By Stephen Walker
The “Spine” – One captain, all leaders, all legends. The “Old Guard” was more than phenomenal players on the pitch; they were men amongst men who were always willing when the call for battle came through the rhythm of “Liquidator”. Even Jose Mourinho referred to Frank Lampard when saying “who, at the age of 23, was already a man – who thought football, work, professionalism”. This core group of players played together from 2004 until Drogba moved on after his final kick in his first stint awarded Chelsea the Champions League trophy in 2012. Eight seasons together as the core for others to blossom allowed managers to come and go while the Blues continued to prosper. While Chelsea have replaced their talents on the field, the Blues have not replaced the leaders they were on the pitch and behind the scenes.
Sunday’s match against Spurs was bleak and a bit soul-crushing even for the fans with the bluest of tinted glasses. Yet, I don’t want to find hope where there is little, but instead I want to offer a list of players who can plant their feet in the ground and stand firm to form a new group of core players that help Chelsea find a new identity. These are the players that will battle for Chelsea crest for eight to ten years and rally the troops around them when the hard times fall again.
First of all, I love this man. Second, I want to take you back to Watford at home. It’s 3-2 and Chelsea have just retaken the lead, but Rudiger is trying to head in a cross from Willian. The ball sails just over his head, but as soon as the ball clears the end line, Rudiger takes off on a full sprint back to his position. That is the commitment I want out of all eleven players that step onto the pitch. Rudiger is the type of player that will lay it all on the line, give his body for his team, and even sacrifice himself when needed. There will never be another John Terry, but Rudiger may just be from the same thread when it comes to dedication. He is strong and has the pace to contain any attacker, and at 25, he could be a key central part of defense for years to come.
The dreads! At seventeen, he took absolutely no time to start barking out orders in his Premier League debut when coming on in the 80th minute against Huddersfield. Another player that is always willing to lay it on the line and is definitely captain material for future reference. Ampadu could definitely be Terry-esque in regards to tenacity and the longevity he could provide for the club.
Nothing else to say here. Moving on!
Anybody who says he idolizes Frank Lampard automatically gets my attention, but Mount is more than just a boy trying to copy his hero. Lampard had two things that set him apart from typical midfielders: 1) sensational finishing and a long range shot, and 2) determination. Mount possesses all of that and perhaps a bigger bag of tricks. Mount does well to emulate the passing range and late runs that Lampard used to success, and at only 19, it is a bit thrilling to see what Mount could bring to the Blues midfield for the next decade and a half.
While I believe he could do well with a lengthy loan spell to someone like Schalke, Mount could easily head the top of a triangle in a midfield three. He is also captain material, recently leading Chelsea’s U-18 side to multiple trophies last season. He was also named “Eredivisie Talent of the Month” in January – not bad for someone who began that month at only 18 years-old.
Bear with me before venting some frustration. Fourteen goals this season is not the worst result considering he has missed some lengthy time with injuries, but the key thing here is how silky and deceptively fast he is – not to mention a headed goal threat. I know the Premier League is known for physicality, but once he comes to grips with that, I firmly believe he will give Chelsea a good return on their investment. After all, I loved watching him plow through Diego Godin and Phil Jones at different times this season. Once Giroud gets some time with him to explain how to ride challenges and stay on his feet, I think we might get a twenty-plus goals per season striker we haven’t seen since (you guessed it) Didier Drogba.
Andreas Christensen – while I believe Christensen could possibly be a defensive rock for Chelsea for the next decade, he seems like he will resemble Ivanovic’s role for the club – a strong servant of the club who led quietly by example.
Callum Hudson-Odoi – although a marvelous talent that could perhaps feature all season long next term should Hazard depart, I can’t make a firm assessment on CHO’s leadership qualities. However, if he finds himself into the first team squad on a weekly basis soon, this guy could be Ballon D’or material. He’s that good!