The English media and soccer pundits worldwide like to point out Chelsea's age as a reason why immediate regression seems to be inevitable. Recent injuries to Yossi Benayoun and Frank Lampard have allowed some playing time for youngsters Ramires and Josh McEachran which has opened some eyes onto the futures of some of the youngsters we have. Similarly, Michael Essien's injury last year may have been a blessing in disguise for John Obi Mikel who was given an extended run in the first team to show his class. This train of thought has me pondering the future of guys like John Terry, Frank Lampard, Nico Anelka, Florent Malouda, Ashley Cole, and Didier Drogba who are getting older but still apear to have good years left in them.
One of the first things we should consider here is UEFA's impending rule changes. In 2014,UEFA will begin to look at clubs financial reports to determine if clubs will be granted a license to compete in European competitions. The 2011/2012 season (beginning with the summer transfer window upcoming) will be the first season which is used in their 3 season "overview" of how clubs are managing their books. While UEFA hasn't listed a cut and dried set of punishments for violating their financial regulations, they have implied that not receiving a license is certainly possible. Personally I don't feel that teams who seem to be trying to correct years of free spending (see Chelsea or Man United) are at risk of being declared ineligible for the champions league, but I think reverting to the free spending Chelsea of old is likely to land us in some trouble. Personally after the Kakuta fiasco, I'd rather let someone else (Man city...) be UEFA's Guinea pig for determining appropriate punishments for their new directives.
This brings us to the question of how to become compliant. For the last two offseasons, Chelsea has certainly curbed it's spending in the transfer market. Splashing for guys like Ramires or Zhirkov should be sustainable on a year in year out basis with the money created by playing champions league soccer. Selling young fringe players who are unlikely to break into the squad may be unpopular with many fans, but it's likely also a good way to allow reinforcement to the squad with guys who will be satisfied with lesser roles. Yossi Benayoun being brought in for about the same amount as Miroslav Stoch was sold for may not yield Chelsea optimum value long term, but the question remains if Stoch would ever develop into more than a bit part player here, and Yossi certainly fills a squad player type void that Stoch was unlikely to be satisfied with.
But neither of those two actions alone will allow the current Chelsea squad to become compliant with the new rules. By looking at recent FA findings, it appears Chelsea spend a much larger percentage of their earnings on wages than most of their domestic competition (Citeh being the lone exception). Chelsea seemed to have taken another step towards self sufficiency this season by allowing Ballack, Deco, Carvalho, Joe Cole, and Belletti to leave for virtually nothing but salary relief. The FA's new squad rules may have contributed to the roster purge, as with the exception of Cole none of those guys qualified as "homegrown", but the fact that Chelsea trimmed more fat than they needed to in order to become compliant indicates to me that Chelsea are pushing towards a future where they will allow some of their players to move on once they pass beyond their peak. It also seems to indicate a shift towards allowing the fruits of their academy to have a legitimate shot at cracking the first team. Guys like Van Aanholt, Kakuta, McEachern, Borini, and Bruma have legitimat opportunities this year to play on a semi-regular basis while youngsters like Tomas Kalas and Matej Delac will likely be granted the same opportunities when they finish their loan spells.
With so many Chelsea players on large salaries and having reached the tail end of their peak, the question now becomes who else should go the way of Deco, Cole, and Ballack? Should we sell guys like Drogba, Malouda, and Lampard now while they could still fetch a decent return, wait until their performance shows obvious decline and then sell them for next to nothing (like Carvalho), or let them stay until they are out of contract and leave on a free? As fans, I think it's easier for us to accept certain players leaving the club than others. For example, I personally would rather keep a player like Drogba until the end of his current deal despite his age than Frank Lampard. I'm sure a certain Villa blogger with some affinity for Chelsea would have very much the opposite opinion on that subject. I'd love to hear the thoughts of everyone here on if they feel we should start listening to offers on any players, and if so who? I'm also curious if anyone here is concerned about seeing so many untested kids being thrown into the fire during a season where we are legitimate title contenders concerns them, and how everyone feels about our newfound approach to the Carling Cup?