A tough week for Chelsea got even more ugly when football’s world governing body, Fifa, issued a two-window transfer ban on the west London club for breaching rules over youth signings.
Chelsea have the right to appeal, which they are doing so, though it could only delay the embargo. As it stands, they are prohibited from signing players in the forthcoming summer 2019 and January 2020 windows.
This decision comes as a blow to one of Europe’s biggest investors. Since being acquired by Roman Abramovich in 2003, the Blues have bolstered their first team and youth academy. Being handcuffed means there are naturally going to be winners and losers, more so if the ban comes into effect next year.
Winner: The Chelsea Army
The biggest winners have to be those on the periphery waiting for an opportunity. Much has long been made of Chelsea’s stance when it comes to developing footballers. On one hand, their academy is arguably the strongest in England, with few matching them across the world, but it’s hard to celebrate it when so few have broken through into the first team.
There’s a well-known statement that John Terry, the club’s most decorated captain, who hung up his boots last year, was the last academy graduate to seriously establish himself as a first-teamer. Terry’s career at his boyhood club spanned from 1998 until 2017. That is a massive indictment, especially when you factor the club’s recent successes at youth level: winning a plethora of trophies at national and international level. However, the counter will be, Chelsea are creating footballers but not solely for their club and can point to many former youth players who have since gone on to enjoy credible careers.
Transfer ban? No problem.
Chelsea have an entire loan army they can recall. 😬 pic.twitter.com/cz40oddH6c
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) February 22, 2019
A potential ban, though, opens the doors. It’s clear for all to see that Chelsea’s senior team needs rejuvenating; the easy answer was to go balls-out this summer, but that option may no longer be available. So, what about easing those peering from the outside in? Where to begin. It’s well-documented how many players the Blues have out on loan; some of them – such as Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Lewis Baker – might now feel their patience and hard work could be rewarded. Callum Hudson-Odoi, who has been making headlines in recent weeks (for his performances on the pitch as much as a prospective transfer to Bayern Munich), might reconsider leaving knowing full well Chelsea need him more than ever and that could lead to regular first-team appearances, which he’s long sought.
Loser: Maurizio Sarri
It’s fair to say that Maurizio Sarri is on the back foot following recent events. A crushing 6-0 defeat at champions Manchester City followed by crashing out of the FA Cup against Manchester United saw a chunk of Chelsea’s support turn on their manager.
Reports now suggest losing in the League Cup final to City this weekend could bring an immediate end to his brief tenure as Blues boss. However, this latest Fifa ruling could be to his advantage, on the grounds Chelsea are unlikely to find a successor willing to operate with their hands tied. But, it also makes him a loser.
Consider his dogged nature. Sarri wholeheartedly believes in his footballing vision and is unwilling to change from that position. If anything, it’s because of this he’s come unstuck, even if you can begrudgingly admire him for sticking to his guns. Rome, after all, wasn’t built in a day. That being said, it’s perfectly clear he lacks the players to fully execute whatever ‘Sarri-ball’ is.
And the adage he needs two-to-three transfer windows to rectify that doesn’t help. Being stuck with what he’s got and because Chelsea are unlikely now to relieve him of his duties means Sarri becomes even more vulnerable. If there is a delay, there’s a chance, but it would be rushed and there’s no guarantee of having purchased the right solutions, which leads to…
Winner: Selling clubs (if the ban is suspended)
If Chelsea do earn a stay of execution then expect them to go down the Barcelona route and bring in as many players as they can, albeit, they wouldn’t be able to register them. Barça, amid serving a 14-month ban on registering players handed down in April 2014, signed Aleix Vidal and Arda Turan soon after winning the Spanish championship (by a single point from Real Madrid) in the summer of 2016.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) July 9, 2015
But this comes with a risk attached; namely, everyone knows that Chelsea, armed with money to burn, are desperate to stockpile new faces in preparation for the ensuing ban. Clubs up and down Europe, if not the world, know the power is on their side and can demand more than whatever the player Chelsea are interested in is actually worth.
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Loser: Real Madrid
One of this summer’s potential transfer sagas could be over before a shot is even fired. It’s no secret Eden Hazard, arguably Chelsea’s most important player, is keen to join 13-time European champions Real Madrid, where his idol Zinedine Zidane graced for many years.
Although there’s nothing stopping Chelsea from allowing players to leave, there’s now even more incentive to stand their ground. Hazard could still depart but Real will know it will be for a price they are unwilling to pay when he could be even cheaper in 2020 (if the interest remains, that is).
Winner: Top-six rivals
Chelsea are one of six incredibly strong clubs – including Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and Arsenal – battling for honours in English football dubbed the ‘big six’. However, with only four Champions League spots available via the Premier League, two of those sides miss out dining at Europe’s top table. It’s them and Arsenal this season and their absence could remain if they don’t finish top four or win the Europa League.
A transfer ban means inability to strengthen, especially when their rivals will be, and that could leave them behind even further. Even if Chelsea do manage to delay, as mentioned, there’s no guarantee of striking gold, especially when in recent years, their business hasn’t always been stellar. More chaos and confusion hurts Chelsea whilst galvanising those around them knowing there’s one less club to worry about.
Loser: Roman Abramovich
There’s no doubt Roman Abramovich has been good for Chelsea, despite what many say. Under him, they’ve become a force in English football – winning five league titles and eight domestic cups – and Europe: lifting the European Cup in 2012 fulfilled a long-held desire and was followed up with the 2013 Europa League. Success is the only option as far as the Russian oligarch is concerned. Fail to do so and you’re out.
We know that because he’s parted with nine permanent managers (including the club’s most successful, Jose Mourinho, twice). Sarri, if reports are accurate, is close to the chopping block. But as mentioned, this upcoming ban could serve as a lifeline for him, meaning if Roman wants him out, he’s unlikely to get someone better in. It’s also worth considering the folks who got Chelsea into this predicament. Abramovich isn’t as hands-on as he used to be, instead delegating matters to those whom he trusts (notably, Marina Granovskaia oversees recruitment), in this case, they’ve messed up and can also be deemed losers.