Yesterday I wrote that Chelsea needed to clear a high bar to justify recalling Conor Gallagher from Charlton Athletic and re-loaning him for the second half of the season. With Steve Cooper’s Swansea City, they did.
Conor Gallagher will spend the rest of the season at Swansea City. He will be joining his Chelsea academy teammate Marc Guehi, along with their England youth teammate Rhian Brewster on loan from Liverpool. That trio will reunite with their coach from England’s U-17 World Cup-winning side, Steve Cooper.
Wait, where have we heard this before? Two of Chelsea’s top prospects on loan in the Championship playing alongside a Liverpool loanee under the tutelage of a young English manager?
Swansea City in the spring of 2020 is the new Derby County. The two clubs are even almost in the same place in the table at this point in the season: last January 15 Derby were in sixth, Swansea are currently in seventh.
Swansea City have 13 more points than Charlton Athletic, but four fewer goals. Only four teams in the Championship have fewer goals than the seventh-place Swans. Their interest in Gallagher is pretty obvious: they need more goals if they are going to finish the season in the promotion playoffs.
From Chelsea’s perspective, The Telegraph speculates the Blues are looking for any opportunity to move their loanees up the table. If they have the chance to take a player who is performing well on his loan and shift him to a better loan, they will take it. Since Swansea are battling for promotion while Charlton are hoping to avoid battling for survival, this would be a step up.
That argument could explain why Chelsea have opted not to recall Ethan Ampadu from RB Leipzig. He has made only two appearances off the bench this season, which should make him a clear candidate for reassignment to somewhere – anywhere – he can play on a weekly basis. But if Chelsea are giving substantial weight to the quality of the team and what the player can learn in training, even in the absence of playing minutes, they may see value in keeping him with the Bundesliga leaders.
This is a dicey and counterintuitive proposition. No amount of training, no matter how good, can compare to playing, unless the level is clearly below that of the player.
Hopefully at least some of the decision to reassign Conor Gallagher stems from the opportunity for him to play for a familiar, upwardly mobile coach and continue developing alongside two teammates from club and country.
The other aspect Chelsea hopefully considered before making this decision is their relationship with Charlton Athletic. Charlton coach Lee Bowyer made it sound like this was a surprise decision, one that developed quickly and without much input from him.
Chelsea have to do what’s best for their players and for the club as a whole. Part of taking care of the club is ensuring good loans are available to future classes of loanees. If clubs start to distrust Chelsea, suspecting that Chelsea will yank their best players away midseason, or just openly resent previous dealings, they will stop taking those loanees in the first place. If the Blues develop a reputation for doing that, they may find doors closing to them.
Vitesse is no longer “Chelsea B.” Last season, Derby County looked to be taking over that role. Had Chelsea hired someone else to replace Maurizio Sarri, the one positive would be another season or two of Frank Lampard and Jody Morris coaching the Blues’ best loanees as Rams. It would be good for the Blues to have a regular loan partner, somewhere they can send 1-3 players each season secure in the knowledge that those players will play regularly, learn their trade and contribute to the club. Reassigning players midseason does not build the foundation of that kind of relationship.
Of all the possible options for Conor Gallagher’s second half, this is one of the better ones because of Steve Cooper, Marc Guehi and Rhian Brewster rather than Swansea’s place in the table.
Hopefully Gallagher has the opportunity to do as much for Swansea as he did for Charlton so Chelsea can get as much out of his second half as they did his first.