“Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?” Zinedine Zidane made his foreboding quote in 2003 upon the departure of his Real Madrid teammate Claude Makelele to Chelsea, which coincided with the arrival of new Galactico David Beckham. Zizou went on to be proven right. While Makelele was thriving in the Premier League—and even getting a position named after him—Los Blancos went three seasons without a La Liga title before clinching top spot again in Beckham’s last season in Spain. The moral of the footballing tale is: the balance of the team is key.
Will this be at the forefront of the minds of the Chelsea hierarchy when movements are made in this summer’s transfer window?
The rumour mill around the club has inevitably been kept spinning by the winds of a managerial change and more importantly, another season without challenging for a league title. Even before Thomas Tuchel’s arrival as head coach six weeks ago, much of the focus has been towards the Blues looking to strengthen with talent from the Bundesliga. This has led to the likes of Bayern Munich’s David Alaba being strongly linked, as well as RB Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano before the announcement of his move to the Bavarian giants last month.
However, the name that has persistently been connected to Stamford Bridge has been star striker Erling Braut Haaland. With Borussia Dortmund’s chances of qualifying for next season’s Champions League very much in the balance right now, there are suggestions the German club would be interested in selling either Haaland or England winger Jadon Sancho in the summer to make up any lost earnings from a season out of Europe’s elite club competition.
Haaland’s much publicised buyout clause of £63 million kicks in next year and much speculation has been made that a big club will step in now rather than wait until next summer for the possibility of a bargain. However, with both Barcelona and Real Madrid well and truly out of pocket, the strongest links have been to Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs.
In the last 10 days, differing reports have come out regarding Haaland’s interest in a move to Stamford Bridge. Claims have ranged from open to the idea, to uninterested. Furthermore, his father Alf Inge Haaland—who played in the Premier League for both Leeds and Manchester City—has seemingly been decisive in laying out his son’s path in the game. He has helped implement sensible transfers that have aided the 20-year-old’s progress into an elite goal scorer and he might not see the pressures of west London as being the right move in his son’s journey to greatness.
Would Chelsea be the best move for Haaland to make this summer?
When all is said and done though, would Haaland be the best fit for the attacking line-up the Blues already possess? More specifically, how would this impact Timo Werner and Tammy Abraham’s standings at the club?
Haaland has been the epitome of the modern No. 9 at Dortmund and can seemingly do all that is asked of him. In addition to bucket loads of goals, he links play and fulfils defensive duties with enthusiasm, using his large frame to close down defensive passing lanes and is often placed around the near post when defending corners.
With these attributes, he is naturally an unbelievable addition to any squad. The purchase of such an elite striker will most likely come with knock-on effects for Werner’s chance to ever really hold the mantle as the team’s main source of goals. Werner thrived at RB Leipzig playing on the left side with Denmark international Youssouf Paulson playing a more traditional No. 9 role. Similarly, Haaland has built up a dynamic partnership with Sancho at Dortmund, but with both often playing an interchanging role between scorer and assister.
The potential for a partnership is clearly there if the two were to play together. However, one must consider that if a new No. 9 is brought in—specifically to compete with and improve Werner—it could be argued that player already exists in Abraham. An all-round forward who, despite his age, clearly demands the best on the pitch and shows his frustration when service from players more experienced than him is less than optimal. Abraham would have to adapt his mindset, rather than his game, to work well alongside Werner. He would need to move more toward hold-up play and providing, rather than focusing on his goal tally, but adapting his game could be detrimental to both players remaining long-term options at the club.
We have seen from the transfer of Havertz—or even Eden Hazard back in 2013—that the club tends to roll the dice when an opportunity to pick up a talented player arises. Opportunity is one thing, but unlike those transfers, many other pieces will need to fall into place for the Norwegian international to end up in west London. Before starting what will likely be a long process to convince Haaland and his father to choose Chelsea above a host of elite clubs, the futures of both Abraham and Olivier Giroud should be resolved in advance.
Giroud would still be a good option for one more season at Chelsea. His experience, strength and eye for goal in important games could be invaluable. Looking as hungry as ever to play at the top level, Giroud might prefer being used rotationally at an elite European club, rather than making a move to the the MLS for example, where he could potentially be a regular starter.
Abraham, on the other hand, will be harder to tie down to a new deal. With negotiations to keep him at the club beyond 2023 possibly stalling, it is understandable if the young Englishman is weighing up his options until after any possible new arrivals come in. For the club, it is somewhat of a catch 22. By going into the transfer market to fix a perceived lack of goals from the current striking options, they could conceivably alienate Abraham, who’s desire to be the No. 1 striker at a big club is the kind of competition Werner would benefit from.
Whatever shape Chelsea’s striking options take going into next season, Tuchel will undoubtedly want decisions to be made early and his meticulous personality will demand this as he looks to make a challenge for the club’s first Premier League trophy since 2017. The German’s tendency to rotate has often been mentioned since his arrival and a coach of his stature will want to utilise strikers with different traits, but nobody is better placed than him to be like Zidane in 2003, and remind the board that balance is key.