As fans, it is always enjoyable when a rival club makes a mistake and is forced to pay for it. That is why there was so much mirth at Chelsea spending £22 million on a player that they had sold for a fraction of that just a couple of years earlier.
This criticism might sting a bit those who run the club but it is unlikely that it will do much more than that. The truth is that Chelsea have the financial wherewithal to make such mistakes. This, after all, is a club that a year ago sold Daniel Sturridge for £12 million, effectively giving away a player who could easily have made redundant their need to try and chase players like Radamel Falcao, whom they were reportedly actively trying to sign for three times the amount that they got for Sturridge.
Again that sort of criticism is unlikely to bother Chelsea because another truth is that they’re working hard to ensure that they don’t make a similar mistake again.
Vitesse Arnhem are battling with Ajax for the Dutch league title with a core of their team made up of players brought from Chelsea on loan (Bertrand Traore has just joined Christian Cuevas, Lucas Piazon, Christian Atsu and Patrick Van Aanholt in Holland). Everton’s challenge for fourth spot in the Premier League has been equally boosted by the loan arrival of Romelu Lukaku. Indeed, they currently have twenty three players out on loan.
Very few of those players will return to Chelsea but before any are let go, the club will be certain that none of them will come back to haunt them in a similar fashion to Matic. With the added bonus that having these players gain experience will boost their transfer value, generating further funds to buy other prospects that can be loaned out, creating a self-funding practically failure-proof system of sieving through prospects. For fairness’ sake it has to be pointed out that Chelsea are simply working on the blueprint that Italian clubs -particularly Juventus - have used (and perfected) for decades. Why players would willingly accept to be a cog in such a wheel is, of course, another matter.
Away from Chelsea’s chosen player development strategy, it is interesting to look at Matic’s career for the truths that it reveals.
The first is that players need to play in order to develop. This is particularly the case in certain positions where you need time and experience in order to fully appreciate the demands of the role. Matic plays in a position – that of a defensive midfielder – where one needs not only the physical and technical wherewithal but also the tactical awareness of what needs to be done at different moments of the game.
This is not something that players are born with but something that needs to be developed with different experiences providing added layers to the knowledge. Unless one comes across increasingly more challenging situations that will not happen which is a point missed by all those who seem to think that the Matic that Chelsea sold is the same one that they are buying: he is the player that he is today because of the experiences he has come across at Benfica. Those experiences have shaped him and how he plays the game; without them he would be a different, probably much less imposing, player.
The other truth that can be taken away from Matic’s story is that different players mature at different ages. There is a tendency to discard players if they aren’t playing regularly at first team level by the time that they are in their late teens and for many it truly is the case.
There are some players, however, who develop – physically or emotionally – at a later stage than others but who still get rejected. For most, that initial rejection means the end of the road as they’ll be too disheartened to keep on working to improve. It is why their stories often go untold.
Even so, the history of the game is littered with stories of players who are let go because ‘they are too small’ who go on to fulfill their potential at a club that was willing to give them the time that they needed.
This article was sent to subscribers of Blueprint for Football Extra on January 20th.