x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Ambitious Chelsea must be ruthless

John Terry's confidence that there will be continued success may be ignoring one factor: change, belatedly, may be coming to Stamford Bridge.

The minimum requirement, in John Terry's words, is a double-double. Winning the Premier League and the FA Cup has seemingly whetted the appetite of Chelsea's demanding captain. Supplanting Manchester United as the supreme power in the English game is on the agenda and, amid suggestions Roman Abramovich, the Chelsea owner, will open the chequebook in pursuit of a superstar, blue could be the colour of the ribbons on trophies for years to come.

But Terry's confidence that there will be continued success may be ignoring one factor: change, belatedly, may be coming to Stamford Bridge. Admittedly, predictions of a clear out are made on an annual basis and the trend is that managers prove rather more disposable than players. This time, however, it may be different. Firstly, because Carlo Ancelotti's record gives him the mandate to oversee an overhaul; secondly, the introduction of one of the world's elite - the name mentioned most often is that of Fernando Torres - could render some players either unhappy or surplus to requirements; thirdly, because Chelsea have actually accumulated a surfeit of emerging players and, sooner or later, it may be time to see if they are of the standard required; and fourthly, because of the ageing nature of Ancelotti's squad.

It is an issue of increasing relevance. While only four thirty-somethings started Saturday's FA Cup final, so did only two players under 27 (Salomon Kalou and Branislav Ivanovic). The match-winner, Didier Drogba, is 32; the next highest scorer, Frank Lampard, reaches that landmark next month. Nicolas Anelka and Michael Ballack are also members of the Chelsea pensioners, along with Ricardo Carvalho, Paulo Ferreira, Juliano Belletti, Deco and Henrique Hilario. Terry and Florent Malouda turn 30 later this year.

History provides plenty of warnings about allowing teams to age together: Liverpool in the early 1990s, Manchester United in the late 1960s and Leeds during the 1970s - as well, some might say, as the current AC Milan side. Ancelotti's experience at rejuvenating "geriatricos" at AC Milan is cited as a reason for his appointment at Chelsea. Yet that does not mean his current employers should mimic his former club. Chelsea's ongoing quest for self-sufficiency should be another factor. Since Frank Arnesen, their director of football, was lured from Tottenham in 2005, they have stockpiled young players, both British and foreign. So far, none of them have emulated Terry, the last product of the academy to establish himself in the first team.

The question is if Arnesen has recruited and developed quality, or merely in quantity. Four players - Michael Mancienne (Wolves), Scott Sinclair (Wigan), Franco di Santo (Blackburn) and Jack Cork (Burnley) - were loaned to other Premier League clubs this season; two more - Miroslav Stoch and Slobodan Rajkovic - helped Twente win the Dutch league. Daniel Sturridge and Ross Turnbull, signed last summer, were often on the bench this season while Nemanja Matic, the Serbian midfielder, was an unused replacement in the FA Cup final.

Patrick van Aanholt, Sam Hutchinson, Fabio Borini and the gifted Gael Kakuta have all made brief appearances in the first team, while Jeffrey Bruma, the Dutch defender, and Josh McEachran, the homegrown midfielder, helped Chelsea win the FA Youth Cup. At a club where short-term thinking has prevailed, none have had the extended opportunity to stake their claim. With Chelsea talking about three or four departures - Joe Cole, Deco and Belletti most likely to leave, while Anelka, Ferreira and Ballack are contenders - some of those 15 merit a chance, because periods of sustained dominance are only achieved when one generation blends seamlessly into the next. And so far, that is a task that has eluded Chelsea.