Chelsea’s last-gasp signing of Saul Niguez may prove to strengthen Thomas Tuchel’s squad this season, as well as potentially making one of his new team-mates surplus to requirements
The arrival of the Atletico Madrid star on a season-long loan just minutes before the summer transfer window closed brought with it a moment of relief and anticipation.
Even if his status at Atletico had been somewhat diminished after a peculiar fallout with manager Diego Simeone, there can be no doubt Chelsea have clinched a superb signing in adding the midfielder to their ranks.
Just how long he plans to stay in London is not yet known, but Saul will spend the season on loan with a view to a £34million transfer next summer, helping the Blues in their quest for silverware.
With obligation to buy and a rumoured loan fee of just £4m, it is a deal that benefits the club greatly. Thomas Tuchel gets a midfielder who will improve his options as the club fights for honours on four fronts.
He has shown his talents on the world stage in LaLiga and the Champions League, scoring a range of stunning goals and undeniably developing into one of the world’s most accurate passers in recent years.
Saul is also a player who has a wealth of experience, with two Champions League finals and a LaLiga title for good measure. Yet it still feels like the 26-year-old still has his best years ahead of him.
If all goes swimmingly, he will be enjoying those years in front of the Stamford Bridge faithful.
Tuchel has already shown he is not afraid to make big-name signings and stamp his authority on the squad, breaking the club’s transfer record to sign Romelu Lukaku for £97.5m.
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And the next figure who could be sacrificed to make way for Tuchel’s newest acquisition is Jorginho.
Ironically, the Brazil-born holding midfielder is arguably enjoying the best time of his Chelsea career under Tuchel’s stewardship. But the signing of Saul points to a new direction Tuchel is keen to move in: to make his team a potent attacking force.
Saul represents a more positive option in midfield, finding the passes in between the lines to link the midfield and attack, whilst also being capable of doing Jorginho’s job in breaking up the play and retaining possession.
If he performs as well as many are expecting him to and Billy Gilmour and Conor Gallagher return to challenge for first-team places next season, Jorginho could quickly find himself the odd man out.
The 29-year-old was signed by Maurizio Sarri and proved quickly to be the same pass-master that Chelsea paid £57m in 2018. But he was not given such a warm welcome by the supporters, with some accusing Jorginho of being Sarri’s “pet” — something he has consistently laughed off.
It was hardly a surprise when the Italian head coach left for Juventus in 2019 that he attempted to take Jorginho with him. The Italy international remained at Stamford Bridge, although many expected him to eventually be ousted from the starting XI under Lampard.
It did not take long after some poor displays, with Jorginho’s pace exposed by Lampard’s fluid 4-2-3-1 formation. His performances no longer justified the patience shown by Sarri.
Only a failure to arrange the deal in time before the transfer deadline saw his mooted loan deal to Arsenal collapse in October 2020. As fate would have it, it would be a blessing in disguise for the holding midfielder.
Of course, he was in and out of the team by the time Lampard was sacked in January this year, with Chelsea in desperate need for some fresh ideas after five defeats in eight games.
For Jorginho, it was simply a chance to hit the reset button.
Playing under a more tactically astute and defensively aware coach as Tuchel would suit his patient approach to football and, with three defenders behind him, he could focus more on dictating the tempo.
He was one of the star performers as Chelsea made an unexpected run to the Champions League final and put in a tireless display to help shut out Manchester City, as the Blues roared to their first European triumph since 2012.
His stock has soared even higher after a phenomenal showing at Euro 2020, playing a key role in helping Italy clinch their first international title for 15 years.
Now, Jorginho faces the challenge of proving himself all over again after Saul’s arrival. That is, if he is there to face it.
The midfielder recently joked that he would sign a “10-year contract” with the club if offered. But the fact his agent hinted he could return to Italy when his contract expires in 2023 reinforces the idea that his future has never been fully secure.
“Obviously, it would be a dream for him to return to Italy, hopefully after winning the World Cup,” his agent told Radio Bianconera, via The Metro.
“We’ll have to see what the market looks like in a couple of years and what the other situations are.”
Better yet, Chelsea may be able to avoid any awkwardness if a team comes calling for Jorginho next summer, with Sarri now in charge of Lazio and reportedly interested in a reunion.
Now that he is widely regarded as a top performer with the UEFA Midfielder of the Year award locked down, the club can demand a fee that reflects his increased value.
In simple terms, it would be no surprise if Saul’s arrival marks the long goodbye of Jorginho in his fourth season in England.
His departure would not tarnish what he has achieved at Chelsea, with a European double in his trophy cabinet and the fans back on his side after some mixed receptions over the years.
But with Jorginho turning 30 in December, it may be the right time to seek one last challenge elsewhere — before his place is snatched away from him by the new man on the block.