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As Ben Chilwell is poised for Leicester City exit, why aren’t we more disappointed?

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He’s one of our own

Leicester City v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

The rumours of Chelsea’s interest in Ben Chilwell, and the media’s obsession with those rumours, has dominated transfer talk for months. Optimistic Leicester fans hoped that had the Foxes secured that coveted Champions League spot, keeping him might have been a possibility.

After the restart capitulation, it seemed less hopeful. The ever in the know John Percy has confirmed he’s on the way out. It’s not a surprise, but it’s a little disappointing.

The alleged £50million price tag looks good. Not as profitable as the Harry Maguire transfer (could anything ever be?) but a decent return for a player who came through the academy at the club. The fee may be a little lower than we’d initially asked but if it’s true that we needed to sell to be able to buy, then it will allow us to hopefully boost our attacking options ahead of the new season.

There are of course the additional games that Europa League qualification brings to factor in. The timing of the sale looks less ideal but presumably the club suspected this would happen and have planned accordingly.

Ben Chilwell has only known Leicester City in his professional career. Nurtured through the Foxes’ academy since 2009, debuting in 2015 and the current first choice left-back for England. These are both things that would normally have fans feeling proud, chanting ‘he’s one of our own’ and most importantly, hoping a player will stay for years. Yet he isn’t beloved for what feels like a sizable portion of the Foxes fanbase.

Why is that, you ask? I’m sure neutral fans are. His treatment and scrutiny, even when not playing has been uncalled for, and a reminder that hurling abuse at players via social media is never a good look. Chilwell didn’t have a perfect season but his performances didn’t merit the booing or the abuse he received. Too often he was singled out when the whole team had been disappointing. There’s no doubt that the scapegoat of last season was the left-back.

In one particularly frustrating game, Chilwell was the subject of many jeers for some wayward passing only to have a successful pass sarcastically cheered. Too often there were calls to drop him for Christian Fuchs who, while an ever reliable servant, is no longer the first choice option.

Yes, the dismantling Chilwell received from Riyad Mahrez in December, when the Foxes travelled to Manchester City, was a harsh learning curve for the fullback, but it was a reminder that he is still young. Equally, most fullbacks asked to deal with Pep Guardiola’s stacked front-line, who focused on isolating our fullbacks that game, would struggle.

Patience in football isn’t easily granted when teams are chasing European football. It’s easy to forget that at age 23, Chilwell is still learning his craft and the best is yet to come, and it’s a shame that we won’t get to see him achieve that at Leicester City. Our loss should be Chelsea’s gain as they bolster their squad further. Every player has a price though and while we may not miss Chilwell as we still do Mahrez, some fans may look back on him differently with hindsight.

Perhaps consistency is the issue. Chilwell was superb in several games early into Leicester’s campaign and has generally always impressed for England too, but it would be hard to deny those performances were less frequent as 2020 got underway.

It still seems unfair to isolate him when the team as whole looked out of ideas. The fullback got forward more last season than in previous years and while his crosses weren’t always perfect, they offered an attacking outlet for us. One that we sorely needed after the restart in July. His goal against Watford, a fantastic effort, proved that confidence, and maybe a lack of spectator pressure, are key.

With attacking options the key area for recruitment, it’s unclear if a replacement for Chilwell is wanted. Young Luke Thomas will likely be promoted to the first team role and the early signs are incredibly promising from him. However next season’s fixture list looks packed and with European football at stake, whether Brendan Rodgers will be comfortable with just him and the deputising Christian Fuchs is unclear. James Justin can also fill in at left-back if required but it would be wise to avoid the fullback drought the Foxes experienced at the end of the restart.

Chilwell will see a move to Chelsea as the next step in his career. He already has the England spot locked down but the chance to play Champions League football, potentially contest a Premier League title again and work under Frank Lampard will all look appealing. It isn’t hard to imagine the salary package being a little more generous at the London club either.

The Foxes certainly only sell at prices and times they’re comfortable with, this isn’t little old Leicester being bullied, but this felt like a summer to add to our squad, not lose any first team players. If Chilwell does want to go, it’s sensible, there’s no value in keeping unhappy players, but could we be doing more to stop a player’s heads being turned in the first instance?

2019/20 saw Leicester achieve their second highest ever Premier League finish; there’s a new state of the art training facility in place and the club have clear aims for bigger things, it should be an attractive prospect but when you see the signings Chelsea have made so far, compared to our lack of signings, it is a little concerning. The downturn in Leicester’s form won’t have helped any player with other offers either.

This transfer poses a bigger question for Leicester City and any other aspiring top six clubs. How do you retain your best or most promising players for the long term to help you compete? Particularly in a landscape where it’s become the norm for the largest media organisations to Photoshop a player to be wearing a “bigger” club’s shirt. Factor in national teammates who are already at the biggest club, not to mention the agents who stand to make profits from a move and you can see why heads can be turned more quickly.

The reality is that securing fourth place probably wouldn’t have changed the outcome with Chilwell, but with the likes of James Maddison, Wilfred Ndidi and Ricardo Pereira being linked to other clubs frequently, it’s an issue we’ll potentially face again.