Michael Ballack looks back at his decision to leave Chelsea with a bit of regret. Does Chelsea have a similar sense, and if so, are they learning from it?
Just when we think we’ve covered all the situations in which Chelsea’s “over 30, single year extension” policy bit them in the posterior – either down the road or at the time – we find another one. Michael Ballack wanted to stay at Chelsea, was hoping he could stay at Chelsea, was thinking that he could finish his career at Chelsea… but the club would only offer him a one-year contract instead of the two-year extension he wanted.
Ballack only played two more seasons for Bayer Leverkeusen after leaving Stamford Bridge, so that two-year extension would have been his last. He wasn’t gaming the Blues for an indefinite stay at the club – he had it all planned out.
Hopefully someone at the club is saying the same thing Ballack said recently: “Today, I can say maybe it was wrong.”
That was a particularly regretful period for the club, since it was right around the time of the one sacking Roman Abramovich came to regret: Carlo Ancelotti’s.
As we know, if anyone at Chelsea recognizes that they mishandled Ballack’s extension, they haven’t put that lesson into practice. The club adhered to the over 30 policy for nearly a full decade after Ballack left, only making an exception quite recently for David Luiz. Luiz himself proved what a foolish decision that was.
The club are now facing a similar and completely predictable situation with Willian. Willian wants two more years, the club are only offering him one, and the impasse continues. Club leadership surely did nothing to help Willian change his mind and see things their way by how long they dragged their feet before letting him return to Brazil to spend the virus interruptus with his family.
Willian is two years younger than Ballack was when he left in 2010, and has over three times as many appearances as Ballack did. Neither were being pushed out by a rising youth player or long-planned marquee transfer. Even without the injuries to Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic, Willian would still have been a regular in the starting XI this season and would be on course for a diminished but still significant role next season. There are still plenty of things he does better than anyone else in Blue.
Nothing about David Luiz’s two-year extension suggests it was an action based on a lesson learned. It was just one of those things. A Chelsea thing, you could say. Given everything the Blues have done since – including selling Luiz to Arsenal – it may mark the last gasp of their most wayward era.
Of the players over age 30 at the club, only Willian seems interested in and likely to be considered for a two-year extension. We see arguments for both the one- and two-year contracts, but his age is not one of them.
Chelsea’s golden era has pockets of regret among the fans and the players. To prevent more, the club has to learn from their role in the earlier ones.