By Tony Attwood.
Last year it was Chelsea 2 Bradford City 4. It could have been the biggest headline of the century, but the media were not ready to put the boot in at that time, as the identification of underlying problems or accurately predicting problems to come is not exactly their thing. It is always about now, now, now.
This year Scunthorpe United will travel to Chelsea after beating Leyton Orient in a replay. The press will call the FA Cup Chelsea’s most realistic chance of a trophy this season.
Last time Scunthorpe played at Stamford Bridge was in 2005. They took the lead but finally went down 3-1. It could be a nervy occasion.
Arsenal have been here too – with all sorts of terrible defeats to lower league teams from Walsall onwards, so that result last season is hardly unique.
But as we ponder the chance of another result like last year, I am still puzzled by why this has all gone so wrong at Chelsea. Certainly the fact that it has been what one might call a difficult season at the club has caused a lot of pundits to write about the reasons behind their demise, but I am not sure anyone has come up with a definitive answer.
The simple conclusion is easy: that all the money you could ever imagine is not enough to guarantee success. The simple answer as to what went wrong is that Mourinho, so entranced by his own brilliance, has flipped. The affair with Dr Carneiro still rumbles on awaiting the next employment tribunal hearing. That Chelsea were utterly in the wrong is not in doubt, and the failure of various bodies such as the League and FA to seriously censure Chelsea showed us once again where those august bodies are.
It was a crazy, crazy fiasco to get embroiled in, and the fact that it is still going on shows something deeply wrong in the inner workings of the club. That I think is reason one. Not enough to explain the decline and fall, but still a first step in understanding why. They really think they are Gods who can do exactly what they wish to anyone they wish to push around.
It is not impossible that the second part of the reason for the decline is that Mourinho has lost the ability to make sound and reasoned judgements. That may also be true, but even so I think there is more.
Chelsea has been involved in some strange actions over the last couple of years, and one I would highlight is the issue of loans. They have a policy of buying up lots and lots of players and then loaning them out. All clubs do it of course, but not to the extent that Chelsea does.
Arsenal have 12 players on loan…
- Carl Jenkinson – West Ham,
- Wojciech Szczesny – Roma,
- Yaya Sanogo – Ajax,
- Serge Gnabry – West Brom,
- Chuba Akpom – Hull City,
- Emiliano Martinez – Wolverhampton,
- Isaac Hayden – Hull City,
- Jon-Miquel Toral – Birmingham,
- Wellington – Bolton,
- Geidon Zelalem – Rangers,
- Ainsley Maitland-Niles – Ipswich,
- Dan Crowley – Barnsley
Six or seven loanees is the norm for most clubs. Clubs looking to build for the future go higher. Everton just have four, Liverpool have 14. But for Chelsea it is 33. It is hard to find them all but here is a list that the Daily Mail put together and may well be close to the truth.
Nathan Ake – Watford, Michael Hector – Reading, Andreas Christensen – Borussia Monchengladbach, Wallace – Carpi, Todd Kane – NEC Nijmegan, Alex Davey – Peterborough, Kenneth Omeruo – Kasimpasa, Tomas Kalas – Middlesborough, Jeremie Boga – Stade Rennes, Lucas Piazon – Reading, Marko Marin – Trabzonspor, Jordan Houghton – Gillingham, Isaiah Brown – Vitesse, Mohamed Salah – Roma, Gael Kakuta – Seville, Nathan – Vitesse, Christian Cuevas – St. Truiden, Marco van Ginkel – Stoke, Juan Cuadrado – Juventus, Christian Atsu – Bournemouth, Victor Moses – West Ham, Danilo Pantic – Vitesse, Mario Pasalic – Monaco, Lewis Baker – Vitesse, Islam Feruz – Hibernian, Stipe Perica – Udinese, Ulises Davila – Vitoria Setubal, Patrick Bamford – Crystal Palace, Dominic Solanke – Vitesse, Joao Rodriguez Gonzalez – St. Truiden, Matej Delac – FK Sarajevo
Now I am not saying that having this many loanees is the cause of the current problems, but it is a symptom of what is going wrong. It’s just such an odd thing to do, a sort of “we can do it so we will” and a bullyboy vision of “you’re not having him, I am.”
But let us look at what happens to youth players.
Sky did an analysis in which they looked at youth players who met a very strict criteria, and then saw what happened next…
- Join their club before their 18th birthday
- Play or their club’s U18 side or equivalent
- Not have not played a senior match for another professional team before joining their current club
Not surprisingly Arsenal came top of the league of youth team graduates who have made Premier League appearances. We have nine players who meet the criteria, and six who have made 10 or more appearances. Figures that are matched by Tottenham.
Chelsea are midway down the table with six players who have done it, but only one who has gone on to 10+ games. Man U has eight all told and four who have made 10+ games, while Man City, for all their billions spent on their vaunted youth stadium have one such player – who has not played 10+ games.
So, who are the nine Arsenal players have progressed from their youth ranks to play for the first team in the Premier League?
They are Kieran Gibbs, Jack Wilshere, Hector Bellerin, Francis Coquelin, Wojciech Szczesny and Serge Gnabry who have all exceeded the 10 plus mark. Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Chuba Akpom and Alex Iwobi have also made first team appearances.
And what of Chelsea. Chelsea surely must be getting their youth processes right. After all they won the UEFA Youth League and the FA Youth Cup last season (the fourth time in six years).
But John Terry is still the only former Chelsea youth player in the current squad to have made more than 10 Premier League appearances.
And maybe here we being to see the problem. Yes Chelsea can have the biggest loan system in the universe. Yes they can keep on winning the youth trophies. But their eternal desire for Victory Now does not allow them to progress players through the ranks on a regular basis. They are not really planning for the future – rather they have built a farm from which the ripest player might be plucked and the rest sold for slaughter.
And thus when crisis comes they don’t have the players to turn to.
There is no doubt that early last season Arsenal were not looking so good. But Arsenal did something rather clever – they brought Hector Bellerin and Francis Coquelin into the first team Frankie is now considered so vital to the squad that the bloggettas are screaming for a £30m replacement for him, to be brought into the team until he recovers from injury.
Yet a year ago he was a loanee at Charlton, and his return was being dismissed as a sign of panic.
Indeed even as late as August this year, after Coquelin’s brilliant run in the team, the bloggetta “le-grove” ran the headline “Coquelin is the weak link. Why hasn’t Wenger dealt with this?” But then that was le-grove.
I think that what has happened at Chelsea is that there are so many players who have come in on huge transfers, that when they don’t play well, there really isn’t the refreshing power and enthusiasm of a youth team player coming through.
There is also the lack of belief in youth players from Mourinho. Would he have kept faith with Coquelin, or would he have followed the le-grove vision of turning on him at the first chance? Would he have even seen the style, speed and ability of Bellerin, let alone brought him into the first team?
As it is Chelsea has a way of doing things, and it has led to disaster. So we get headlines like these from the Telegraph (and yes they are all from that one paper).
- Chelsea draw up plan in case of Jose exit
- Who has betrayed Jose? Here’s the verdict
- ‘Special One’ has had his limitations exposed
- Mourinho may prefer to blame the players but he must ask why he has failed to rally them
- Which players should Chelsea get rid of?
- Mourinho realises problem is the enemy within
- Defeat may force Abramovich’s hand
- Time rapidly running out for Terry
- Who could Abramovich appoint to replace Mourinho?
- Chelsea players: who should stay and who should go?
- Terry has gone from untouchable to vulnerable.
Bur Mourinho’s problems are increased by one other factor. The success players have who have left the club. Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Juan Cuadrado to name but a few.
Although Cesc Fabregas had some success after leaving, that was a case of a player leaving whom Arsenal did not want to leave. It is the selling of players willingly who then do well that opens the questions.
Mourinho recently said, “The only thing I know is the board wants the best for this club. I would like the board to analyse the situation, the budget, the balance of the club, what they are expecting to do or not to do in January. I want to make the right decision for the club, this is the most important thing.”
Which suggests he is saying, “It isn’t my fault.”
And maybe that is the point.
From the anniversary files
17 December 1944: Jimmy Robertson (the first player to score for each side in north London derbies) born. Having failed to get into the Middlesbrough team he went to Cowdenbeath and then St Mirren before being purchased by Tottenham in 1964, for £25,000.
17 December 1955, Dennis Evans scores one of the most famous own goals in history when a whistle in the crowd resulted in Evans kicking the ball into his own goal. Arsenal 4 Blackpool 1. It was only Arsenal’s 7th win in 21 games.
The Untold Books
Woolwich Arsenal the club that changed football, is now available on Kindle at £9.99. For more details and to buy a copyplease click here or go to Amazon Kindle and search forWoolwich Arsenal.
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal
- The Arsenal Yankee By Danny Karbassiyoon
- Arsenal: The Long Sleep 1953-1970. By John Sowman. Introduction by Bob Wilson.