The process of Emerson’s by now inevitable departure, after an indifferent two years at Chelsea, began on 29th December 2019. Frustration had already been piqued privately, with Frank Lampard favouring captain Cesar Azpilicueta as a makeshift left-back, but it was the Italian’s unceremonious and slightly embarrassing substitution against Arsenal, after just 34 minutes at the Emirates, that truly sparked the machinations for his return to Serie A.
There had been a glimmer of hope, at first, that Lampard would sanction Emerson’s departure in January. As The Independent reported, at that stage, both Inter Milan and Juventus had registered an interest with Emerson’s representatives. Antonio Conte’s side, in particular, had made it clear that they were prepared to offer Chelsea £25m for the 25-year-old.
But while the full-back was considered defensively liable by Lampard, and the fraught relationship between Conte and Chelsea was said to be influencing negotiations, the deal always hinged on an immediate replacement. Leicester, by then second and seven points clear of Chelsea, were adamant that no players would be sold in January. Ben Chilwell had been Lampard’s longstanding first-choice and the lack of any suitable alternatives instantly ground talks to a halt.
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Emerson dealt with the disappointment amicably, pouring scorn on rumours of his reported unhappiness as “fake news”, while his representatives briefed that the 25-year-old was content in London and willing to fight for his place in the team.
However, in reality, The Independent understands that his departure has been considered effectively certain since January, with Emerson rightly unwilling to play second-fiddle to a new signing while Chelsea are keen to recoup a profit on their original investment.
Talks over personal terms had already taken place, with a fee in the region of £25-30m now being negotiated by the two clubs after Inter retained their interest, having already signalled their intent in the transfer market by signing right-back Achraf Hakimi from Real Madrid.
It’s a marriage with Conte’s five-at-the-back system that should fit perfectly for Emerson, who’s yet to evidence his obvious qualities in England. He will take on a front-foot marauding role at full-back, with the three centre-halves shouldering the majority of defensive responsibilities. which will play to his strengths – even if those same talents are often more evident in teammate Marcos Alonso, who was also subject to enquiries from Inter in January.
For Lampard, it was a relationship always more likely to end in divorce, with the head coach irritated by the club’s defensive frailties. Emerson has played a bit-part role this season, has not made a Premier League appearance since January, and was left out of matchday squads to face Manchester City and West Ham entirely – although he did complete 90 minutes in the FA Cup quarter-final tie against Leicester.
It quickly became public knowledge that Lampard had earmarked left-back as a weakness in his side in the early stages of his tenure and Wednesday’s defeat at the London Stadium will have only exacerbated concerns over a lack of balance and solidity in defence.
When a deal is eventually struck in the summer window, Emerson’s departure will cause little commotion or stir few feelings amongst Chelsea’s supporters. His impression has been understated, overwritten by a feeling that he’s never quite lived up to his full repertoire of talent.
His sale will also represent the last piece of Lampard’s three-piece transfer jigsaw that he first identified ahead of the winter transfer window – a new forward (Timo Werner), a creative catalyst to replace Eden Hazard (Hakim Ziyech), and replacement full-back – even if cracks still glare in central defence and in goal.
With little hope any club will be willing to take on Kepa Arrizabalaga’s wages next season, be it on a permanent or loan deal, that particular sticking point could well prove to be a separate problem that’s not so reasonably resolved.