New Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri must embark upon a charm offensive this week as he bids to keep hold of the club’s star quartet. Thibaut Courtois, N’Golo Kante, Willian and Eden Hazard were superb at the World Cup and Europe’s elite clubs are casting admiring glances their way. Chelsea are accustomed to being the sharks in the summer transfer window, snapping up big name players with gleeful abandon, but now they risk turning into a selling club. Yet Sarri can prevent that by laying out ambitious plans to return to the summit of English and European football and convincing his stars to stay.
The Italian came within a whisker of deposing Juventus as Serie A champions last season, but his Napoli side ultimately came up short. His career is not exactly laden with silverware, so he was an interesting choice to take over from compatriot Antonio Conte in the Chelsea hot seat. But chopping and changing managers has proved extremely successful for the Blues in recent years, and they hope Sarri can continue that title winning tradition.
The club has already secured a real coup by signing Napoli midfielder Jorginho in a £57.4 million deal. Premiership champions Man City were desperate to sign the Italian playmaker, who has been likened to Andrea Pirlo, but Chelsea’s dealings with Napoli for Sarri allowed them to steal a march. The prospect of Jorginho lining up alongside N’Golo Kante in the Chelsea engine room next season is positively mouth-watering, so Sarri needs to convince the Frenchman to stay.
Kante proved why he is considered the world’s best holding midfielder as he led Les Bleus to World Cup glory at the weekend. He proved too strong for the world’s finest midfielders throughout the tournament, and France were good value for their victory. He has not intimated that he wants to leave, but Barcelona are interested and that is a tempting option for him. Yet Sarri should be able to convince him and Willian to stay. The latter grew frustrated at a lack of playing time under Conte last season, and Man Utd and Barca are keen to sign him, but he could be persuaded to stay if he is guaranteed a starting berth.
Keeping hold of Belgian duo Hazard and Courtois looks more problematic. Real Madrid have just sanctioned the departure of record goalscorer Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus, and president Florentino Perez has identified Hazard as the man to replace him. Perez typically gets what he wants, although he has never come up against the might of Roman Abramovich. Much depends on the Russian’s appetite for further success at Stamford Bridge. He has always bankrolled the club heavily, but rumours swirl of his discontent regarding British visa issues.
This summer could be a crossroads. Sell Hazard and only reinvest part of the fee – estimated at between £170 million and £220 million – and Chelsea suddenly stop being considered an elite club. Keep hold of him and splash out several hundred million quid on superstars to complement his talents and suddenly Chelsea are right back in the mix. If Courtois has to go back to Spain for family reasons, he could be replaced with someone like Alisson of Roma. But Hazard is a lot harder to replace.
The world’s most highly rated betting sites have released odds on who will win the Premiership next season, and Chelsea are way down the list, below Man City, Liverpool and Man Utd and about level with Tottenham. Aside from Courtois, Hazard, Kante, Jorginho and Willian, they lack quality. Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses are decent, and a couple of the centre-backs look promising, but this team needs to keep its stars and invest in first team players that are in their prime if they want to keep pace with their rivals. That has always been the Chelsea model under Abramovich, and it would be folly to think the Blues will do anything else this summer, so they could well re-emerge as genuine contenders in 2018/19.