Football news - Drinkwater's Chelsea limbo summons ghost of Bogarde
A £35m Premier League title winner, Danny Drinkwater has found himself surplus to requirements at Maurizio Sarri's Chelsea. But why? And what next for the England man, wonders Dan Levene.
Winston Bogarde's name exists as a sort of cautionary tale, in the history of Chelsea.
Joining the club in the 2000-01 season, he was recruited by director of football Colin Hutchinson, over the head of then manager Gianluca Vialli, to play for the Italian. But almost immediately, Vialli was fired, and new boss Claudio Ranieri quickly made it clear he had no interest in playing the defender.
What happened next is often produced as a way of rubbishing the Dutchman's reputation: he sat where he was, receiving his £40,000 a week salary, and did not move until all four years of it had elapsed – featuring in only 11 games, most of them as sub.
He was entirely within his rights to do so and the blame for the situation should really lie with the short-sighted recruitment policy of Chelsea, and not with a man looking to make a living in the world. But looking at the Bogarde episode, and comparing events with those involving Danny Drinkwater, it is tricky to see whether many lessons have been learned.
Drinkwater was bought from Leicester on summer deadline day 2017, after Chelsea had missed out on a series of higher profile midfield targets. As with Bogarde, the director of football (Michael Emenalo) was central in the deal and the reasoning was that the player would work well with N'Golo Kante in then boss Antonio Conte's 3-4-3 system.
It was around this time that things started to go sour between Chelsea and Conte: he saw the summer window as a failure and the relationship between club and boss deteriorated rapidly. Emenalo would leave his post just two months after the Drinkwater signing. And the Mancunian midfielder, who struggled through a series of early-season injuries, suddenly found himself at a club where results were failing, where the manager didn't really want to be there, and where the man who had signed him was nowhere to be seen.
He started 12 games and was sub in 10, but this was far from what all parties had hoped when the player was signed for all that cash. Conte was relieved of his duties in summer 2018, and Drinkwater simply didn't fit into the new 4-3-3 system preferred by Maurizio Sarri. The new boss has made no bones about the fact that Drinkwater is surplus to requirements.
"I think for him the problem is only my football," said the coach. "He's a very good midfielder, but he is suitable for a midfield two because with a three he is not really a central midfielder or suitable for centre right or centre left."
He has featured only once for Chelsea this season: in the FA Community Shield, not officially a competitive fixture, during which he was a 60th minute replacement for Cesc Fabregas.
Chelsea's Danny DrinkwaterPA Sport
Both Sarri and Chelsea are clear he can leave. But here is where the parallels with Bogarde become even stronger: Drinkwater is signed to a five-year deal, on a reported £100,000 per week. Like Bogarde before him, potential suitors are unlikely to pay a wage anywhere near that substantial, particularly as his ability and reputation decline owing to a lack of competitive football.
He has been linked with a number of clubs lower down the Premier League table, but reliable sources suggest he is content to remain where he is, unless a really eye-catching deal arrives. That raises the prospect that Chelsea may find themselves paying a further £17.5m in wages to Drinkwater – until after he has turned 32 – in a situation that has arisen through no fault of the player's own.
“Insanity,” says a soundbite often misattributed to Albert Einstein, “is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.”
For now, at least, there is no obvious sign of a cure for the insanity that so often breaks out at Chelsea Football Club.