Chelsea are currently enduring their second transfer ban in just three years following the sanctions placed on Roman Abramovich.
However, while the stoppage of all money related activity this year has seen Antonio Rudiger confirm his exit from the club, the transfer ban in 2019 had the opposite effect. It actually helped Chelsea.
It may seem strange to draft up an idea in which a team stands still, in regards to transfers, and improves but Chelsea have experienced it.
Modern football revolves around big-money signings and is largely based on how successful a team’s business in the transfer market is. Even title winning teams feel the pressure to improve year-on-year due to the competition at the highest level.
So, when Chelsea were hit with a 12-month transfer ban after rule breaches with academy players it was expected they would suffer. Combine that with the loss of superstar Eden Hazard, who had dragged the side to a top four finish and Europa League glory in his final season, and Frank Lampard was handed a mammoth task.
But, the transfer ban turned out to be a blessing in disguise. While it was intended as a punishment, it actually helped the club.
It’s worth noting that Christian Pulisic was signed months before the announcement of the transfer ban and Mateo Kovacic’s loan move was made permanent due to a clause in the deal, but other than that Chelsea were forced to turn to an underappreciated element of their club – the academy.
While Chelsea’s U23 side have struggled at the bottom of the PL2 this season, in years gone by their academy was the best in England, arguably the best in Europe.
FA Youth Cup triumphs became normality rather than out-of-the-blue successes and Chelsea’s Cobham academy was the envy of the watching world.
The list of the Blues’ last seven Academy Player of the Year winners tells the story perfectly: Valentino Livramento, Billy Gilmour, Conor Gallagher, Reece James, Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori and Dominic Solanke.
However, until the transfer ban of 2019 it simply wasn’t utilised. Ruben Loftus-Cheek was the first player to breakthrough and stay in the first-team fold since John Terry’s emergence, although Callum Hudson-Odoi was beginning to become a vital part of Maurizio Sarri’s team before the ban was handed to the club.
Other than those two examples, the academy was barely used despite its incredible success.
With no new signings arriving it was down to the academy players to step up. Chelsea’s squad was fairly thin heading into the 2019/20 season and if no transfer ban had been issued then it would be accurate to suggest five or six new faces would’ve arrived through the door.
For example, Sarri favoured a move for his former Napoli defender Elseid Hysaj, but the Italian manager left before the window rolled around following the news of the ban. Lampard arrived and a breath of fresh air was introduced to the club. Instead of Hysaj, it was Reece James who provided competition for Cesar Azpilicueta at right-back and the Englishman has since gone from strength to strength.
Lampard may not be deemed a complete success for his time as Chelsea manager, but he played a crucial role in giving youth a chance.
James and Mason Mount have been two of Chelsea’s best players this season, but may not have ever been given a chance in the first-team were it not for Lampard or the transfer ban.
Not only are they super talented, but they care about the club. With the sanctions currently imposed on Chelsea it’s more important than ever to have players willing to fight for the badge. James and Mount epitomise that more than most.
In a period of crisis, the academy players provided Chelsea with Champions League football after finishing in the top four under Lampard and without that success they wouldn’t have won Europe’s biggest club prize last season.
Chelsea may be a way off Manchester City and Liverpool in the Premier League right now, but without the performances of the Cobham graduates during Lampard’s tenure and those still at the club now, the gap would be far bigger. With a cluster of academy players now solidified first-team members, Chelsea have a pathway for youth and that can only be a good thing.