Left with only one season on his contract and a new manager settling into the Bernabeu hot seat, it was always going to be likely that Xabi Alonso would be considering his options this summer. For a while, an emotional return to Anfield seemed a likely destination, but with FSG’s apparent policy of not signing anyone over 30, that may not have legs. Of late however, an option has emerged for the cultured Spanish midfielder; linking up with ex-Madrid manager Jose Mourinho at Chelsea.
Unfortunately, as with Liverpool, with FFP on the horizon there’s an espoused policy – repeated by Mourinho himself - to give the younger players in the squad a chance to prove themselves and, at long last, offer some return on the vast amounts of money invested by owner Roman Abramovich in the club’s youth system. One is left to ponder however how much of this is merely the rhetoric required as the PR flavour of the month, and any commitment to the policy may melt away when the heat of premier League competition is on.
Having already parcelled Ariel Romeu out on loan for a season, aside from the established first team squaders of Frank Lampard, Ramires and Jon Obi Mikel, Chelsea appear to have an abundance of young players joining the established trio in jockeying for a place in the first eleven midfield holding roles. Nathan Ake broke through into first team contention towards the end of the season, and appears to have a good chance of progress this term. Coupled with this, there are the players currently out on loan who could be offered a chance. Nathan Chalobah starred for Gianfranco Zola’s Watford team in their charge for promotion last year. Already a regular at ‘age level’ internationals for England, although next season may be a little early, the youngster will be keen to show his stuff. The other loanee contender is Josh McEachran. A couple of seasons ago he forced his way into the first team squad, and his youthful assurance promised much for the future. Latterly however his progress appears to have stalled and a period on loan at Middlesbrough cannot be termed to have been a roaring success. Oh yes, and now add in new Dutch signing, Marco van Ginkel.
The problem for Mourinho may then be to square the circle of having a balanced team, whilst also being able to claim that he’s giving youth its chance. Xabi Alonso is not only a player of immense quality and ready as a ‘plug and play’ option for a Premier League outfit, there’s also the fact that he was one of a very limited number of friends that Mourinho had in the Real Madrid dressing room. It would not therefore be a major surprise if Mourinho sought to link with him again.
It’s the eternal conundrum for a Premier League manager. With a limited lifespan in the job, will there ever be the time to build a squad over a five year period? Probably not - unless your name is Ferguson or Wenger, of course. So long as that remains the case, the chances of a ‘youth breakthrough at any major Premier League will remain more of a desire than a fact.