Did signing David Luiz show a lack of foresight on Chelsea's part?
Rumours are that David Luiz told his agent Giuliano Bertolucci to search for options in the transfer market. Finally, after months of behind-the-scenes commotion, both parties seem to have reached common ground. No longer a first-team regular for Chelsea, the Brazilian intends to move elsewhere to boost his hopes of selection ahead of this summer's World Cup in Russia.
Antonio Conte recently said:
"I was a player – I will understand if someone is worried about the World Cup. I will understand if someone is thinking in this way. I prefer to have players very happy to stay here than to have players that are unhappy because when you are unhappy you transfer this to the other players, to me and to my staff and I don’t like this. I like to avoid this situation."
This news comes only a few months after winning the Premier League title with David Luiz as his libero - a signing which was seen as a masterstroke by many. A £34m fee did not seem very expensive as Luiz was consistently performing well in their back three, especially during the first half of the campaign when the Blues went on a 13-match winning streak.
His horror show against Germany was long forgotten, with many believing that he had finally revived his career at Chelsea. He himself loved the club and found a perfect position and manager to exploit his strengths, whilst masking his weaknesses.
Fast forward a few months though, he's now struggling to get minutes in the domestic tournaments, let alone being a first-team starter when it comes to top-flight fixtures. Andreas Christensen has impressed when given an opportunity in central defence, with Luiz appearing far from interested in earning his place back.
This brings up a good question: Why did Chelsea splash the cash on him when they already had Christensen developing in their ranks?
At Chelsea, the transfer business operates in a chain of command. The manager and technical director give a list of preferred options to the board. Depending on the budget available, the board of directions decide whether the options are viable.
If they cannot get their first option, they move onto other targets.
For Conte, Luiz was not his first option. He wanted to acquire Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly and Juventus centre-back Leonardo Bonucci. However, both were too expensive with their clubs eager to retain their players, so Chelsea finally made a deadline day swoop for Luiz - someone who showed genuine interest in a return to west London, whilst being available for a relatively lower fee.
Though things worked out well later for both the player and team, the underlying fact that he was not Conte's first choice always lingered. So when Christensen finally looked ready, the Italian did not hesitate to drop Luiz for the youngster - the 22-year-old has brought a sense of calm and organisation to the defence, while the timing of Luiz's knee injury did not help him either.
With the World Cup right around the corner, Luiz appears to have lost his patience due to a lack of regular first-team minutes. As a result, he's now ready to move elsewhere for an opportunity to start on a weekly basis.
What could have been done?
Chelsea appear to no longer be the high spenders they were in previous seasons. The days of buying players just for the sake of it are gone, with their transfer approach extremely focused on the manager's desires as well as needs across the pitch.
With the new stadium coming up, owner Roman Abramovich appointed Marina Granovskaia to spearhead any negotiations taking place for players. For people who know her, she isn't one that would give up on her stance easily.
Taking these factors into consideration, it is understandable that they aren't willing to overspend on any player, especially if the players themselves are into their prime years. With John Terry's departure, there was a huge hole that had to be filled in the dressing room, as well as physically on the pitch at the heart of central defence. Luiz seemed like an adequate replacement, as he's a familiar face: someone who loves the club and was eager to prove his critics wrong by excelling upon his return.
With that being said, there's no real doubt that the aforementioned Bonucci or Koulibaly would have helped to make the Blues' backline even stronger. That still remains the case for Koulibaly, who at 26, is yet to reach the peak years of his professional career.
Admittedly, Chelsea are potentially losing out on a player and leadership figure they just bought back recently - not to mention a financial loss from any transfer fee they recoup for his services. In hindsight though, there's not much they could have done better as any other acquisition would have potentially blocked Christensen's first-team path.
With Christensen feeling increasingly confident as part of Chelsea's backline, it's hard to argue if Conte has got things right tactically, as he shows time and again.
The lack of patience shown in regards to developing players and buying them back further down the line has cost the Blues a fair bit of money in recent times, both for Luiz and Nemanja Matic in recent seasons. They have to accept that allowing them to initially leave was a wrong move, while paying considerable transfer fees has exposed the lack of a long-term plan in place, trickling down to the revolving door policy at the club for their managerial role.
But they are finally learning their lesson, by only selling players with buyback clauses as a means to give them first-team exposure elsewhere while also remaining on the front foot to sign them back later on, if they reach their full potential and proceed to consistently deliver results.
Christensen's two-year loan to Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladbach is a perfect example of their plan, as they need not go and overspend in the market for a first-team quality defender. Instead, they can invest in a youngster or buy an experienced player willing to sit on the sidelines and pass his knowledge onto Christensen, which seems the more probable option.
Luiz turned out to be a stop-gap acquisition, but his dip in form has only proven to be a blessing in disguise from Chelsea's perspective. This proves that although they made a panic buy without foresight, their long-term vision for Christensen prevailed in the end.