By Thomas McIlroy, Football Whispers
There won’t be many more bizarre deadline day stories than Ross Barkley. Chelsea and Everton agreed a fee for the England international, before he agreed personal terms ahead of a move to Stamford Bridge. Then, depending on who you speak to, he either left before, after or during the medical, deciding the move was off. Whatever happened, it’s clear he was set to sign for the champions before the window closed and he must have had second thoughts.
Alone, it would have been frustrating for Chelsea, but it just added to an endless list of rejection by top players this summer. It started with Romelu Lukaku, who seemed set to rejoin his old club before teaming up with former Blues boss Jose Mourinho at Manchester United. That in itself seemed strange, as the Belgian always seemed to want a second chance at Stamford Bridge. Speaking after his move to Everton, he said: “I will always be a fan of that club. It’s not because I left in the wrong circumstances, that feeling disappears. But a footballer wants to play.”
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What’s more, he seemed not to get on with Mourinho, who let him go from Stamford Bridge. The Portuguese manager must have turned on the charm, and perhaps the lure of playing alongside good friend Paul Pogba was too much to ignore for the forward. It has definitely worked out for Lukaku too, with United sitting top of the league having won each of their opening three games.
Chelsea were able to move on from that though, going for Alvaro Morata, who’s also had a good start at his new club. If Lukaku was alone, it would not have been a massive issue for the Blues, occasionally transfer deals fall through and it has been Chelsea who have swooped in for players before – as they love to remind Tottenham Hotspur whenever they serenade their Brazilian winger Willian.
Yet after Lukaku, then came Virgil van Dijk. Antonio Conte reportedly wanted the centre-back, but he made it clear to Southampton that he only wanted a move to Liverpool. That fell down after Saints reported the Reds to the FA for an illegal approach to the defender and he has remained at St Mary’s – that’s despite talk that Southampton were willing to sell him to Chelsea in retaliation to Liverpool’s behaviour. Yet, the player was insistent he wanted a move to Anfield rather than one to Stamford Bridge.
Then the transfer window came to a close and the Blues started to make their moves to keep Conte happy, with the Italian manager frustrated at the size of his squad. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Fernando Llorente and Barkley were all targets, but they all chose not to move to Stamford Bridge. The talk is Oxlade-Chamberlain preferred to play in midfield, while Chelsea wanted him to play at wing-back, so perhaps they can justify missing out like that. But Llorente is bizarre.
Dean Ashton tried to explain the 32-year-old moving from Swansea City to Tottenham Hotspur ahead of Chelsea without much luck on Sky Sports. The former West Ham United striker said: “I can’t get my head around why he wouldn’t go to Chelsea ahead of Tottenham. That’s my own opinion, I think he’s more likely to win something at Chelsea, I think he’s more likely to play at Chelsea. I wonder if he just doesn’t like Conte or I wonder what Tottenham have said to convince him.”
It would seem strange if he didn’t get on with Conte, considering the talk is that the Italian manager has been keen to reunited with the Spanish striker for the last two transfer windows. Perhaps Chelsea offered less money than Tottenham, but with Daniel Levy’s reputation for being stingy, that seems unlikely.
While they have won their last two games, it does feel like Conte is at war with the Chelsea hierarchy over transfers. Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool and Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham seem much happier. It would make more sense for players to go to a club where they believe the manager’s job is safe. They don’t want to turn up somewhere and for a new manager to come in next season. With that, there’s a possibility they would fall out of favour as the new man looks to bring his own faces in. It’s hard to deny Chelsea don’t have a history of that either – Roman Abramovich doesn’t hang around when things start to go bad – who else would have sacked a manager with the history Mourinho had at Chelsea?
While the Blues are arguably the most successful club in England in the past 10 years, they are not stable. Tottenham and Liverpool feel like they’re on the up, as do Manchester United but Chelsea’s collapse two seasons ago after winning the Premier League means it feels like they could always be on the edge of disaster. No player will want to be involved in a disastrous title defence.
What’s more, although they are competing on more fronts this season, Chelsea’s transfer targets will have seen how little Conte liked to rotate last season. They don’t want to sit on the bench and not play. The English players in particular will have seen what happened to the likes of Shaun Wright-Phillips and Scott Parker at Stamford Bridge and not want to do the same. Even Nathaniel Chalobah got an England call up after leaving Chelsea. In a World Cup year, they can’t risk the chance of not playing.
It was down to the Chelsea hierarchy to allay those fears, and obviously they didn’t. That’s the real worry for the Blues fans. You would imagine moving to the champions should be an easy sell and it clearly hasn’t been. The hard work will start now to make sure they don’t experience this embarrassment again.