Chelsea has always been a club known for using—and some might argue abusing—the loan system in international football. This habit of loaning young players to smaller teams to guarantee them regular football has divided supporters and pundits alike. Some argue that constantly sending inexperienced members of the squad to different clubs actually hinders their development, while others see it as working within the rules of the system to better the youth of Stamford Bridge.
The Blues’ latest move, sending centerback Fikayo Tomori to AC Milan for the remainder of the season, is another example of the club’s loan obsession that could be detrimental in the long run. Tomori is a very talented player with a bright future in west London, and he definitely should have been getting more playing time than he was. Frank Lampard’s mismanagement of his minutes obviously played a role in his decision to depart for Italy and, in this very difficult period of Chelsea’s season, snubbing gifted players who will fight for the badge is simply unacceptable.
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From Tomori’s point of view, going out on loan is the right decision. He has only made four total appearances this year, including a mere 44’ of playing time in the Premier League. Further, Antonio Rudiger’s reintroduction to the rotation effectively ended any hopes of the situation improving. Additionally, Milan is one of the top teams in Europe at the moment, having lost only two matches in all competitions. The young Englishman will certainly benefit from playing alongside veteran defenders such as Simon Kjaer and the consistently-underrated Alessio Romagnoli in a confident and well-organized Rossoneri side.
From the club’s perspective, the consequences of this move might not be apparent until years from now. As I mentioned, Tomori was clearly not in Lampard’s plans and barring any significant injuries, that was unlikely to change. However, what if the loan goes really well for Tomori and he wants to stay at the San Siro? What if he improves greatly and becomes the missing piece in Milan’s desperate endeavor to finally dethrone Juventus from the top of Serie A? Will supporters be looking at Tomori in the same way that we look at Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Mohamed Salah? I think this is a distinct possibility, and one that will seriously hamper Chelsea’s future.
Another worrying facet of Tomori’s situation is his potential to be the most recent player sucked into the inescapable Chelsea loan vortex. Fans might have heard about Lucas Piazon’s permanent departure for Portuguese side Braga after nine years at Stamford Bridge that included seven separate loan spells and only one Premier League appearance. The Brazilian international was once one of the most highly-touted prospects at Cobham, but never ultimately solidified a spot at the club. Players like Ethan Ampadu and Ruben Loftus-Cheek appear to be heading down this path quickly, and Tomori could be poised to join them.
Of course, it must be said that not all Chelsea loans end in disaster. Mason Mount’s spells at Vitesse Arnhem and Derby County were clearly positive experiences that transformed him into the player he is today. This season, Conor Gallagher at West Brom and Marc Guehi at Swansea have made some noise. I truly hope that Tomori’s loan to Milan can be a period of maturation that will prepare him for the Blues’ first XI next year. However, given Chelsea’s track record with these kinds of deals, there are certainly reasons to be skeptical.