At 2pm, British time, on Wednesday, Jose Mourinho manages the first game of his new regime at Chelsea, nine years after he took the reins at the club for the first time, with the same ambition to win everything, but a different way of going about it.
In 2004, he had just signed Didier Drogba from Marseilles in time for the club’s tour of America. John Terry had been appointed new club captain. Chelsea beat Celtic 4-2 in Seattle in Mourinho’s first game in charge, and the fact that two of the goals were scored by the Serbian striker Mateja Kezman demonstrates that first impressions could be misleading.
In Bangkok on Wednesday, Chelsea face the Singha All-Stars who beat David Moyes’ Manchester United on Saturday night, and will provide the opposition for the beginning of another major era in English football. Mourinho is without Fernando Torres, Juan Mata, David Luiz and Oscar, who have been given more time off following their Confederations Cup involvement, so the squad looks different.
What is noticeable is how young this Chelsea squad is, relative to Mourinho’s first spell in charge. Tomas Kalas, Josh McEachran, Marco van Ginkel, Kevin De Bruyne, André Schürrle, Romelu Lukaku, Sam Walker, Nathaniel Chalobah, Lucas Piazon, Islam Feruz, Jamal Blackman, Wallace and Bertrand Traore are all among those who have travelled or joined up subsequently.
Summer tours tend to provide game time for those who have struggled to get it in the regular season, but it is notable just how many young players Mourinho has selected. While many of them cost substantial fees, the emphasis on buying the best emergent talent rather than the established stars is evident in the current squad.
Naturally, not all of them will – or can – play a part in the season but even if Wayne Rooney arrives, it will be Torres or Demba Ba who make way for him. Looking at the group of new arrivals and academy boys, it is certain that some of them will have to be sent out on loan this summer, but there remains a very good chance a few will be given an opportunity in the first-team squad when the season begins.
Chelsea have tried, and failed, in the past with young players. Daniel Sturridge was given plenty of opportunity but was judged expendable. Oriol Romeu, bought two years ago from Barcelona, has been sent back to Spain on a season-long loan at Valencia and it is hard to see him coming back into contention at Chelsea again.
For many of these young players at Chelsea, there will be a long career somewhere, even if it is not at Stamford Bridge. What they have to grasp quickly is that opportunities such as the three games in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia have to be seized.
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