Every club in the Premier League attracts at least one coherent theme that epitomises their recent history. Manchester United have failed to effectively replace Sir Alex Ferguson, Tottenham keep bottling silverware at the vital moment, and Newcastle fans continue to express their bewilderment over Mike Ashley’s running of the club.
Chelsea’s problem is distinct from those facing the rest of the division. The Blues appear to be hellbent on wilfully driving phenomenal talents away from the club, leaving fans in a state of bewildered fury when the realisation dawns that another top player has slipped through the net.
Romelu Lukaku, Mohamed Salah and Kevin De Bruyne are three of the most high-profile examples of those who were allowed to leave before realising their full potential.
Thorgan Hazard, who Chelsea sold for just £7.2 million in 2015, is a less prominent example but his development at Borussia Mönchengladbach is giving the Blues reason to look back with a sharp tinge of regret. Eden’s lesser-known brother has notched 12 goals and provided 11 assists already this season, taking his Transfermarkt valuation from £19.8 million in June 2018 to £40.5 million in March 2019.
Meanwhile, Callum Hudson-Odoi could represent the next mesmerising talent to add to an ever-growing list of regrettable Chelsea departures amid intense rumours suggesting he could follow Jadon Sancho to the Bundesliga.
The sale of Nathaniel Chalobah to Watford also left an uneasy feeling amongst supporters who watched his development with eagle-eyed intrigue. Injuries have since ravaged his career and Chelsea fans can rest easy in the knowledge that perhaps the decision was justified after all, but with the visit of West Ham looming there is another more rueful blunder looming at large.
Declan Rice will almost certainly sit at the base of West Ham’s midfield, where he will fight for every second-ball, endeavouring to stifle Hazard’s influence and patrolling with the aura of an old-school Italian enforcer.
His development has been heralded in the media as if the Hammers have given born to the greatest holding midfielder of a generation. It’s pertinent to note Eric Dier’s nosedive from a comparable height underlines how media-frenzies are often misguided and hopelessly premature, but there is something wholesome about Rice that suggests history is unlikely to repeat itself.
Another wound from Chelsea’s bitter past will be prised apart if Rice continues to flourish into the Champions League standard midfielder he is threatening to become. The 20-year-old, who based his career on John Terry as a youngster, started his career at Chelsea’s youth academy before he was released as a 14-year-old – a harrowing moment in his professional career.
The decision to discard youngsters clinging to beady-eyed dreams of becoming professional footballers are made on a mass scale akin to a Roulette wheel banker sweeping away mounds of cash from punters after every agonising spin.
Rice’s exit merely represented another statistic in a colossal number of dream-crushed youngsters who suffer the same fate; an irrelevant lost member of the 99.9% who don’t make it.
But that oversight, just like De Bruyne, Salah and Hazard before him – albeit under different circumstances – could come back to haunt the Blues.
De Bruyne’s season has been blighted by injuries which have subsequently left him in Bernardo Silva’s devilishly infectious and supple shadow, but one anomalous season by his world class standards cannot detract from the feeling that Jose Mourinho conspired to permanently exile one of the greatest footballers ever to set foot at Stamford Bridge.
To tip Rice to enjoy a similar level of titanic success in his career would be a criminal case of irrational over-hyping. However, his performance at the London Stadium earlier in the season – in which he stifled Eden Hazard’s influence – has already planted a seed in the consciousness of Chelsea supporters: the England international could have been a long-term asset in west London.
The Monday night clash will hand the rapidly maturing enforcer another opportunity to showcase his skill-set against the side who foolishly released him almost six years ago.
Chasing a satisfying, sweet and somewhat sanctimonious taste of revenge will be firmly at the forefront of Rice’s agenda when he returns to Chelsea this evening.