January 2014. A month that will always remain in my mind as an avid Chelsea supporter. Juan Mata, my favorite player in that current Chelsea squad and only second to Didier Drogba as my favorite player of all time, was sold. And to make matters worse, he was sold to the club I despise the most; Manchester United. I was confused, gutted, and heart broken. As I sit in my dorm room trying to process what has just unfolded, a question dawns on me. I think to myself, “How will Chelsea cope without Mata now?”. At the time, Chelsea had Eden Hazard, Oscar, Andre Schurrle, and Willian as their current attacking midfielders. They had just sold Kevin De Bruyne earlier that month as well so the position that they were most heavily stacked had now turned into a position with little squad depth seeing that Chelsea utilize a 4-2-3-1.
First thing that came to mind is if Chelsea could recall one of the various players they sent out on loan. This could be the time we finally see the likes of Lucas Piazon or Thorgan Hazard being with the first team squad in training and picking up some minutes on the way. That seemed to be the sensible thing to do. Having five attacking midfielders seems to be the ideal amount. Three would start, one would definitely come of the bench, and the other for cover just in case. I didn’t see the need to sign another attacking midfielder to sit the bench and halt the development of one of our many youngsters.
In comes the rumors of Mohamed Salah. These rumors coincided with Mata’s rumored departure so it seemed evident that Salah’s arrival is imminent. But it just didn’t make sense to me. Is Salah going to fill Mata’s role and just sit the bench? That would be absurd to buy the young, talented, Egyptian wonder-kid just so he could sit the bench. Nevertheless, Chelsea announce the signing of Mohamed Salah. At first, I’m genuinely excited. I’ve been a huge fan of Salah since his days at El Mokawloon. He was touted as the next big thing as he seemingly scored for fun for the Egyptian national team. He even played very well against Chelsea on four different occasions, scoring three goals in the process while at Basel. But then I realized, he’s going to have difficulty finding time on the pitch.
Things started off well for Salah in 2014. A few substitute appearances, scoring against Arsenal in our 6-0 rout against the Gunners, and having a Man of the Match performance against Stoke. I thought the future would bring nothing but success for Salah at Chelsea. He already showed that he has a keener eye for goal than Willian. The 2014-15 campaign starts, however, and Salah can barely find bench time let alone playing time. But there is little room for complaining. Hazard is playing like the Man of the Year, Oscar puts in meaningful shifts in that center position, Schurrle starts off the season roaring coming off that World Cup victory with Germany, and Willian is an absolute work horse who never seems to lose energy. Leaving Mohamed Salah, and many fans, to ponder why Chelsea signed him.
January 2015. One year later. Salah has accumulated a total of 18 appearances, most as a substitute, and 2 goals to his name. This season alone, Salah has appeared in 7 out of the 30 games Chelsea have played so far. Our latest game, a 3-0 victory of Watford in the FA Cup, saw him sitting the bench for its entirety. One would think that he would start or at least get some playing time in a cup competition. Salah has not made a significant impact on the squad and I wonder why Mourinho could not promote Lucas Piazon or Thorgan Hazard to that fifth attacking midfield spot. Chelsea has all these talented youth players at their disposal but they continue to ship them out on loan instead of giving them minutes like other clubs do. Manchester United trusted James Wilson. Liverpool trusted Raheem Sterling. Arsenal continually trusts various academy products. Tottenham trusted Harry Kane, who scored twice on Chelsea in a recent 3-5 defeat at White Hart Lane. Even in Kane’s case, he was shipped out on loan a lot but eventually found a place in the Tottenham squad. Chelsea loan of players until their contracts run out and then subsequently released. Chelsea can learn a thing or two from these teams.
To make this point clear, Chelsea should not rush to buy when we have an amazing academy. Chelsea’s academy has dominated England, picking up various titles along the way. Chelsea’s academy team even made the UEFA Youth Final not too long ago. If the academy products get a run in, then Chelsea can stop buying various players without the intent of utilizing them properly. I’ve been dying to watch Lucas Piazon play at Stamford Bridge since 2011. I’ve been salivating at the thought of watching both Hazard brothers operate on either wing of each other. And with the current rumors of Mohamed Salah going to Inter Milan, I’d hope to see Jeremie Boga be our new 5th attacking midfielder. But maybe I’m just a dreamer.