As July 1st approaches, many clubs have already tied up a few deals to appease their fans and follow the ‘get your business done early’ trend. Such is the current nature of the transfer market, and it’s relationship with social media, that every day feels like a lifetime in the tornado of rumours and scoops from Twitter famous journalists. That platform, in particular, is one big tug-of-war between accounts of transfer moguls, hardcore fan accounts and even the players themselves.
One club that epitomises this approach is Chelsea. As they tied up the title at a canter, newspapers filled their pages with claims that Antonio Conte would be backed with all the money in the world to rejuvenate his squad. The memory of the 2015/16 campaign – when José Mourinho/Guus Hiddink led the champions to a pathetically embarrassing 10th place – still lingers in the nostrils of Blues’ fans, and the hunger to kick on from the league win is stronger than ever.
New Sponsor, New Start
Due to the transition from Adidas to Nike, which will become official on July 1st, Chelsea have been quiet as anything in this window so far. This, understandably, caused a bit of a raucous response from Chelsea fans on social media and even led to a story breaking that Conte could leave Stamford Bridge after only one season. That story was quashed almost immediately, and the conveyor belt of rumours regarding Chelsea’s business and negotiations kicked back into gear.
Many Chelsea fans seem to be expecting a grand Nike launch press conference to take place, with every transfer target we have dramatically revealed in the new kits amidst blue fireworks. As great as that would be, Premier League football isn’t quite as WWE as that just yet. That’s not to say big things won’t happen. Nike and Adidas vary in their approach; with the former’s American origins predictably proving to be more showy and brazen than the latter’s German sleek modesty. With Nike (and a £60million-per-year deal) in the picture you always feel like anything is possible.
It seems to be no coincidence that a number of deals are edging closer to being announced as the 1st July kit reveal lurks. The last week or so has seen considerable progression in the reports of negotiations between Chelsea and their shopping list. It looks like Conte is about to get the presents that he has longed for since joining the club last year; the ball has finally dropped into his court.
The Shopping List
So which players can we expect to see holding up the new Nike kit in the following week(s)?
Willy Caballero (Free Agent)
As Asmir Begovic finally got sick enough of the Stamford Bridge bench to walk out of the door and move down to Bournemouth, Chelsea needed a replacement. If transfers were a box of Celebrations, the replacement back-up keeper would almost certainly be the Bounty. No one’s that fussed, no one really likes them and yet they just have to be there.
If rumours are to be believed, this is the one deal that is 100% done and dusted, as Chelsea supposedly beat Newcastle United to tie down the ex-Manchester City stopper. He’s certainly capable, and with Thibaut Courtois having a tendency of picking up niggly injuries it wasn’t a case of ‘anyone will do’ for Antonio Conte. He made 16 appearances last season, and is capable of spending longer periods in the line-up if required.
An experienced back-up that won’t cause any panic attacks if called upon in a time of need.
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Alex Sandro (Juventus)
Now personally, this is the deal that gets my heart racing. It’s been a fair while since Chelsea signed a player that was in the top three in their position in world football. Well now it looks like that could be about to change. Arguably only behind Marcelo in the world’s best left-backs, Sandro has the potential to take Chelsea to the next level. The Brazilian is one of the best athletes in the game and, unlike many wing-backs these days, can defend as well as he can attack.
It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for Marcus Alonso, however. The Spaniard was one of the most important players for Chelsea last year, and went on his holidays as a Premier League winner. So when he read that Chelsea were willing to spend over £60million on a player to fill his spot he can’t have been too pleased.
It’s a lot of money for a full-back – and would make the 26 year old the most expensive defender of all time – but I have absolutely no doubts about this deal. Alonso is an Audi, Sandro is a Ferrari. Yet it’s the prospect of him and Eden Hazard linking up on the left-hand side that is the truly mouth-watering prospect for Chelsea fans and it’s that elite connection that Conte needs to put together to compete in Europe next season.
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Virgil van Dijk (Southampton)
This is one of the less certain possibilities on the list and one that drags the Blues into everyone’s favourite market past-time: the transfer saga. Whether it’s flirting with Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp in Blackpool or being valued at over £65million, van Dijk’s name is everywhere. One minute he’s going to Anfield, the next to Stamford Bridge, the next he’s staying put. Either way, it seems like (finally) Southampton are playing hardball over a transfer and are looking to hold out for a record-breaking fee.
Now firstly, is he worth that? Well almost certainly not. Yet in this current market, a Premier League centre-back who can defend, carry the ball and pass is a rarity, and the clubs have the money to burn. For Conte, van Dijk is a perfect alternative to prime (and seemingly impossible) target Leonardo Bonucci, to play on the left-side of his three man defence. His leadership qualities are also valuable in a post-John Terry era for the Blues, but to secure their man they’re going to have to fight off Liverpool before even attempting to battle Southampton’s negotiators.
I don’t think we’ll see van Dijk lifting that Nike shirt within the next month, or at all for that matter, but Conte wants a centre-back and the time for Gary Cahill to edge out of the first team is starting to approach; watch this space.
Key Stats Comparison
Tiemoué Bakayoko (AS Monaco)
The Midfield Marmite, as I’ve decided he should be called. It feels like Bakayoko has been linked with Chelsea for the whole season, and throughout that time everybody and their dog seems to have become an expert of the AS Monaco midfielder. The reality? People have seen a couple of highlight reels, seen journalists talk about him on Twitter and then watched him play against Juventus in the Champions League. It’s safe to say that his performance in the latter was a stink bomb, sending any potential fanboys running for the hills. It’s not all bad though.
I’m not the biggest fan of this signing and would have preferred to see a playmaker like Bayern Munich-bound Corentin Tolisso join the squad, but there are positives. It appears that Bakayoko will replace Manchester United-destined Nemanja Matic, with a £5million profit on top. Matic has performed sheepishly for too long now and doesn’t look close to the form that won him so many fans in his first year back at Stamford Bridge. Bakayoko is younger, more dynamic and, whilst his passing is not the best, his usage of the ball surpasses that of the Serbian.
What worries me about Bakayoko is that he does seem to blow hot and cold. I’ve seen matches when he looks like a young Yaya Toure – driving through the lines and carrying the ball box-to-box – and then others when he looks like John Obi Mikel – clumsy, sluggish and lacking confidence to make something happen with his distribution. If there’s anyone to eradicate this, however, I would hazard a guess that Conte would be the man. Furthermore he has pursued Bakayoko for over 6 months and ignored other options to try and tie up this £35million deal, there must be something special that he sees in the Frenchman.
This is definitely a case of ‘trust Conte over Twitter’, in case anyone ever dared to consider doing otherwise, and if we are welcoming Bakayoko to Chelsea then I have no qualms about the potential gains.
Key Stats Comparison
Romelu Lukaku (Everton)
Romelu Lukaku. Will that name ever leave the forefront of Chelsea conversation? Ever since he stepped foot out of the door to join Everton in 2014, it seemed destined that Lukaku would return to Stamford Bridge one day. Whether it be the comparisons with Didier Drogba, the open knowledge that Chelsea is his boyhood club or the general fact that he’s a proven goalscorer, people refuse to believe that Lukaku isn’t one day destined to be a Stamford Bridge success. This belief is so strong that people seem to forget a little stumbling block with this deal… Everton.
Ah, yes. He doesn’t belong to Chelsea anymore and some idiot never put a buy-back clause in the contract of his £28million move to Goodison Park. As a result of this, Chelsea are now being quoted a cool £100million to bring the Belgian back to his ‘spiritual home’. This story has the potential to even out-saga Virgil Van Dijk, and once again proves that buying from a Premier League rival is the costliest route that you can be lured down in the modern market.
Of course, any potential of Roman Abramovich splashing anywhere near £100million on a player like Lukaku would rely on the club receiving a sizeable fee for ‘rebel with a cause’ Diego Costa. It looks like the Spaniard’s career in blue is (finally) over and subsequently a replacement is needed – and a good one at that. Lukaku’s connection to Chelsea and his Premier League goal-scoring record make him the obvious choice but, if he doesn’t hand in a transfer request to his parent club, Everton have no reason to budge from their world record valuation.
Furthermore, there’s the small factor as to whether he is the right choice. This is a debacle that divides Chelsea fans more than José Mourinho, and there are many, many Blues that don’t want to see Lukaku anywhere near the shirt, let alone for such an inflated price. Out of all the deals in the list, this one holds the potential to drag out for the longest, and Chelsea need to be careful not to be dragged into a fight that might leave them without an obvious first-choice striker.
Key Stats Comparison
Is It Enough To Hit The Next Level?
Personally, I’m still divided as to whether all of these signings would make Chelsea a significantly better team. Obviously they are improvements on what they have now, but are they enough to put Conte’s in a spot to compete for the Champions League? I watched the final between Real Madrid and Juventus and couldn’t help but think that they were on a completely different level. They were playing on Legendary difficulty, whilst Chelsea are capable of competing on World Class at most.
It could definitely be worse, but considering that this list would require an outlay of over £200 million you can’t help but question whether it could be better. Should Chelsea be going for the likes of Marco Verratti, James Rodriguez and Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang?
Or should Stamford Bridge be an attractive enough option to attract young gems like Kylian M’bappé and Ousmane Dembele? These are questions that grate on the minds of Blues fans when they see other clubs linked with these players.
The general consensus is that we should be looking to world-class talent, and not settle for less. No more Papy Djilobodjis or Michael Hectors will be tolerated. The fans only want to see players come through the door that will significantly improve the squad and any opportunity for the squad turning stale must be eradicated immediately.
The partnership with Nike and the future development of Stamford Bridge represents a new era for Chelsea, as Antonio Conte attempts to create the long-term dynasty that everyone at the club has craved for so long. The last realistic option was Mourinho, and a poor transfer window set the tone for an awful season and his eventual dismissal. With a Baba Rahman and a Radamel Falcao it was over in a flash.
Hopefully the board has learnt its lesson, and that come July we will be seeing talent lifting that blue Nike shirt that will propel Chelsea back towards Europe’s elite.
Thanks for reading.
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com
Images – 101 Great Goals, Manchester Evening News, Evening Standard, The Metro, The Daily Telegraph