Chelsea’s Transfer Policy: The Buck Stops at the Board

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Updated: March 29, 2016

“When he was hired we had a very difficult situation. The only striker we had at the time was Diego Costa. Traore was a very young kid and in a very short time, coming on as a substitute, he did well and scored some goals. We also had Remy in troubled waters, and Falcao as well, so that’s the reason we got Pato on loan.”

Those are Guus Hiddink’s words, via Chelsea’s official club site, on 18 March, 2016, explaining the club’s reasoning behind signing Alexandre Pato. The answer, while touching on Remy and Falcao’s unavailability, as well as Traore’s youth, is not a response that truly explains the Chelsea board’s decision to sign the Brazilian for six months – especially when half that time would be spent getting fit.

In fact, it’s very difficult, bordering on impossible, to understand why it was decided that yet another loanee striker would improve the squad in the first place. Guus Hiddink cites a lack of squad depth at the time, saying that Traore was “a very young kid.” If Traore wasn’t mature enough a month and a half ago, what has changed between then and now during which he’s scored four goals in seven domestic appearances? We shouldn’t forget that the only reason Traore got a chance in the first place was because of first-team injuries – the very circumstance Pato was supposedly signed for.

Of course, one ineffective signing isn’t indicative of a broken transfer policy. Any club willing to take a gamble on a player with potential will recognize the risks of such a strategy. The only problem arises when more players turn out to be failures than not.

And Chelsea are in that situation.

Over the summer, the club was in a great place to strengthen the squad. After winning a domestic double, all that was needed to make them more formidable in Europe was a world-class talent, and maybe a backup for the aging but sturdy John Terry. Yet while their fellow Premier League teams were splashing the cash to plug the respective gaps in their lineups, Chelsea failed to seal the deal with any of their main targets. There would be no John Stones or Paul Pogba at Cobham come August.

Instead, in came Pedro, who quickly found his way to the bench; Begovic, who was always going to be second place to Courtois; Baba Rahman, who wasn’t close to ready for the Premier League at his time of signing; and Papy Djilobodji, whose best moment in a Chelsea shirt was playing out of position at left back for 30 seconds in a 4-1 victory against Walsall.

Not to mention the two loanees, Radamel Falcao and Alexandre Pato. The signing of Falcao, in particular, begs the question: why sign a player who suffered severe injuries and hasn’t shown quality since? A player who had already played in the same league with a similar team and failed to produce? There’s no reason to believe Falcao would start scoring goals at Chelsea when he had already played an entire season in nearly identical conditions and disappointed heavily, and, unsurprisingly, he didn’t.

The buck must stop at the Chelsea boardroom, and, more specifically, in front of the man who is ultimately responsible for the club’s transfer dealings: Michael Emenalo. A quick survey of his page on Chelsea’s official website reveals that Emenalo is responsible for “leading the club’s international and domestic scouting network.” Reading into this, one can assume that it’s Emenalo who recommends signings to the board. Why, then, hasn’t he been officially held accountable for Chelsea’s seeming inability to properly assess the players they buy? If Jose Mourinho was sacked after a string of poor results, why hasn’t Emenalo been sacked after a string of poor transfers?

Still, it must be remembered that transfer policy, while integral to long-term team building, can’t be held solely responsible for Chelsea’s terrible form this season. There are plenty of contributing factors to blame, including a lax preseason, weak mentality and Mourinho’s alleged conflicts with players and backroom staff.

But would the season have gone better if Chelsea had managed to bring in a quality player or two? There’s no doubt it would have affected both the team’s on-pitch success and off-pitch confidence. Simply put, for a top club, a haphazard transfer policy such as Chelsea’s is unsuccessful and unsustainable, and Michael Emenalo should be held responsible.

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