Ever since it was announced that Chelsea had finally agreed a fee with Bayer Leverkusen for the transfer of André Schürrle, I’ve been seeing a lot of Chelsea fans complaining about the club spending so much on a player who’ll be “just” a squad player. It’s hard to blame them for feeling this way. He’s been described that way in the papers ever since the news broke. The problem with such a description is that it’s both highly-inaccurate, and ignores the financial and sporting realities of the modern game.
In the era of the 25-man squad, a club can no longer be content with simply a first XI and backups, especially not a top club like Chelsea. Last season, we played nearly 70 competitive matches. Combined with our pre- and post-season tours to the United States and national team duties at both ends of and during the season for most of the squad, it’s no wonder to me that a lot of them looked a bit tired towards the back end of the season.
Normally, the answer would be as simple as squad rotation, but at top clubs like Chelsea, simple rotation isn’t really good enough. Elite clubs in Europe are usually expected to compete on at least three fronts, but English teams face the additional obstacle of the League Cup. Not all clubs do take it seriously, of course, but Chelsea traditionally have. With expectations of competitiveness in the Premier League, Champions League, and the two domestic cups on our plate, Chelsea are going to end up with a busy fixture list nearly every year.
During the first reign of the newly-reappointed Jose Mourinho, the quality of the league was such that there were a number of league games every season which, while certainly not to be taken for granted, were nonetheless very-winnable, even with a lessened squad. Since then, however, the quality of the Premier League has risen to an incredible degree. A club can no longer afford a weakened second XI, to be used only when the first-choice players are injured or in so-called “easy” games against lower-half opposition. Chelsea fans will no doubt remember our less-than-stellar results in matches against the lesser lights last season.
What does this have to do with André Schürrle, you ask? That, of course, is a very good question. For me, that issue of no longer being able to trot out a weak team against bottom-half opponents is central to the reasons behind the club’s lengthy pursuit of the German international. Now, that’s not to say our current squad players have no role at Chelsea, of course, but the lack of “easy” games on the calendar to provide us the opportunity to rest our best players means the club need to maximise the talent available throughout the squad.
As I said earlier, we played nearly 70 competitive matches last season, and we entered most of them needing a good result. That’s a recipe for the overuse of important players if the squad depth is lacking in some way. As a matter of fact, in the Abramovich era, our seasons have only rarely comprised fewer than 60 matches. This is why the argument that Schürrle, if he agrees personal terms and completes his move, won’t play very often holds no water for me. He’s simply too good to constantly be on the bench for Chelsea.
That’s not to suggest he should go elsewhere where he’ll play more, but simply that he’s not the sort of player who’ll shrink away from the pressure and be content in a bit-part role. Schürrle will earn plenty appearances at Chelsea, which will have the double positive of giving us the performance of a great, young player and allowing our over-worked stars the chance to rest. As last season showed, Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, and Oscar all benefit from the occasional rest.
Of course, Schürrle’s talents extend beyond just his ability to be good enough take time off of other players. He also offers something different to his potential new team-mates. Where Mata, Hazard, and Oscar all favour a more-technical approach to the game, Schürrle, who is also capable of playing that sort of game, can also offer a more-direct option. The German also has the ability to play more defensively, as Ryan Bertrand and Ramires have been asked to do on several occasions in the last two seasons. Like those two, the German’s work-rate is exemplary, and will serve him well in the future.
Unfortunately for us, top talents do cost more than the older-style squad player. That doesn’t mean such players don’t still represent value. For the most part, they still represent great value to a club. Now, price isn’t always indicative of value or talent, but, in Schürrle’s case, I’d say it certainly is. He’s still just 22, after all. While he’s definitely ready to contribute at Chelsea right now, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he still had some improvement left in him over the next few seasons. It’s always worth remembering that that could apply equally to many of his young team-mates, who are of a similar age.
With the potential additions of Schürrle and Kevin De Bruyne to the squad for the coming season, Chelsea will be a far-less predictable side, and that can only be positive. Last season, Victor Moses was often able to turn a match on its head merely by offering something different. Having six great options to mix-and-match with will increase the burden on opposition managers, and decrease the burden on Jose. The more time those managers have to spend to figure out how to stop Chelsea’s attacking midfielders, the less time they’ll have to focus on stopping the other aspects of the team.
While André Schürrle won’t address all of our squad issues if he signs, his addition would go a long way to ensuring attacking midfield won’t become an issue for the foreseeable future. With six very versatile and very entertaining players at the position, I have no doubt we’ll be the envy of clubs around the world. With Juan Mata, the oldest of our players in that position, still just 25, it’s not inconceivable that Chelsea could be set at attacking midfielder for the rest of the decade or longer. Having such a stable line-up in one area is an asset in itself in the long-term.
In the era of Financial Fair Play, our ability to purchase players is no longer unlimited. It requires the club to maintain a longer-term view of needs and wants. Having long-term stability in one area means we’ll have more flexibility in the transfer market with regards to other areas of the squad in the years to come. With that in mind, it’s hard to find any reason to be against the idea of André Schürrle at Stamford Bridge. If he were to be the only transfer of the summer, maybe it would wind up being remembered as a disappointing window, since we do have other issues to address, but it certainly wouldn’t be the German’s fault if that came to pass. For my part, I hope we can reach an agreement with him on personal terms in the near future, and that he has a long, successful career in West London.
Written by Kevin Kostka - @mpbx3003
Please note : the views in many of our blogs are written by fans of Chelsea FC and are not necessarily the views of the club