Football Features

Chelsea have their chance to totally transform the club’s ethos

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 11:48, 6 April 2019 | Updated: 13:02, 7 April 2019

This week, for the first time in two months, Chelsea won a Premier League game by a margin of at least three goals, with Callum Hudson-Odoi taking a key role.

The Blues thrashed Brighton 3-0 at Stamford Bridge almost exactly two months after battering Huddersfield 5-0. The win over Brighton is just Chelsea’s sixth winning margin of three goals or more all season, and the eighth time they’ve hit three goals at all. For reference, Manchester City have nine winning margins of three goals or more and have scored three on no less than 15 occasions.

‘Sarrismo’, suffice to say, hasn’t been a roaring success at Stamford Bridge. It hasn’t been a failure, for sure, but there’s been a lot of friction between the demanding Italian coach and the equally demanding Chelsea fans.

Many Blues faithful have grown frustrated with the club’s seeming lack of action in the transfer market. As impressive as the Jorginho coup was, it was only one of two active bits of business the club did in the summer alongside the Mateo Kovacic loan, with the signing of Kepa Arrizabalaga only a response to Thibaut Courtois’ departure to Real Madrid.

And although the club signed Christian Pulisic (for next season) in the January window, they spent most of it openly courting a striker and a midfielder, in the end having to settle for the loan deal of the past-it Gonzalo Higuain. In short, Chelsea’s usual policy of bringing in top quality talent to continually bolster their squad is… well it’s not failing but it’s not the roaring success it was.

In the summer they face a transfer ban and two of their brightest attacking talents seemingly angling to leave. Those talents? Eden Hazard and Callum Hudson-Odoi. Chelsea’s current superstar and the young English talent from their academy who looks for all the world as though he’ll be the next Blues superstar. If they let him, that is.

You see, Hudson-Odoi’s frustrations have been to do with not playing enough (that he genuinely thought he’d play more for Bayern Munich is so damning). The game against Brighton wasn’t just notable for Chelsea scoring three goals in the league. It was also the full Premier League debut for Hudson-Odoi. Yeah, that’d be the same Callum Hudson-Odoi who has two England caps.

Sarri’s reluctance to use the teenager has been notable in recent weeks as Chelsea have looked slow and frustrating. Everything has flown through the genius of Hazard, and if he hasn’t been alive or on-point to spark something, the Blues have generally been flat.

But Hudson-Odoi was a breath of fresh air against Brighton. An electric presence up and down the flanks, creating the opening goal for Olivier Giroud with a superb low cross and playing excellently besides that.

When there’s such a clamour for a youngster to feature, the pressure on them to produce when they are given that chance is enormous. Yet Hudson-Odoi took it in stride. Just like he took debuting for England in stride, and starting for England (and winning the u-17 World Cup for England). His level of ability has never been in question but the way he has handled all the pressure and expectation placed on him indicates a player who could go very far.

Obviously, he is still young, but sometimes when you know, you just know, y’know?

But Sarri was so reluctant to put him in, until Brighton. Then Hudson-Odoi started, and so did Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Two young English products of the Chelsea youth academy. Hudson-Odoi got the opening assist, Loftus-Cheek got the last goal (his second in consecutive games after a late winner against Cardiff). They added some genuine excitement and drive to the Chelsea team.

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This feels like a turning point for Chelsea. Not Eden Hazard, with Real Madrid calling he will likely depart Stamford Bridge this summer, but Chelsea should let him go even if the transfer ban remains. They shouldn’t fight to keep him because they won’t be able to sign a replacement, because they have a replacement. His name is Callum Hudson-Odoi.

Now, to be clear, Hudson-Odoi is 10 years younger than Eden Hazard and is nowhere near the Belgian’s level (Hazard thinks he was better at 18 than Hudson-Odoi is right now, but that’s irrelevant). There are no players near the Belgian’s level that Chelsea could sign. Any wing-forward better than Hazard on this planet (and for the record, that is a list you can count on one hand) is not leaving their current club for Stamford Bridge.

In the past this wouldn’t deter Chelsea, they’d go out and find someone like Willian. A sturdy, mid-level player, capable of moments of excellence. A solid pro. And then they’d keep on keepin’ on. They’d ignore the bounties that their youth academy was producing, or even just the young talents they had signed to develop (e.g. Kevin de Bruyne and Mohamed Salah).

When Roman Abramovich took over the club, the best and most intoxicating team in the world was arguably Frank Rijkaard’s Barcelona. And it was Barcelona that Abramovich sought to emulate. Hence hiring former Barcelona-assistant Henk Ten Cate and later Barcelona-enthusiast André Vilas-Boas, the emphasis on youth football and making Eden Hazard the king of the King’s Road.

That never really panned out. In fact, Chelsea with their love of player power, the revolving door of top-tier managers and win-at-all-costs mentality ended up mirroring Real Madrid. And that worked out spectacularly for them. The short-termism gave them five league titles, five FA Cups (both more than anyone else in the Abramovich era), a Europa League and a Champions League.

But everything has a price, and Roman Abramovich appears to be losing interest in Chelsea. Fuelled by personal problems, the Russian has withdrawn from Chelsea. This is the first season in which Abramovich did not buy a corporate box at the Bridge, and the situation is so off-kilter that club chairman Bruce Buck has to constantly reassure everyone “he’s committed to Chelsea.”

It’s all feeling very much like the end of an era at Chelsea, or at least a period of change. So why not use this as an opportunity to transform the club’s ethos? Chelsea arguably have the best youth academy in the country. They have youngsters who can produce brilliance and are ready to play at the top level. Hudson-Odoi, Loftus-Cheek, Ethan Ampadu, Mason Mount, Jay Dasilva, Jake Clarke-Salter, Trevoh Chalobah, Kurt Zouma. Hell, even Christian Pulisic is just 20 years of age.

So let Hazard go. Let Higuain’s loan expire. And build around these youngsters. Some of them are more ready than others, but fill the squad out with these young players who are all loaded with talent and would love to play for Chelsea. Maybe sign a No.9 if the transfer ban gets lifted, or if it’s upheld then play Olivier Giroud or Michy Batshuayi and then bring through Tammy Abraham, the young striker who joined Chelsea at seven-years-old and deserves a chance to prove himself in blue.

Whether or not Sarri remains manager, Chelsea need to take this match for the springboard it can be. Both in terms of getting their season back on the right track (they have a relatively easy path to the Europa League final) and then, in a large sense, as a turning point in the entire ethos of the club.

Get rid of Hazard, who has forever flirted with a Chelsea exit and embodies the arrogant player-power image they should shed. Even his latest comments about Hudson-Odoi are needlessly self-serving and come across like a veteran trying to humble a fearless young talent. Chelsea need to rid themselves of players like that, trust the kids and become the club they were always meant to be.