Chelsea's failure to sign Lukaku and Bonucci suggest that Mourinho may have been right to attack the club's shortcomings in the transfer market


The moment at which it became certain that Jose Mourinho’s second spell at Chelsea was spinning out of control came at the beginning of October 2015. His side had just lost at home to Southampton and he responded by speaking uninterrupted for seven minutes, making clear that he wouldn’t walk away but also flailing around, looking for others to blame. After his predictable attack on the referee Bobby Madley, Mourinho took aim at those at Chelsea he felt had failed him.

“This is a moment for everybody to assume their responsibilities,” he said.

The jibe was veiled but went hand in hand with a comment he had made a few weeks earlier after a home defeat to Crystal Palace. “I gave my club the report of the season projection on April 21,” he said, the clear implication being that he had done his job in highlighting targets – John Stones and Paul Pogba most notably – and others had undermined him by failing to deliver. Once a manager begins attacking senior directors, the end can never be far away.

But increasingly, it seems, Mourinho may have had a point. Antonio Conte was frustrated at the beginning of last season by a lack of signings and made little secret of the fact that David Luiz was a player he had been given rather than one he necessarily wanted. In the end, Chelsea’s directors could feel vindicated given the roles their three major signings – David Luiz, Marcos Alonso and, particularly, N’Golo Kante – played in winning the title.

But this season there have again been numerous reports of Conte’s irritation leading to speculation in Italy that he might seek a return home. That is, almost certainly, overstating the case, but there can be little doubt that Conte would like greater control over which players come in. Although Antonio Rudiger and Tiemoue Bakayoko have been bought for a total of £65m, this summer so far feels like a tale of two who got away: Romelu Lukaku and Leonardo Bonucci.

The Bonucci case is not straightforward. His decision to join AC Milan last week – for a fee far less than he might have commanded – came as a major shock and suggested his relationship with Max Allegri had decayed to a far greater extent than anybody had realised. Perhaps that was an opportunity missed for Premier League clubs, but Bonucci had made clear that he didn’t want to leave Italy for family reasons after his son suffered a serious illness last summer.

More serious, is the failure to land Lukaku, whose move had looked all but certain. It seems United, having been warned off by that certainty when they first made an approach to Everton towards the end of the season, came back in as negotiations dragged on. Not only has that cost Chelsea a player they developed  and who appeared the ideal fit for their system, but it leaves them almost certainly having to replace Diego Costa with options running out. Realistically, Alvaro Morata or Andrea Belotti are the only targets of a similar profile, and that means that Real Madrid and Torino can both ramp up the price.

The other issue facing Chelsea is that of departures. Neither Dominic Solanke nor Nathaniel Chalobah, who have joined Liverpool and Watford for £3m and £5m respectively, will be missed exactly, given they had between them started one league game for the club, but they do represent a worrying trend. Chelsea dominate youth football, having won six of the last eight FA Youth Cups, but those players rarely get a chance in the first team. The timing of the Chalobah deal is of particular symbolic significance: he has gone just as Chelsea have signed Bakayoko, a player who plays in his position who is just four months older but, having impressed in the Champions League, cost eight times as much. Chelsea ae not the only club guilty of stockpiling talent, but it does raise questions of what happens if players get sick of constantly being farmed out on loan. It’s an issue that pre-dates Conte, but it would be no great surprise if greater pressure were applied to the manager to make the transition from youth team to first team easier.



One way or another, greater depth has to be added to Chelsea’s squad.

Rudiger essentially fills the space left by the departures of John Terry and Nathan Ake, while Bakayoko’s signing will lead to Nemanja Matic leaving the club. The close-knit nature of Chelsea’s squad was a benefit last season, but with a European campaign as well, there will have to be more rotation. At the beginning of the summer, Conte made clear he wanted at least one new full-back, the striker situation remains to be resolved and there probably needs to be further cover for Eden Hazard. A certain anxiety as the summer draws on is only natural.