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Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Thomas Tuchel must repeat Didier Drogba and Thiago Silva trick to begin Chelsea squad rebuild

  Thomas Tuchel will have money to spend this summer as the Chelsea head coach oversees a rebuild of his first-team squad – and there is ...


Thomas Tuchel will have money to spend this summer as the Chelsea head coach oversees a rebuild of his first-team squad – and there is much work to be done with big decisions needed as to which defenders are signed, whether improvements are needed in midfield, and who moves on from the misfiring attack.

The club's new ownership – which is fronted by the U.S. billionaire Todd Boehly – is going to back Tuchel's judgment and let him guide the club's efforts in the transfer market. That is a marked change from the Roman Abramovich era, in which the head coach was one of several voices involved in the recruitment process.

It will be down to Tuchel to decide who is targeted to replace Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen, who are joining Real Madrid and Barcelona, respectively, this summer. And there is also the Romelu Lukaku problem to solve; the Belgian is intent on returning to Inter Milan less than a year after rejoining Chelsea in a deal worth £97.5million.

Michael Ballack (from Bayern Munich, 2006)

Chelsea had won back-to-back Premier League titles under Jose Mourinho with a midfield three predominantly consisting of Claude Makelele, Michael Essien, and Frank Lampard. But there was always room for improvement, and in the summer of 2006, Ballack arrived at Stamford Bridge.

A three-time Bundesliga winner and regarded as one of the best midfielders in Europe, Ballack established himself in Mourinho's side and made 46 appearances across all competitions during the 2006/07 campaign, which ended with the Blues winning the League Cup and FA Cup.

At Bayern – and previously with Bayer Leverkusen – Ballack had proved himself a reliable goal threat from midfield. But with Lampard already in situ, the German international played a more reserved role for much of his time at Stamford Bridge. His top scoring campaign was 2007/08, when he struck nine times.

Ballack remained an influential figure over the following two seasons and helped Chelsea win a Premier League and FA Cup double under Carlo Ancelotti. His final Chelsea appearance came in the final of the FA Cup, yet it was ended in the first half due to injury after a challenge from Kevin Prince-Boateng.

The German Footballer of the Year left Chelsea in the summer of 2010 in the same fashion he arrived – on a free transfer. It's something he has since admitted he regrets.

"Carlo Ancelotti wanted me to stay, but the club made a decision to only give players of that age a one-year contract, and I wanted two," he explained in an interview with Sky Sports' Transfer Talk podcast in 2020.

"Today, I can say maybe it was wrong. I should have stayed even for that one year. I could never imagine that I would go back to Bayer Leverkusen until the last day. I actually thought we would find a way at Chelsea. I was really hoping I could stay until the end."

Didier Drogba (from Galatasaray, 2014)

It was believed that penalty in Munich would be Drogba's last kick of a ball for Chelsea – and what a way to go out after a trophy- and goal- laden career at Stamford Bridge. But in the summer of 2014, after the Ivorian had taken in spells at Shanghai Shenhua and Galatasaray, he was brought back to the club by Jose Mourinho.

"It was an easy decision," Drogba said. "I couldn't turn down the opportunity to work with Jose again. Everyone knows the special relationship I have with this club, and it has always felt like home to me. My desire to win is still the same, and I look forward to the opportunity to help this team. I am excited for this next chapter of my career."

Drogba played second-fiddle to Diego Costa for much of the 2014/15 campaign. He made just 14 starts across all competitions but ended the season with seven goals. More importantly, he also claimed winners' medals in both the Carabao Cup and the Premier League.

Perhaps Drogba's importance in that season was highlighted by what happened in the season after he left Chelsea for a second time – that was the campaign that Mourinho was sacked with the Blues sitting just above the relegation zone in the Premier League and in dire form.

Thiago Silva (from Paris Saint-Germain, 2020)

It was shortly after Paris Saint-Germain had lost the 2020 Champions League final that Thiago Silva was told a contract with Chelsea had been agreed. At 36 years old, it was a huge step to take in the Brazilian's storied career but a challenge he wanted.

"Marina (Granovskaia) called me after I'd agreed, then passed me on to Frank (Lampard)," he told FourFourTwo. "It was through a translator because I still don't speak English, and his accent is even tougher for me!

"He hit the nail on the head from day one, saying, 'Thiago, you don't need to worry about your age – it's not a concern for me at all. I'll count on you absolutely, and I want to listen to what you have to say.' I was over the moon with that; knowing everyone at the club, from top to bottom, wanted me here."

Silva endured a shaky debut; a 3-3 draw against West Bromwich Albion in which he made a costly mistake. But that game – played almost two years ago – is arguably the only poor performance by the centre-back during his time at Chelsea. He has simply been that good.

His first campaign at Stamford Bridge memorably ended with the Champions League trophy that had eluded Silva for much of his career. More silverware came in his second: the UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup. Perhaps most impressively, though, was at the age of 37, Silva played the second-most minutes of any outfield player.

The Brazil international is signed up for another season at Chelsea, a sign of his love for the club but also his level of performance since arriving. He is, without doubt, one of the finest defenders to have played for the club and one of the smartest pieces of business done by the Blues in recent memory.

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