SOCCER

Thomas Tuchel explains his unpopular decision to send (certain) children back

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There were 29 players on the plane to Los Angeles to start Chelsea’s pre-season tour of the United States. By the time the team arrived in Las Vegas a few days later, that number had grown to 32. And while some were injured or unfit, and some were newcomers who had just acclimatized, it was clearly far too many players for one team. And so, the decision was made to reduce that number to 28 – still a lot, but a bit more manageable.

That was also Thomas Tuchel’s explanation when asked about it today as Chelsea entered the second week of the tour in Orlando, Florida.

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“It’s never easy and I didn’t like doing it because everyone deserves to stay with the team, but we already had a very big squad and then more players arrived. […] In the end, we had to make the decision to maintain the quality of training, so we opted for a maximum of 24 players and that’s why we went a bit smaller.

Now obviously 24 isn’t 28, but a few players are still going through individual physical training, and the four goalkeepers are on their own anyway, so it pretty much balances out.

Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

The problem is of course not that the squad has been reduced, but the identity of the players who have been sent off. We did not fire, for example, Ross Barkley or Kenedy or Malang Sarr or Emerson. Instead, we’ve sent three senior kids ready to train with the development squad and sent one back to England under the guise of an injury, which may be real but is also very clearly inconsequential to the beyond this minute.

“Armando had to go home. He had a small accident in training. He has twisted his ankle and needs further examinations and treatment in London. It didn’t make sense to just have him as an extra player because we need all the treatment abilities for the guys who are actually fit and on the pitch so the best way for him to get the best treatment and to get back to the pitch as soon as possible was to leave for London.

“[And] some players like Kovačić are no longer fit to train with the group, so we reduced the number of players and sent some young players to the reserve team who are also in America. It’s a very difficult decision because no one deserved to go. I would have loved to have everyone here because Tino, Harvey and Billy had trained at a very high level and it would have been nice to see them in some games as well.

-Thomas Tuchel; source: Evening Standard

Even though Billy Gilmour, Tino Anjorin, Harvey Vale and Armando Broja aren’t necessarily ready to make Chelsea’s first team this season, they surely have a much better chance of being ready in the future than Barkley, than we’re trying to give, or Kenedy, who barely sniffed the pitch after his recall in January, or Sarr, who continues to fail to impress, or Emerson, who didn’t even want to be here. Or Batshuayi or Alonso or even Azpilicueta, if he leaves anyway.

And that’s before you add the local factor into the equation (even though Gilmour joined “only” as a teenager from Rangers as opposed to a very young age like the others). Having them stay (and play) with the first team instead of “deadwood” might not convince these four to stay in the end, but at the very least it would send the right message to those who follow in the Academy – that not only do we talk about giving kids chances, we actually give chances. And not just symbolic chances either!

Admittedly, things are looking good in the case of Conor Gallagher. And Ethan Ampadu and Levi Colwill are still with the team. (For now.) And we already have a pretty strong and hard-hitting Academy contingent with Mason Mount, Reece James, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Trevoh Chalobah (and Ruben Loftus-Cheek). And also had Andreas Christensen until recently, and Tammy Abraham and Fikayo Tomori not too long ago. But it could be even better, and there’s little reason not to improve it.

This ownership transition – right now, this year – is the perfect time to set an overall new direction for the club, a clear plan to really start using the Academy and building the first team. There may not be Raheem Sterlings or Kalidou Koulibalys in the youth academy, but there are plenty of Barkleys, Kenedys and Sarrs.

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