Chelsea: Transfer ban adds insult and more injuries to injuries

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 14: An injured Antonio Ruediger of Chelsea is given assistance during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC at Anfield on April 14, 2019 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 14: An injured Antonio Ruediger of Chelsea is given assistance during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC at Anfield on April 14, 2019 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images) /

For all the positives that came out of Chelsea FC’s spirited but ultimately fruitless performance against Liverpool, the club’s biggest problem only got worse.

Andreas Christensen and Emerson both required first-half substitutions due to injuries, adding a couple more entries to Chelsea FC’s extensive list of hobbled players. In Emerson’s case, it was a re-aggravation of the same thigh problem he picked up during the last international break. Christensen, meanwhile, was downed via friendly fire, when a sliding Fikayo Tomori clipped the back of his left leg.

While neither are ideal, Frank Lampard seemed far more pessimistic about Emerson’s prognosis. “Emerson is a similar injury to what he had,” Lampard said, “which with a muscle it means you have come back too soon, and that is not a slight on him because everybody wants to play in this game. Those things should not happen.

“Christensen is a bang on the back of the knee which we will assess. First thought is that it is not that bad.”

Christensen’s injury was a freak incident. Emerson’s, however, hints at a much scarier problem.

The rash of injuries that has plagued Chelsea for the better part of six months has ranged from serious ligament tears to annoyingly persistent knocks. In that timeframe, more than a third of the current first team squad has been sidelined at one point or another.

The latter stages of last season were especially fraught, as Maurizio Sarri’s refusal to rotate his squad resulted in players’ bodies breaking down left and right. It was as predictable as it was devastating. Add in a convoluted, travel-heavy preseason tour and the implementation of new training regimens by Lampard and his staff, and it’s understandable that some players couldn’t get up to the physical standard necessary for Chelsea’s rigorous fixture list. Through no one’s fault (except maybe Sarri’s), Chelsea were already hobbled coming into the season.

Well, I say no one’s fault (minus Sarri), but that isn’t necessarily true. FIFA’s transfer ban, and its unusually draconian implementation, deserves a heavy portion of the blame for Chelsea’s overcrowded physio room.

The inability to bring in new players — apart from returning loanees — forced Chelsea to go into the season undermanned. With the addition of an extra 120 minutes of Super Cup football thrown into the early-season mix, Lampard was immediately faced with rotation and load management challenges.

The result has been three players – N’Golo Kante, Antonio Rudiger, Emerson – returning to action, only to immediately pick up new injuries.

In other instances of big clubs receiving transfer bans, namely the major Spanish sides, the bans were either reduced to a single window or the clubs were granted a one-window grace period before the ban came into effect. Chelsea were not afforded either luxury, and are experiencing serious repercussions because of it.

Even more upsetting is the fact that the players are at a greater risk of suffering career-altering injuries due to the exceptionally high number of minutes they are forced to play this early in the season.

The problem is as obvious as it is maddening. With a small, hobbled squad and an early midweek fixture to start the season, Frank Lampard was forced to give huge amounts of minutes to players who clearly weren’t ready for the workload. Even worse, he had no choice but to field players who were finally returning from injuries earlier than he otherwise would have wanted, so as to reduce the risk of injury for those who played all of the early-season minutes.

It’s a vicious circle that likely won’t fully stop until next summer, when Chelsea can bring in some fresh legs.

With the Carabao Cup and Champions League underway, and the increasingly meaningful Euro 2020 qualifiers during international breaks, the physical demands of the season only get worse from here.

In retrospect, FIFA should have realized the state of Chelsea’s squad and allowed signings for the summer transfer window, with the ban coming into effect in January. Instead, the immediate enforcement of the ban has caused a chain reaction that affects innocent players, possibly to a career-ending degree.

To be fair, Chelsea do shoulder some of the responsibility here. Obviously, they could have just not broken the rules regarding the transferring of young players in the first place. Or they could have retained some of the players who were either sold or loaned out over the summer.

Hindsight is 20/20 with regards to the infractions. As far as the outgoing players, Chelsea were aware of the ban when they elected to sell the likes of Eden Hazard and David Luiz, implying that their departures were either pre-arranged (e.g. Hazard, Ola Aina) or required (Luiz, Tiemoue Bakayoko).

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Generally speaking, the excitement over the core of youth academy graduates is certainly warranted, and the transfer ban has played a major role in affording them opportunities. The same is true for the appointment of Lampard as manager. The week-to-week results may vary, but it’s been a fun ride so far.

However, while there is plenty of cause for optimism for fans, players, and management, Chelsea will find themselves in increasingly dire straits if the cycle of requiring semi-fit players to play 180 minutes per week continues for the next eight months.

FIFA’s short-sighted and compassionless application of the transfer ban is actively putting players at significant risk. With every exhaustion-based injury and re-aggravation of a previous ailment, it’s important to realize what a transfer ban truly is: a form of punishment for a club who has broken FIFA’s rules.

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Unfortunately, that looks destined to become more and more apparent over the course of the season.