22 Mar 19
The Scottish Sun
AND so the latest state of play at Chelsea is as follows.
Eden Hazard is off to Real Madrid, Callum Hudson-Odoi wants to go to Bayern Munich and many other talented kids are restless.
Roman Abramovich has vanished from sight, Maurizio Sarri is clinging on for dear life and the football is tedious.
The atmosphere is fractious, the new stadium has been shelved and a FIFA transfer ban is coming.
Apart from that, though, everything is hunky-dory.
It must feel difficult for Chelsea supporters to look ahead just now – especially when, under Sarri, their midfield rarely even passes the ball forward.
Yet there is cause for optimism at Stamford Bridge, in both the short and long term.
A return to Champions League football. Youth finally getting the chance to blossom. And the prospect of a takeover from a petrochemicals billionaire twice as wealthy as Abramovich.
[bc_video video_id=”6015768634001″ account_id=”5067014667001″ player_id=”default” embed=”in-page” padding_top=”56%” autoplay=”” min_width=”0px” max_width=”640px” width=”100%” height=”100%” caption=”Meet Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the potential new Chelsea FC owner who grew up on a council estate, owns two yachts and is worth £21bn”]
Jim Ratcliffe, Britain’s wealthiest man with a fortune of £21billion, would need to spend around 10 per cent of that stash to persuade Abramovich to part with Chelsea.
Having already bought the Team Sky cycling team, Ratcliffe is not averse to taking over a crisis-ridden sporting operation – and he is absolutely stinking rich.
After 16 years at the helm, these feel like the end of days for the Abramovich regime.
It’s been some journey – 15 major trophies, 11 managers and an extraordinary ability to veer from glory to crisis and back again.
But since experiencing visa problems last year, Abramovich has become an absentee landlord and has abandoned his plans to build a new stadium on the Stamford Bridge site.
There is an increasing belief that the Russian selling up might now be in the club’s best interests.
And especially to a man as wealthy as Ratcliffe, a Chelsea season-ticket holder who grew up supporting Manchester United.
Forbes’ list of the top 20 richest sports team owners
Rich men, of course, can change their support for football clubs in a way working-class blokes would never get away with.
But should he end up persuading Abramovich to sell, Ratcliffe would surely look to revive plans for the Stamford Bridge rebuild, knowing the current stadium is becoming decrepit.
In the shorter term, Sarri – though clearly a dead man smoking – has just about earned the right to stay in post until the end of the season.
And despite the frustrations of his turgid Sarri-ball, there is still much to play for – with two routes to Champions League qualification open.
A kindly quarter-final draw against Slavia Prague keeps the Blues dreaming of Baku, the Azerbaijani capital which rarely gets fantasized about but which will play host to the Europa League Final in May.
And while Chelsea’s Premier League away form has been laughably bad – four defeats out of five, with 15 goals shipped since the turn of the year – Sarri’s men remain only three points adrift of fourth-placed Arsenal.
Maurizio Sarri could end his Chelsea misery by returning to Italy in a move that would suit both parties
Sarri is being linked with a move back to Italy with Roma – and that scenario could suit both sides.
Chelsea are still trying to settle their acrimonious split with title-winning Antonio Conte and so they’ll be keen to avoid another divorce deal with Sarri.
Having said that, the 60-year-old tactics wonk has already hinted that he’s eyeing a major pay-off – saying that he didn’t fear for his future now like he did when managing in the Italian lower leagues, earning peanuts.
However he takes his leave, Sarri will not be sorely missed by players or supporters.
And the next manager will inherit an unusual situation if Chelsea are unable to earn at least a stay of execution on their transfer ban, imposed for breaching rules on the signing of foreign Under-18 players.
With Zinedine Zidane re-installed at Real Madrid, Hazard’s move to the Bernabeu looks more likely than ever – and the Belgian will go with the blessing of most, after seven years of sterling service.
GIVE THE KIDS A CHANCE
So it is to be hoped that Sarri’s successor is a manager keen to promote the ample young talent within Chelsea’s vast squad.
Hudson-Odoi, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount have all won senior England call-ups without getting a decent run in the Chelsea side – and there are several more in the Blues’ army of loan players worthy of a chance.
Many Chelsea supporters would actually welcome a transfer ban, and at least one season with an emphasis on the promotion of youth, perhaps even under an English manager.
Could Frank Lampard become Chelsea’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer or could these be the perfect circumstances for Eddie Howe to get his deserved step up from Bournemouth to a major club?
Either way, a transfer ban might be the club’s best hope of convincing Hudson-Odoi to stay rather than head to Bayern this summer.
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Even by Chelsea’s standards, these are strange and uncertain times.
But the genuine prospect of change at every level of the club brings hope.
And, Chelsea being Chelsea, it is never likely to be dull.
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