Chelsea's protracted appointment of Maurizio Sarri complicates truncated transfer window
In the aftermath of a season as disappointing as that experienced by Chelsea in 2017-18, one would have assumed that there would be an urgency to get things back on track as quickly as possible. But at Stamford Bridge, it seems that the lessons of the past have yet to be learned.
The world and his wife knew that Antonio Conte's days as manager were numbered from the middle of the last campaign, and yet it was not until a week ago that Maurizio Sarri was confirmed as his replacement. There were mitigating circumstances, of course, such as negotiating Sarri's release from Napoli despite the Serie A club having already hired his successor, though it has been hard to escape the feeling that the London club have been dragging their heels.
Admittedly, making the correct appointment and reaching the right deal are things that shouldn't be rushed. The substantial downside, however, is that with this summer seeing the first implementation of the early transfer deadline -- whereby the window closes on Aug. 9 instead of the end of the month -- the opportunity to do key business is already truncated. With Chelsea reluctant to make any signings before confirming the identity of their new manager, that window has shrunk even further.
Upon his unveiling in west London, Sarri made the perfectly sensible point that he is keen to work with his squad for a period of time before coming to any conclusions about his players' futures or where potential reinforcements might be required. But as a result, Chelsea's opportunity to conduct diligent negotiations is restricted. To illustrate one instant example, the Blues are likely to be in the market for a first-choice goalkeeper and yet have already missed out on a reported target in the shape of Allison Becker, who has just completed a record-breaking move to Liverpool.
The longer that Chelsea wait to identify and pursue their preferred recruits, the more difficult it will be to procure them at a reasonable price, if at all. History has shown that as the transfer deadline approaches, the fees requested begin to soar higher and higher, an understandable consequence of the selling club having no guarantee of being able to use those funds to strengthen their own squad before the window closes.
Chelsea's situation is complicated further by the diminished status that comes with not competing in this season's Champions League. It will take greater powers of persuasion than before to convince a player that coming to Stamford Bridge is more appealing than moving to Anfield, where they could join last season's Chamnpions League runners-up, or Manchester City, who are already odds-on to retain the Premier League title.
That said, the club's regular success and position in the wider football consciousness is clearly still a draw, as seen by Jorginho's surprise snub of Pep Guardiola's advances in favour of a switch to the deposed champions. It can only be hoped that the same aura can be created in the rest of this summer's negotiations.
Sarri, for his part, is calm over the whole issue, claiming that the transfer window "bores" him and that he enjoys improving the players at his disposal. Such words are extremely encouraging to hear and suggest that he might be the manager to finally make use of the conveyor belt of talent being nurtured by the club's development squads. But it should be remembered that Conte also expounded the virtues of working with the tools already at his disposal -- consider his conversion of Victor Moses into a wing-back -- and that didn't prevent him from continually insisting on bolstering his options via the transfer market.
With the vast majority of those who lifted the 2016-17 Premier League title still at the club, the squad is not in need of a complete overhaul, especially with Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ross Barkley set to genuinely compete for first-team places. Nevertheless, questions remain over the wing-back positions and the entire front three.
It is not the first time that Chelsea have dithered in the market when they needed to be proactive, with the previous three summers having all been largely underwhelming -- the acquisition of the magnificent N'Golo Kante excepted. It was hoped that the acrimony generated between the manager and board over the course of the last campaign would have sparked the club into action, but as yet there is little evidence of that.
Now that a new regime is in place, it is imperative that they set off on the right foot. It remains to be seen whether Chelsea have left their preparations for the season too late for that to happen. The next three weeks will be vital.