At the end of July, Gary Cahill was announced as the new captain of Chelsea, replacing the outgoing stalwart John Terry.
Whilst Chelsea fans will welcome the stability of a captain who is regularly part of the first team, is there an underlying problem?
It’s difficult to criticise Chelsea.
Although they were working with a new manager in Antonio Conte, the team won the supposedly ultra-competitive 2016/17 Premier League title by seven clear points.
Eden Hazard, César Azpilicueta and Diego Costa had storming seasons and the team gelled as a cohesive unit; they were the best team in the league last season.
The good times have continued.
Over the transfer window, they have lost no key players, barring Nemanja Matic, but have strengthened with smart signings like Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid and Tiemoue Bakayoko from Monaco.
All is looking well for the Blues, but there is a truth undercutting all of this that Chelsea may have to face up to at some point.
The team has lost a lot of its leaders.
A lack of natural leaders
This was an issue highlighted during Chelsea’s torrid start to the 2015/16 season, where they lost nine of their first 16 games.
Former player Wayne Bridge noted that a lack of leadership was the main cause of the team’s struggles.
We had John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba, but I don’t really see as many leaders in this side compared to when I was there. – Former Blue Wayne Bridge
The team could turn things around for 2017/18, but success can hide problems below the surface. Could it be the case that, if Chelsea have an extended period of struggles, they won’t have the leadership to overcome the problem?
Through Chelsea’s arguably most successful period from 2004 to 2010. They won three Premier League titles, three FA Cups and three League Cups, and the squad was brimming with strong, natural leaders.
With names like John Terry, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Michael Essien and Petr Cech, Chelsea had both dressing room leaders and those who did their motivating on the pitch.
With the final departure of Terry at the end of last season, Chelsea are about to enter a new era with none of the old guard there to lead the team.
Who could step up?
With the announcement of Cahill’s captaincy, it seems Chelsea have settled on the man they think is right to lead them.
However, it’s interesting to note that just a season ago, Cahill lost his place in the first team completely and was even rumoured to be interested in leaving the club.
The England centre-back will turn 32 this December and he too might not be far away from the decline that afflicted John Terry.
But who do Chelsea have beyond Cahill who could be classed as a leader?
Often teams look to their star players for leadership. Whose name is on the back of the Chelsea football kits that fans buy? In 2016/17 it was Eden Hazard.
Interestingly Hazard is the captain of the Belgian national team and is not unfamiliar with leading his team, but he has never been a serious contender for the Chelsea armband.
Another option could be Brazilian defender David Luiz who takes a key role in organising the players on the pitch though he too was overlooked in favour of Cahill for the official captaincy.
Are these players not allowed to take leadership roles or does the culture of the club stop them from doing so?
The effect on youth development
Chelsea has faced another common criticism in recent years; not allowing their talented young players to develop.
There’s a list of names who were rumoured to be the future of the club who have never been given the chance to reach the first team.
Talented youngsters Domingos Quina and Dominic Solanke have moved to West Ham and Liverpool respectively, while prospects who might be on the edge of the first team, such as Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Izzy Brown, are once again out on loan.
Some suggest that Chelsea’s lack of dressing room leaders has meant there’s no-one acting as a mentor or helping the younger players to integrate.
This could cause Chelsea missing out on the talents of the players they have worked so hard to develop.
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