To appease or not to appease Antonio Conte. That has been the question. And it appears Chelsea's hierarchy have, after weeks of hilarious content-driving speculation, eventually chosen the former... sort of.
First of all, just to clarify, the signing of Olivier Giroud is a good one, made even better by its excellent value. The 31-year-old Frenchman is criminally underrated, and perfectly captures the essence of what the club were seeking; a large but skilled super-sub.
The former Arsenal man is a significantly more graceful, and inconceivably cheaper Andy Carroll, a younger Edin Dzeko, a far classier and more experienced Ashley Barnes, and a more prolific Fernando Llorente (although the Spaniard would just edge Giroud out in terms of looks, much to the Frenchman's chagrin).
Another perk, if any more were required, is that Giroud possesses one of the more joyous, and somewhat idiosyncratic chants, and that is always a plus for fans, who've become accustomed to the familiarly humdrum and conventional serenades of other players.
However, putting all of this no doubt valid information aside, it leaves a perplexing picture at Stamford Bridge. Regardless of the French international's quality (of which his national team coach seemingly sees an abundance of), the signing inadvertently represents a greater issue at the West London club - the future, and the lack of clarity it pertains.
Having spent the majority of last summer batting away any of their incumbent manager's personnel requests, and maintaining their quasi stringent (this is the Premier League, after all) stance on spending vast (again, this is all contextual) amounts of money without sufficient returns, they have now partially loosened the purse strings in attempts to placate the Italian.
The problem is, it's almost certainly in vain. Notwithstanding the fact that acquiring Giroud and Ross Barkley for a combined £30m (or just over) equates to a veritable bargain, and near no-lose situation in these ludicrous times, it's surely too little and may be too late in Antonio Conte's eyes.
Indeed, a gamble on Barkley and a marked down deal for Giroud is merely a no-lose situation for the board - for Conte and his team, the losing may continue. And here's where the talk of appeasement becomes cloudy. The three January additions so far have bolstered the squad in areas that undoubtedly needed addressing, but Chelsea's title winning manager from last season knew that at least six months ago, and probably a lot further back than that, in truth.
Outcries regarding the shallowness of the squad fell on deaf ears. Warnings about the toils and travails that come hand in hand with Champions League participation were dismissed. Pleas for specific players were ignored. The board were unerring in their desire to play the game how they saw fit, and voraciously set about following their newfound frugal ideology.
Now they have loosened their proverbial fist, but not for the names Conte had so feverishly coveted. It's fairly clear the addition of a hampered Ross Barkley was not one he wholeheartedly welcomed, and while Giroud's may have been, it was a hole-plugging buy born out of desperation, not a tool with which to make a charge on the greater good. He may have Conte's blessing, but he's not for the Italian.
The decision to reject the chance to build upon and improve a title winning side is not a novel one at Stamford Bridge. The same compromise was made after the 2014/15 season, to the utmost rancour of Jose Mourinho. In that instance, the situation unravelled rapidly. While such instant catastrophe has so far been quelled, do not rule out a similarly disastrous collapse developing a little further down the road.
If Chelsea were to lose Hazard at the end of the season, as is readily conceivable, an equitable state of panic could ensue, irrespective of any kind of Barkley revival, Giroud prosperity or Palmieri promise that may or may not materialise. And if, say, the club were to miss out on the Champions League places come the end of the campaign, as is equally possible, one world class Belgian departure could follow another.
Combine this with the correspondingly (and increasingly) feasible outcome that their managerial scouts will be at full tilt in wake of their Italian Job becoming vacant, and their customary biannual search for a replacement may prove tougher than normal. While such a scenario could be seen as pessimistic, bordering on nihilistic for a Chelsea fan, it is menacingly born within the realms of reality.
Chelsea without Hazard would just be some blue shapes moving around— Barney Ronay (@barneyronay) January 24, 2018
Although at this juncture, Blues fans can point to the admittedly enticing prospect of Giroud's permissible substitution at the Nou Camp in February, in search of a tie-determining score, a glance beyond the immediate horizon may hold an altogether less alluring vision of the future.