Chelsea’s contract frustration
From the moment Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich was sanctioned by the UK government on Thursday morning as part of its response to Russia’s horrific invasion of Ukraine, things at the club changed in a big way.
Under a special licence granted by the government – The Russia Regulations – Chelsea have just about been able to continue their usual day-to-day operations at first-team level across their men’s and women’s sides. But beyond that, the implications have been felt.
The club’s megastore, both online and at the stadium, is closed. As is the hotel at Stamford Bridge. There was no programme sold for yesterday’s win over Newcastle United either. Meanwhile, Chelsea can’t buy or sell players nor offer new contracts to members of staff, including those in Thomas Tuchel’s squad.
And that means, as things stand, Chelsea are powerless to stop Cesar Azpilicueta, Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger from departing on free transfers in the summer when their current deals expire.
Azpilicueta has been heavily courted by Barcelona while Christensen has reportedly agreed upon a move to the Camp Nou. There was hope, though, that Chelsea would be able to keep Rudiger prior to Abramovich being sanctioned.
The 29-year-old has blossomed into one of European football’s finest centre-backs since the appointment of Tuchel 14 months ago and has become a huge part of the Chelsea side.
No matter whether he is used on the left of a three-man defence or in a back four, as was the case against Newcastle, Rudiger delivers for Chelsea in his own style. There are the surging breaks forward, the aggressive challenges, the comical runs back towards his own goal in which his limbs sometimes flail about.
Tuchel has harnessed the very best of Rudiger and was hopeful the German international would remain at Chelsea beyond his current contract. That could still happen under a change of ownership at Stamford Bridge, although whether the defender’s demands could be met is an unknown.
What is certain, however, is that Chelsea will lose a very special defender if they can’t keep Rudiger at the club. At the moment, Marina Granovskaia’s hands are tied. There is nothing she can do. Supporters will hope that situation changes soon.
Havertz repeats Bayer trick
Chelsea had seemingly run out of ideas against Newcastle, who had defended stoically throughout yesterday’s game. But then Jorginho collected the ball, looked up and flighted a perfect pass towards Kai Havertz.
In one motion, the silky German brought down the ball and poked it beyond Magpies goalkeeper Martin Dubravka to clinch a hard-earned 1-0 win for Tuchel’s side.
“The goal was exceptional,” the Chelsea head coach said after the game. “We were, of course, a bit lucky today. We maybe had a hard time on the pitch because Newcastle was physical, well deserved, gave us difficulty to create chances and accelerate the game in the last 30 metres.
“It was so important not to concede, then to have the quality with one chance, one quality pass, and one quality finish to win it. Thank goodness we did it. We never got frustrated about it.”
The goal was another big moment conjured by Havertz, who has seven goal contributions in his last seven matches and eleven across all competitions in 2022.
No Chelsea player can better that and supporters shouldn’t expect a drop off in performance from Havertz. This is what he has always done in his career.
At Bayer Leverkusen, during the first half of Bundesliga seasons, Havertz posted a rather meagre 18 goal contributions in 54 league appearances.
However, across the second half of campaigns, known as the rückrunde, the German international was transformed and was involved in 40 goals in 64 league appearances.
His first year at Chelsea followed this trend too. Havertz struggled under Frank Lampard but improved following Tuchel’s appointment. Not drastically it must be said, but he did thrive against Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-finals and scored the winner in the final against Manchester City.
“Full of emotion this game [against Newcastle] and to score a goal in the last minute is nice,” Havertz told Chelsea’s in-house media after yesterday’s win. “To have the supporters around, they give everything for us on the pitch and to give them something back was nice.
“For me, I dream of this moment since I was a kid. It’s just nice; a last-minute, well-deserved winner.”
Tuchel’s difficult ownership question
Over the past fortnight, Tuchel has faced a number of incredibly tough questions about Abramovich, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the future of Chelsea. His answers to these have been honest, empathetic and understanding. The Blues have been lucky to have him facing the media.
There was no respite, though, after the win over Newcastle. Not only was the German asked about issues involving his own club, but was questioned on issues involving Newcastle United’s majority owners: Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
On Saturday, there were 81 executions in Saudia Arabia and the country is also engaged in a war in Yemen. So Tuchel was asked if he found it weird that one club’s owner has been punished and not the other’s?
“Wow, that is a big one,” Tuchel replied. “Unfortunately, the situation is like this also for the owners of Newcastle and that effects…yes. What can I say? I don’t want to point the finger because comparing yourself or blaming others does not make the situation for us a different situation.
“The statement, that we condemn war and the actions from Russia towards Ukraine, there is no doubt. But we’re facing the consequences actually at the moment and this is where the focus is. I hope you can understand.”
Tuchel followed that answer with another, one in which he asked the difficult question as to whether the Premier League owners’ and directors’ test was stringent enough.
“We need to trust the process of the league as to who owns a club,” he said. “We are famous employees because we speak into a camera and on TV, but in general, we are only employees and need to trust the process.
“Maybe as you need to trust the process that you work for a company that is not doing the morally and ethically wrong things. At some point, we need to trust.
“Maybe we need to ask questions about the process of how this goes. Maybe it’s an ongoing process and it will never end. It just reminds us to be aware and conscious about it, and not look away.”