It will be tough to replace or replicate the success of Thiago Silva at Chelsea. A 36-year-old joining the Premier League at one of the league’s most dominant teams and instantly adapting so late in a career feels like an anomaly, and that in itself reflects the brilliance of Silva.
And even after an impressive first season, it is fair to claim the sequel was even stronger, featuring 48 times across six different competitions in a stacked nine-month period for the Blues.
A contract extension signed in January will keep Silva in west London till 2023, and there are early suggestions he is aiming to go beyond that.
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The Brazillian has not only solidified his status as one of world football’s greatest ever defenders, but his success has given a timely reminder to not solely focus on the age of a player when judging whether they will be a shrewd piece of business.
This consideration should be made again in defense for Chelsea this summer when deciding how to replace Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen. It appears that a younger face will be acquired in the form of Jules Kounde from Sevilla at 24, a deal that has felt like a matter of when and not if since last summer.
Though on the left side to specifically replace Rudiger, it might prove a bit trickier. There have already been targets named like RB Leipzig’s Josko Gvardiol, Juventus’ Matthijs de Ligt and Torino’s Gleison Bremer. However, as has been pointed out by supporters fearing a repeat of 2021’s youth exodus, the promotion of Levi Colwill should be of importance and taken into consideration when deciding whether to spend significant funds on a defender of a similar age.
A name that is not unfamiliar to Chelsea fans but would feel a little left-field this window is Kalidou Koulibaly. The 30-year-old has been consistently linked to the Blues for six years, with potential fees for the Napoli man rising to £ 90m. Now, with the Senegal international facing one-year left on his current deal and reports from Italy reflecting his desire for a switch, an opportunity could be there for Chelsea to pounce.
Koulibaly might not be the specialist left-sided defender that Thomas Tuchel might desire, but his vast wealth of experience and knowledge could prove essential in a squad that has already lost senior heads from the dressing room.
Chelsea should consider Koulibaly partly because of an emerging trend of players appearing comfortable running down their contracts. Both Rudiger and Christensen are most obvious, but across Europe, we have seen similar with Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe, Paulo Dybala, Ousmane Dembele and more, all with the power to choose their next destination. Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane at Liverpool futures are already in question, with Mane likely to be sold permanently this window.
Even if you buy a younger player, if they see the value at the top market where demand is high that waiting to decide their future is smarter, clubs run the risk of losing players for nothing or being forced to sell earlier than expected. If I’m a club signing a 22-year-old who is only going to remain for his initial four to five-year-deal before leaving to use his prime years somewhere else, is it better value to invest that time on a ready -made older player?
These situations are on a case by case basis, and we have to gauge how freakish this summer is over players running down deals to see if it is a new trend, but the threat is certainly emerging.
Koulibaly might not be as transformative as Thiago Silva, few defenders can be. And it would be naive to assume any defender over the age of 30 Chelsea sign from Europe are just gonna be like Silva, but Koulibaly is still considered one of Serie A’s top defenders.
Signing him on a shorter-term deal wouldn’t completely block the path of the younger Colwill and could hopefully add some leadership into a younger-looking backline without Rudiger or Christensen, with Cesar Azpilicueta’s future still in question.