The signs that the old big spending days were back at Chelsea, and that the narrow window of opportunity that Frank Lampard creaked open for their youngsters was rapidly shutting, were there last summer. This year, that fear has only been confirmed, as Chelsea have gone all out to strengthen their squad with massive bids for European football’s biggest names, like Erling Haaland, Romelu Lukaku and even Robert Lewandowski.
Some of Chelsea kids have already taken the hint and decided that their career pathway is greener in other pastures, as youngsters like Lewis Bate, Myles Peart-Harris, Dynel Simeu and Tino Livramento all decided not to sign new deals, and joined new teams for nominal fees.
Other promising Cobham academy graduates, like Fikayo Tomori and Marc Guehi had already been sold this summer, to AC Milan and Crystal Palace respectively. Palace snapped up another in midfielder Conor Gallagher on a year’s loan, and Billy Gilmour moved to Norwich on the same terms.
In addition, England striker Tammy Abraham is available to whoever can match Chelsea’s £40million fee, with Arsenal and West Ham both interested. And fellow graduates Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus Cheek are also on offer for the right bidder.
Admittedly Lampard had little choice but to use the kids when the former Blues and England midfielder took over as manager in the summer of 2019, with the club in the middle of a transfer embargo.
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Nevertheless, Lampard gave Abraham, Mason Mount, Reece James, Hudson-Odoi, Tomori and others significant runs in his team, and established the first three at least as regulars and eventually England players.
As soon as the transfer ban ended last summer though, the Roman Abramovich cheque book was out again, as more than £220m was splashed out on the likes of Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Ben Chilwell and Hakim Ziyech.
Under Lampard’s successor Thomas Tuchel, that trend is clearly continuing, with the German intent on bringing in Sevilla defender Jules Kounde to boost his Champions-League winning squad in what is likely to be a £60m deal – plus a striker.
And for Tuchel, Abraham at least appears to not figure in his future plans, with Hudson-Odoi seemingly facing a battle. For Loftus-Cheek, last year loaned out to Fulham, the same fate seems to await.
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On the one hand, the exodus has shown the quality of the Chelsea academy in producing such sought-after players. On the other, it is a lot of talent out of the door.
Chelsea also appear to be ready to let Kurt Zouma go in a bid to clear the decks defensively for Kounde’s arrival.
The Frenchman was initially offered to Sevilla as part of the deal, but has signalled that he does not want to go to Spain. West Ham is the big centre-back’s preferred destination if he has to go – but a £25m asking price is a stumbling block.
Chelsea, since Abramovich’s arrival, have famously never been slow to flash the cash – more than £2billion has been spent on players since 2003. There was a moment when the spending slowed, two years ago. Now it is back.