had their fair share of successes and failures when it comes to South American talent being developed and progressed through the ranks from a young age but the new regime are ramping it up even more. Earlier this year they appointed Corinthians’ former chief scout, a body previously in the academy there, to their specialised South American recruitment team.
Alysson Marins is a key part behind the push for Brazilian starlet Gabriel Moscardo, a player seen as one of the best in his age group in the region. It’s no surprise that with his addition has come a further push towards youth in the area. Already signed from South America since January are Andrey Santos, Gabriel Angelo, Kendry Paez and Deivid Washington.
Connections, remember. Rather than those looking for a chance, we’re sure Lewis Hall would love to have felt valued like this by Chelsea, they are after the next £25million answer down the line. It seems that in the eyes of Chelsea, £25million now is better value for players than a potential £50million in time.
Find the short-term answer, flip the player, move on and any profit goes towards a big boy signing or another youth prospect for the future. We’re talking about board game tactics with teenage players, here.
Hall, who has more Premier League experience than Cole Palmer despite being three years younger, was effectively sold to Newcastle for £30million due to the loan agreements. In 12 months he will likely be worth double that. He doesn’t have a place at Chelsea because they signed Marc Cucurella last year instead of welcoming Ian Maatsen back. Decisions have consequences across the board but Chelsea don’t appear to be learning.
Maatsen, 20 at the time, was fresh from helping Coventry to an unlikely Championship promotion push and had once more continued to take a step up in his development. He cost the club nothing in transfer fees – neither did Hall. All of a sudden, with Romeo Lavia, Andrey Santos and Lesley Ugochukwu in the team as well as Cucurella, the pathways were blocked for the both of them.
In favour of pushing for more expensive choices deemed to be of a higher standard, Chelsea came extremely close to losing Hall and Maatsen for less than they paid for Cucurella. It’s an exaggerated example of the issue that they have caused themselves over a long period.
Chelsea’s Cobham alliance celebrating winning the Champions League
If Chelsea continue to risk their short term aims then they will continue to lose their long terms stars.
There’s already a bottle-neck issue for the first team appearing and that is before many of the teenage sensations have even made a senior appearance in Europe, let alone at Stamford Bridge. The worldwide game is becoming entangled in itself and connections help but it’s hard to think that’s its not also damaging the bigger, stronger ones down below.
The connection that exists between the club and Marins, Marins and Corinthians, is perfect in terms of bringing in young players that suit the wider multi-club model, there is little denying. But when that comes at the expense of seeing more players from Cobham that are rated as some of the best in England and Europe then the effect is lost.
Chelsea are being asked to pay £25million for a player that there is absolutely no assurances over in Moscardo’s case. For businessmen prided on risk management, asset watching and cost development, this sure does look to be a weird strategy. The upside is huge, Chelsea either get a brilliant player they can use or sell him on to a giant across the continent, but the downside is not only a financial black hole but also the knock-on that it has on those that weren’t afforded a chance.
It is safety in judgement that the club once more appear to value when coming from elsewhere rather than within. Newcastle currently have the same number of Chelsea academy player of the year winners on their books (two) as Chelsea do. At the same time, Chelsea now have the same amount of players from the Manchester City academy (two) as the City first-team do.
When this becomes the reality, because Joe Shields has pounced upon the good recruitment and talent spotting work that he has done at City and Southampton to help Chelsea buy Romeo Lavia and Palmer, two very good acquisitions in isolation, it just raises further questions.
Chelsea have competed with Manchester City and their academy over the past five years and before. The talent at the club is level if not better than the ones they are looking to buy from, yet they insist on spending millions on players partially developed elsewhere instead of those under their own noses.
Palmer has hardly played for City but is valued at £45million. Burnley clearly see Maatsen as worth at least £30million and Crystal Palace paid £25million for Marc Guehi, which is nothing for someone of his quality.
It continues a trend that has been clear since the new recruitment team came into play in 2022. Eight players have signed that have some connection to a Chelsea director, scout, recruitment chief or manager since last summer. It’s the connections here that are working in favour of those players and the selling clubs but given the pool of talent on show it’s even more astounding just how little credit is given with meaningful opportunity to those already there.
Pochettino’s say in all of this is unknown. He liked Maatsen and Conor Gallagher and ultimately they both stayed. He offered Hall little by way of pre-season chances and saw him sold; perhaps that alone tells enough of the story to suggest he’s getting his way.
What will become tougher for the Argentine to unfold is how this all plays out long-term at Stamford Bridge. There’s every chance he doesn’t remain at the club for long enough to see many of the players already signed ever appear in royal blue. Even if he does hang around there’s little way of knowing which ones they will be and that’s part of the problem.
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