Chelsea could have walked into an old mistake with Reece James in 2019, the fact they didn’t should provide a vital reminder
The mere thought of Chelsea contemplating selling Reece James would make most fans laugh in 2022.
After he demonstrated his growing class in an excellent defensive display at the Bernabeu on Tuesday, his opponent, Vinicius Jnr, was compelled to tweet praise for the English defender. A performance of this level no longer comes as a shock for the academy graduate, which, still at the age of 22, signals his extraordinary talent.
But if we rewind almost three years to the summer of 2019 and rumours. of James’ potential exit seemed more plausible with the Blues’ next opponents, Crystal Palace, submitting a £25m bid for the defender.
As reported by The Independent in August 2019, Chelsea rejected an improved £25m offer from Crystal Palace for Reece James. Detailing that Frank Lampard and Jody Morris, who had just arrived as first-team and assistant head coach, had promised him minutes when he returned from an ankle injury.
Those promises were realised as James quickly became a first-team player in the 2019/20 season, making 39 appearances and racking up over 2,000 minutes. James went up to 47 appearances the following season, the height being his stellar display in the Champions League final against Manchester City.
James is not only now recognised as one of Chelsea’s most valuable players, but he is also one of Europe’s outstanding talents in his position, seeming to grow in stature with each passing performance, even with his injury setbacks this term.
Whether the £25m bid from Palace was ever seriously going to make Chelsea think, particularly in the summer when the club was in the middle of a transfer embargo from FIFA, feels unlikely. With Lampard opting to rely on academy graduates, the benefit of withholding James and others has been clear.
This summer provides a test for the club’s hierarchy, particularly under new ownership that could change the Blues’ whole transfer strategy. With another group of young players thriving on loan, the lure to gain lucrative fees for them might be tempting to some within Chelsea following last summer’s youth exodus.
But what James does, when vitally looking at Conor Gallagher, who has excelled on loan at Selhurst Park, is that for whatever money might be put under Chelsea’s nose right now, the long-term value of keeping academy graduates is much greater.
As the pressing transfer needs in other areas have become clear with central defensive midfield and centre-back of most importance, the integration of Gallagher, Armando Broja and Levi Colwill can save the club money and upgrade the options Thomas Tuchel currently has in a cost-effective way.
James now is a jewel in the crown of Chelsea’s elite academy, an example of the talent that can be nurtured and integrated into the first team to perform at an elite level, which James has shown in the Premier League and Champions League over the past 12 months.
Gallagher is ready to make the step up, just as James was in 2019. Selling him would risk missing out on the big rewards Cobham has given to the first team since that infamous summer of 2019