Even by Chelsea’s standards, it has been a haphazard summer. On the managerial front, Antonio Conte started preseason training despite being on the brink of an exit, while the club struggled to secure Maurizio Sarri even though Napoli had already appointed his replacement.
As for transfers, there was not a sniff of a new signing until Jorginho arrived in mid-July. Factor in confusion over the future of three key players and the earlier-than-usual deadline and it has been a chaotic few weeks. Yet with the window now closed until January, Chelsea can look back at a job well done. While the decisions made might not have been swift, they have been clear and sharply executed.
Once it became apparent that Thibaut Courtois had his heart set on a return to Spain, energies were switched toward securing one of Europe’s most highly-rated young goalkeepers. The fee of £71.6 million for Kepa Arrizabalaga is absurd for somebody with just one international cap and who has never played in European competition, but he fills an area of need and securing him to a seven-year deal means he will retain significant transfer value for a long time.
The canniest part of Chelsea’s goalkeeper trading, however, came via the sweetener offered by Real Madrid in the deal that took Courtois to the Santiago Bernabeu. The loan deal for classy midfielder Mateo Kovacic looks like an astute piece of business. It will have implications for the future of Danny Drinkwater and Tiemoue Bakayoko, but 24-year-old Kovacic is a sizeable upgrade on both.
Jorginho, added for the princely sum of £50m, has already added a different slant to Chelsea and, while the midfield looked brittle in the Community Shield defeat to Manchester City, future prospects are brighter.
A trio of Jorginho, Kovacic and N’Golo Kante appears to have the right blend of craft, energy and steel while competition provided by Ross Barkley, Cesc Fabregas and the returning Ruben Loftus-Cheek should keep things fresh.
Beyond the new additions, Chelsea’s best business has been done in keeping players at the club. Courtois might have gone but retaining his services was always going to be an uphill battle given his less-than-subtle overtures to Madrid and the fact that his two children live in the Spanish capital.
More important for the immediate future was ensuring that Eden Hazard remained at Stamford Bridge. That task looked set to be more difficult after he starred for Belgium at the World Cup but, not the type to court controversy, Hazard has not tried to force his club’s hand despite making it clear he would welcome the chance to represent Real Madrid.
Perhaps suggestions that Chelsea would demand a world-record fee made the European champions think twice about bidding. Granted, the early deadline in England only applies to incoming transfers and there is still time for the situation to change before the end of August; for now, the most naturally-gifted footballer in the Premier League is still a Chelsea player.
If there is anyone else as integral as Hazard, it is Kante. The midfield dynamo was imperious as France won the World Cup, which meant subsequent reports of interest from Real Madrid and PSG seemed both natural and (extremely) worrying. Nothing has materialized, but Chelsea fans will hope the modest star signs a lucrative new contract soon.
Willian’s fractured relationship with Conte suggested his days in west London were numbered, but the appointment of a new manager and some kindly words from others at the club have seen the Brazilian international change his mind, which will come as a great relief to the vast majority of supporters.
There are still question marks at both full-back positions, following the switch to a back four, and at centre-forward. In general, though, prospects for the new campaign are promising with regard to squad composition. After all, just a couple of weeks ago, the Blues faced the possibility of losing arguably their three best outfield players.
As it stands, all of them will be available when Chelsea visit Huddersfield on Saturday, if deemed fit enough to take part. Together with the intelligent additions to the squad, this has to go down as a positive transfer window and rare win for a much-maligned board of directors.