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Chelsea's loan army: Were the Blues right to sell their Big 7?

Chelsea loan stars
(Image credit: Future)

As progress continues to be made on Kurt Zouma’s proposed transfer to West Ham United, attention will inevitably turn to Chelsea’s impressive loan army model.

The Blues have sent several players out on loan this season, including the likes of Michy Batshuayi, Kenedy and Emerson, to add to the 30+ who spent the 2020-21 campaign away from Stamford Bridge. Zouma, meanwhile, has spent time on loan at Saint-Etienne, Stoke City and Everton since moving to London in 2014, showing what he can do on a variety of stages.

These loans are often not simply means to an end, though, with millions recouped in transfer fees for players who were surplus to requirements in west London. Indeed, over the last decade alone, the club have earned eight-figure fees for seven men who enjoyed multiple loan spells away before leaving, and healthy sums for countless more - like Alvaro Morata, Juan Cuadrado and Kevin De Bruyne - who had just one spell away on loan before leaving.

Here’s what happened with those big seven. It’s not all perfect from a Chelsea point of view, but it does give the impression of a machine working well (all fees via Transfermarkt).

1. Tammy Abraham - moved to Roma (£36m)

Abraham is perhaps the model of a loan success story, or at least he was before last season. 

Two eye-catching second-tier loans either side of a tough one in the top flight at Swansea, with the striker returning from Aston Villa to top-score for Chelsea in 2019-20. Things went south under Thomas Tuchel, but a tidy transfer fee - with a buy-back option if necessary - is still a big bonus for a homegrown talent who grew into an England international during his time at the club.

Were Chelsea right to sell? Given that there's a buy-back clause... yes.

2. Romelu Lukaku - moved to Everton (£31.82m)

Romelu Lukaku

(Image credit: PA)

On one hand, selling Lukaku and then buying him back for substantially more years later doesn’t look great. On the other, dispensing of a fringe player and signing Diego Costa for not much more, immediately winning the league that same season, looks pretty good. 

Lukaku thrived on loan at West Bromwich Albion and Everton, and has already made a strong start to his second Chelsea spell, but it remains a good price for someone who at the time didn’t look like he had a clear path to the first team.

Were Chelsea right to sell? On the whole... yes.

3. Fikayo Tomori - moved to AC Milan (£26.28m)

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Tomori’s exit hasn’t been received well across Chelsea’s fanbase, in part due to his impressive form in Italy, but his fee still represents more than £1m per Premier League appearance. 

Milan represented his fourth loan move, after three in the Championship, but the concern from supporters is based more on what he could do rather than what he has already achieved. Well, that and the fact he has been at the club since he was at primary school. 

They’ll always have that goal against Wolves to remember him by, at least.

Were Chelsea right to sell? Perhaps too early to say.

4. Nathan Aké - moved to Bournemouth (£20.52m)

Nathan Ake

(Image credit: PA)

After Aké was given his first Chelsea opportunity as a teenager, the club sent him out on loan in the hope it might turn him into someone ready to start in the Premier League. 

They achieved that, but that starting spot would be as a Bournemouth player after the Cherries gave the Blues a tough-to-turn-down offer. Given the Dutchman’s struggles to establish himself at Manchester City, though, one suspects he’s not considered a ‘one who got away’ in quite the same manner as current colleague Kevin De Bruyne.

Were Chelsea right to sell? Yes. 

5. Mohamed Salah - move to Roma (£13.5m)

Mohamed Salah

(Image credit: PA)

Salah, like Lukaku, was surplus to requirements when leaving on loan and then permanently, in his case to Roma in 2016 after spells with the Giallorossi and with Fiorentina. 

Losing a player who couldn’t break into a title-winning side wasn’t considered a great loss at the time, but the move helped the Egyptian develop in a way he might not have managed had he stayed in London, and his form at Liverpool makes things look a lot worse in retrospect.

Were Chelsea right to sell? No.

6. Mario Pasalic - moved to Atalanta (£13.05m)

While the other players on this list at least turned out for Chelsea’s first team, Pasalic is a pure loan army type, having never played a competitive minute for the Blues after joining from Hajduk Split as a teenager. Atalanta represented his fifth different loan destination, but things really clicked for the Croatian in Bergamo - bringing a Champions League quarter-final run in 2020 - and the fee will have felt like a good deal for the buying and selling clubs.

Were Chelsea right to sell? Yes.

7. Ryan Bertrand - moved to Southampton (£11.97m)

Bertrand’s surprise appearance in the 2012 Champions League final came in the midst of nine different loan spells at seven different clubs, but he impressed enough at St Mary’s (and at Villa Park the season prior) to mark himself out as a solid top-flight prospect upon making his permanent move in 2015. 

More than 200 league appearances later, the Saints were clearly vindicated before watching the left-back leave for Leicester City this summer, while Chelsea again got good money for someone who’s unlikely to have been a regular starter for them.

Were Chelsea right to sell? Yes.

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