Levi Colwill will try to leave Chelsea if the club sign more defenders
There is now a growing likelihood Chelsea fans will never see Levi Colwill in the first-team.
The highly rated youngster was not involved in the club’s first preseason game here in Las Vegas on Saturday. He was left out after complaining of a tight thigh and did not attend training on Friday, the day before the 2-1 win over Mexico club America at Allegiant Stadium.
Although the hamstring problem has been described as minor and won’t last long, the situation surrounding his future is of much greater concern.
Talk of him going somewhere else isn’t new.
There is a long list of clubs interested in taking on the 19-year-old, who was on loan at Huddersfield Town last season when they finished third in the Championship and then reached the play-off final, but against Nottingham Forest lost promotion for the Premier League.
The fact that Colwill has three years left on his contract would normally give some reassurance. The club are in a strong position and can insist he is not for sale.
But will Chelsea do that? And is staying what Colwill really wants?
When the centre-back spoke the athlete in May he tried to help Huddersfield return to the top flight of English football. It was obvious that this is a youngster with a lot of ambition.
Colwill said: “I think I’m ready (for the Premier League). I’ve learned a lot this year so I hope the next step will be in the Premier League, with Chelsea, Huddersfield or whoever.” The fact that he was pretty vague about where he would play in 2022-23 was insightful.
Colwill loves Chelsea and why shouldn’t he? He’s been with them since he joined the academy at sub-9 level. But just because he has a deep affection for the west London side doesn’t mean he’ll settle for becoming a supporting character or series borrower.
Head coach Thomas Tuchel has already made it clear what he currently values.
As one of football’s best managers, having already given the club a European Cup and a Club World Cup in his 18 months as coach, he is keen to add more trophies to his collection as soon as possible.
Chelsea’s deal in the summer transfer market was conducted with this in mind. Two players have been purchased so far and both are finished items – Raheem Sterling (27 years old, 77 caps for England) and Kalidou Koulibaly (31 years old, 62 caps for Senegal). Striker Sterling and centre-back Koulibaly weren’t brought on as players for long-term development – it’s about being ready to help their new club straight away to challenge Silverware.
Tuchel does not want to stop there either. He is keen to sign two more defenders.
An attempt to bring Sterling’s former Manchester City team-mate Nathan Ake (27, 27 Netherlands caps) back for a second spell at Stamford Bridge has failed, but Tuchel retains an interest in Paris Saint-Germain’s Presnel Kimpembe (26, 28 caps for France) and Sevilla’s Jules Kounde (23, 11 caps for France).
The message is loud and clear. If either or both of Kimpembe and Kounde join, what’s the path for Colwill to get game time? There really aren’t any.
Indeed, if he adds yet another defender, it is understood that Chelsea will be looking to leave before the September 1 transfer deadline.
Some reading this might argue that attitude is a sign that one is not ready to fight for one’s place. But let’s be realistic here.
As things stand, Colwill already appears to be behind Thiago Silva, Koulibaly, Malang Sarr and Trevoh Chalobah in the pecking order.
Another signing or two will put him in fifth or sixth pick – and that doesn’t even take into account the possibility of club captain Cesar Azpilicueta remaining linked with Barcelona, let alone Emerson Palmieri and Ethan Ampadu, who like him both die spent last season on loan.
Colwill is set to become an England international one day.
He has seen Marc Guehi, a Chelsea Academy graduate who moved to Crystal Palace last year, achieve that dream in March. Another defender developed at the club’s Cobham Academy, Fikayo Tomori, joined Italian giants AC Milan last summer and was rewarded in the end with a Serie A title and a recall to the England squad.
They have shown Colwill and others in the youth ranks that leaving Chelsea doesn’t have to be a step backwards. It can be the emergence of a player.
Having promoted Chalobah to the senior team 12 months ago and Conor Gallagher this year after his impressive 2021-22 loan season at Palace, Tuchel cannot be accused of being anti-youth.
But in his selection against Club America here, he ignored academy talents Billy Gilmour, Harvey Vale and Tino Anjorin. They were all left out on Gameday 22 while series disappointments Kenedy and Ross Barkley were played out in front of a crowd of 47,223 at the home of the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders.
Tuchel admitted he felt remorse. “Everyone has a chance,” he said after the game. “I was a bit sad because some young players had to be out (in the squad) through injury or because we had too many players for two teams of 20 that we fielded. Some other players deserved to play. Harvey Vale, for example, played a fantastic tournament with the England U19s and did very well in training.”
But it’s worth noting that he also played against Barkley and Kenedy in the last game of last Premier League season against Watford in May so this is not an isolated case.
It’s hard to see what will benefit Tuchel or Chelsea from getting those two minutes considering how little they’ve contributed in all the years they’ve been at Stamford Bridge. There’s little they can learn and they’ve already shown everything they can (or can’t) do.
Anyway, back to Colwill.
Palace are believed to be confident of securing his services for a possible Guehi reunion. Others on the hunt are Southampton, Fulham, Leicester City, Brighton & Hove Albion and Everton.
If he goes to one of them and performs regularly, there is hope that England will call soon enough. Impress for another high-profile club and one of the title contenders – yes, even Chelsea – will be keen to spend big to recruit them anyway.
Chelsea fans may be wondering why another loan move is out of the question. Well, there’s little point in agreeing to a temporary transfer when other Premier League clubs are willing to shell out millions to sign you permanently. Also, a loan only delays a decision about Colwill’s future for another 12 months if one can be made now.
Anyone looking for a more positive outcome to hold on to some sort of hope that Colwill might stay after all should check out the events of last summer’s window. Chelsea were ready to sign Kounde but couldn’t agree on a fee with Sevilla. Chalobah was then promoted after making a positive impact on Tuchel in the pre-season.
Colwill is believed to have started the preseason hoping to emulate Chalobah, who ended up making 30 games for the first-team. Should Chelsea fail to achieve their goals, history could repeat itself. It’s not like he expects or demands to be in the front XI every week. A solid supporting role that comes along fairly regularly is enough because it continues his development.
Tuchel told the youngsters on the trip to take Chalobah as a role model for what can happen. The 23-year-old has also offered some advice himself on how younger staff like Colwill can earn a spot.
“I just think you have to impress, be ready, I did that last season and I want to do that again this season,” he said. “So the players that have come back from loan really have to do the same thing, give it your all, you never know what’s going to happen.”
However, one should not forget that Chelsea’s new co-owners will have to sell some players to balance the books and comply with financial fair play rules.
The previous regime raised up to £89m ($105m) by cashing in on Tomori, Guehi and Tammy Abraham last summer. A similar sum could come from the departures of Colwill, Anjorin and Armando Broja. They’re easier to sell because their wages and asking price are relatively low compared to more experienced players, plus they have many skills that teams believe they can improve. Buying clubs recognize the opportunity to make a significant profit later.
Tuchel wants to emphasize that anyone can take it into their thinking on this US pre-season tour, which now moves on to a friendly against the city’s MLS club in Charlotte, North Carolina on Wednesday.
“You can discuss and make plans with all these players, but they’re not worth the paper you write on because they can change every minute, every training session,” he said on Friday. “You just have to be ready.
“I think all players who come from loans or other situations and want to make their mark here are more than invited and supported. We are open but they are aware that the task is very high because the group is competitive and the group is strong. And yet I feel like everyone is proud to be back, proud to be in the Chelsea squad and from there they are responsible for their own careers and they have our support.”
Colwill would definitely like to take on that responsibility, but with Tuchel looking to sign other players in his position, it now looks like he’s increasingly doing it for someone else.
(Photo above: Getty Images)