Chelsea have long been known as a club that has heavily utilised the loan model, especially under the Roman Abramovich era – during which 20 plus players often temporarily departed the club to spend the season at a new destination.
This tradition has continued this season under the new ownership of Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital, albeit to a lesser extent – with 15 players loaned out ahead of the 2023/24.
The reasons for such loans vary player-to-player; youngsters such as Charlie Webster and Omari Hutchinson are seeking consistent first-team minutes, whilst Hakim Ziyech and Romelu Lukaku (both 30) are surplus to requirements and were unable to find permanent suitors in the summer.
So, how have a select array of Chelsea loanees been performing so far this season?
David Datro Fofana
David Datro Fofana, who joined Chelsea in January from Norwegian outfit Molde as one of many winter arrivals, was used sparingly (just 112 minutes) as the Blues suffered a dire spell under both Graham Potter and Frank Lampard, picking up some minutes for the under-23s. He joined Bundesliga side Union Berlin in July, who qualified for the Champions League for the first time in their history after a 4th placed finish last season.
Fofana scored a fine goal in a 3-0 pre-season win over Rapid Wien, and has featured regularly for Die Eisernen, playing in eight of nine available Bundesliga games, starting four – however he has yet to find the net or provide an assist in the league yet (although he did assist in a DFB Pokal first-round win over FCA Walldorf). Fofana has also experienced his first taste of European football, picking up 80 minutes in defeats to Real Madrid and Napoli. Union Berlin have yet to replicate the heights of last season and struggled for form as a team – losing seven of their opening nine league games, sitting just one point ahead of the relegation zone in 16th place, as well as being eliminated from the DFB Pokal by VfB Stuttgart.
A disciplinary issue saw Fofana suspended by the club for a week after refusing to shake coach Urs Fischer’s hand after he was substituted in the 1-0 defeat to Napoli last month – the striker sitting out defeats to Werder Bremen and Stuttgart. Fofana apologised and will learn from his mistake. At the time, he admitted: “The gesture was not intended and in no way does it represent my attitude. All this was generated as a result of frustration because I wanted to continue helping the team to obtain a positive result.”
Fofana will hope he can put this incident behind him and enter a positive run of form as Union Berlin similarly pursue a rise up the Bundesliga table in coming weeks and months. He has shown spurts of promise despite a lack of offensive output and is always a handful for defenders (ranking in the top one percent for ‘successful take-ons’ per 90 for forwards across Europe’s top five leagues with 3.30), exhibiting pace and energy in attack in abundance, and still not 21 until next month, will inevitably have ups-and-downs as his career develops.
Omari Hutchinson spent four years in Chelsea’s academy between 2008 and 2012 before joining Charlton Athletic, also spending seven years with Arsenal, and returning to the Blues in July last year. Hutchison picked up just under 50 minutes of senior football across the Premier League and FA Cup, scoring seven and assisting eight in 21 outings for the reserve side – with a loan move a wise and logical solution for a young talent requiring regular first-team action to truly develop.
Ipswich Town, managed by ex-Manchester United assistant Kieran McKenna, and returning to the Championship for the first time since 2018/19, appeared a suitable destination, with McKenna particularly renowned for his development of youngsters. Hutchinson has featured in 12 of the opening 13 Championship games, starting three, as the Tractor Boys are enjoying a brilliant start to the 23/24 season; sitting 2nd in the table behind Leicester City, having lost just once. Ipswich also recorded an impressive 3-2 win over Wolves in the Carabao Cup in September; Hutchinson scoring Ipswich’s first goal of a comeback from 2-0 down.
One of Hutchinson’s best traits is his versatility across the forward line; a quality he has proven so far this season – featuring four times on the left wing, six times on the right, and six times in a traditional ‘number 10’ role. In addition to the goal against Wolves, the youngster scored an excellent goal in a 0-1 win over newly relegated Southampton, pressing from the front and slotting past Gavin Bazunu, as well as assisting in wins over Cardiff and Preston.
As a young player in an intense and demanding league, his first-team involvement is being carefully managed, picking up just 60 minutes across the first five league games, although he ranks in the top 14 players in the squad by both SofaScore and WhoScored despite the small sample size. Hutchinson will aim to continue this impressive form as his minutes increase across the season, as well as adding more goals and assists as Ipswich aim for a remarkable back-to-back promotion. The Championship has proven to be an excellent destination for Chelsea youngsters early on in their career – just think Reece James at Wigan and Conor Gallagher at Charlton and Swansea, both now first-team regulars. Hutchinson may well need another loan in 2024/25 before entering the first-team picture at Chelsea, although his future is certainly bright.
Angelo joined Chelsea in the summer for Santos for around £13 million, racking up an impressive 95 senior appearances, the boyhood club of his idol Neymar. The youngster impressed in a 5-0 win over Wrexham in pre-season in the United States, providing an assist for Ben Chilwell in added time, although with the arrival of Cole Palmer late in the window, as well as Mykhailo Mudryk and Noni Madueke (22 and 21 respectively) vying for minutes in a similar position, a loan appeared wise – the winger joining RC Strasbourg.
Angelo has been a regular for Le Racing so far this season as the club sit 14th in the table with 11 points, featuring in nine of the opening 10 league games in his favoured right-wing role, starting five and playing the full 80+ minutes in four. The attacker has caught the eye with his electric pace and dazzling dribbling, providing an assist in the 0-1 win over Metz in September, and winning Ligue 1 Young Player of the Month for September. This included a brilliant performance in the 2-2 draw at home to Montpellier – making four ‘key passes’, and completing six of seven attempted dribbles.
Angelo has also held his own against tougher opposition – completing all three of his attempted dribbles, winning seven of nine ground duels and making one key pass in 28 minutes against PSG. Ranked Strasbourg’s sixth best performer so far this season by WhoScored, the winger is completing 1.9 dribbles per 90 (second highest in the squad), as well as registering the fourth most ‘key passes’ per 90 with 0.9. Still not 19 for a few weeks, Angelo, in the long-run, could well prove to be one of the smartest signings under the Boehly regime, and a glowing endorsement of the ‘multi-club’ model, if he can continue his form for the rest of the season and beyond.
Cesare Casadei, 20, was one of a number of summer arrivals in 2022 – penning a six-year-contract at Stamford Bridge after a highly commended four year spell at Inter Milan’s academy, also featuring regularly for the Italy national setup across under-16 to under-21 level. The youngster was named in The Guardian’s ‘60 Best Young Talents in World Football’ list in May 2022, drawing comparisons to Chelsea great Frank Lampard as well as maestros Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Federico Valverde.
Casadei featured regularly for Chelsea’s under-23s last season, scoring five in 13 outings, before joining Reading on a six-month loan, completing the full 90 minutes in a spell of seven consecutive games, and scoring once in a defeat to Blackburn Rovers in March. The midfielder was also an integral member of Italy’s under-20 squad at the World Cup in Argentina, winning both the Golden Ball and Golden Boot accolades (with seven goals), before joining newly relegated Leicester City in the Championship for the 2023/24 term.
Casadei has featured in 12 of 13 available league games, starting five, as rhe Foxes sit four points clear at the top of the table, as well as starting both Carabao Cup games against Tranmere Rovers and Liverpool, assisting in the former. A personal highlight came in his debut against Cardiff in August, scoring a 92nd minute winner to snatch the three points, sending the King Power stadium into raptures.
The midfielder also produced a fine performance in the 1-0 win over Sunderland last month – across the full 90 minutes he completed 95 percent of his passes, including two ‘key passes’, winning five of eight ground duels as well as six of seven ground duels. At 6 ‘1, Casadei is able to combine physicality in midfield with silky dribbling and intelligence in tight spaces.
With 13 wins in 15 games this season, Leicester will surely be aiming for instant promotion back to the Premier League, whilst Casadei will hope for consistent first-team minutes, having started the last three league games, with an eye on a first-team slot at Chelsea in coming years, with intense competition for places across the midfield.
Charlie Webster has been with Chelsea since under-10 level, signing his first professional contract at 17 – by then already a regular for the under-23 side. His superb technical abilities and versatility in a deeper, playmaking role as well as in more offensive areas earned the teenager praise and plaudits from academy coaches, as well as his inclusion in The Guardian’s ‘Next Generation’ list in 2020.
Webster signed a one-year contract extension with the Blues in January, before embarking on his first loan spell away from the club, joining Heerenveen in the Eredivisie – the same league Mason Mount developed as a youngster in 2017/18. Webster has only featured three times (twice off the bench) across the opening 10 league games as De Superfriezen sit 10th win 10 points (accumulating 83 minutes), deputising in a left-wing role at times, although he did play the full 90 for the U21 side in a 1-2 away win at Vitesse.
A straight red in a 3-2 loss away against Go Ahead Eagles saw Webster suspended for defeats to Feyenoord and Excelsior, although he returned to the first-team squad as an unused sub in the next three games, before appearing off the bench in a 3-0 win over Heracles.
With the red card incident now behind him, Webster will hope for more consistent minutes as the season progresses, particularly in his favoured central midfield role.
Also, with Webster’s contract at Chelsea expiring next summer, he may well never feature for the first-team – his only involvement coming in a bench appearance against Brentford in the Carabao Cup in 2021, although the midfielder is immensely talented and will surely have a stellar career.
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