FEATURE | Chelsea would be wise to extend Andrey Santos’ Strasbourg loan

Andrey Santos’ (20) arrival at RC Strasbourg Alsace was not exactly met with enthusiasm. His loan move from fellow BlueCo-owned club Chelsea on deadline day in February was somewhat overshadowed by Matz Sels’ (32) shock move to Nottingham Forest. It was an “emotional” departure for the Belgian, who in the words of RCSA president Marc Keller, had become a “club legend”. The transfer elicited an equally emotive reaction from the Strasbourg fans, whose protests against Sels’ departure heightened anti-BlueCo sentiment and saw significant protests in Les Alsaciens’ first home game after the event. 

Santos’ move was perceived as part of the problem with the club’s BlueCo ownership. The midfielder, at the time, was away on international duty, attempting to secure Brazil’s qualification for the Olympics this summer. At best, Santos would play 13 Ligue 1 games with RCSA – it had the feeling of a transfer that served Chelsea’s needs more than Strasbourg’s. After an anonymous loan spell at Nottingham Forest, during which played just 97 minutes for the club and just seven minutes in the Premier League, Santos was recalled but there was no space for him in the Chelsea squad. Within this context, Strasbourg, given their ownership situation, were a convenient outlet. However, it has ultimately been a mutually beneficial loan move. 

RCSA fans had to wait until 18th February and a match against FC Lorient to see Santos for the first time. His 10-minute cameo showed promise, earning him further minutes against Stade Brestois the following week. However, amid a tough run of form on a collective level, Santos didn’t feature in the next two matches, against Montpellier HSC and AS Monaco. 

Santos produces season-best performance against Metz

However, he was then thrust into the starting XI by Patrick Vieira the following week and Santos hasn’t been dropped since. In a deep midfield role, Santos has become RCSA’s main channel of ball progression. He is the most present and most reliable player in build-up for Strasbourg. Santos is always available, showing for the ball and, constantly scanning, he keeps himself out of trouble, keeps it tidy and allows RCSA to beat the press and progress vertically, whilst in tight spaces, he has shown touches of class and exuberance in the final third.

Santos’ performance against FC Metz was the most impressive since his arrival. His late, headed match-winner in the Derby de l’Èst was the crowning moment of the display, however, he was influential throughout. On a personal level, he had the most touches in a single Ligue 1 match (95, fourth-highest on the pitch), the most passes (78), the highest pass completion (95%), the most carries (80), the highest progressive carrying distance (504 yards) and the most passes received (75). In possession, everything went through Santos and it is clear that the Brazilian has become Vieira’s most trusted player in build-up phases; if all moves are channelled through Santos, it is not insignificant. 

L’Équipe suggest that Les Alsaciens may look to extend Santos’ move for a further year – it would be an intelligent move for all parties. Should Santos start in RCSA’s final game of the season, against Olympique Lyonnais, he would have featured 11 times over the course of the loan spell. It is a limited data set and whilst the signs of the Brazilian’s progression are overwhelmingly positive, they are far from conclusive. Given his prominence, Chelsea could learn a lot from seeing Santos complete a full season in Ligue 1 in order to better understand his profile and better integrate him into the first-team set-up the following season. 

https://twitter.com/RCSA/status/1789944190752698470

For Strasbourg, it would allow a level of continuity in what is a quickly evolving project. All signs suggest that, in line with BlueCo’s sporting strategy, RCSA will once again pursue a considerable, youth-centric recruitment approach in the transfer market. Santos has made a key position his own in recent weeks and it is these elements of continuity within the project that can allow the club to steer clear of the relegation conversation and start looking towards the European places. 

For Santos too, a further year at the Meinau is also logical. At such a crucial juncture in his development, just a year after his move from Brazil, and at a time when he looks to have found his feet after a set-back at Nottingham Forest, game time is a necessity. Santos is not ready to displace the likes of Enzo Fernandez or Moises Caicedo, whilst further recruitment in this position is a possibility at Chelsea this summer. Becoming a backup option at Stamford Bridge suits no one; remaining at Strasbourg suits everyone. 

GFFN | Luke Entwistle

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