One year on from his decision to reject an England call-up and Danny Drinkwater’s disappearing act is virtually complete.
Drinkwater has not made a competitive appearance since March and Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri has made it clear he does not fit into his tactical system. ‘I told him two months ago what I think,’ said Sarri when quizzed on the matter.
There was no sign of him against Everton last time out, or in Belarus the week before because he is not in the Europa League squad.
Danny Drinkwater was a part of Leicester’s title-winning squad before moving to Chelsea
At 28, with the experience of a champion, Drinkwater ought to be in his prime. Instead, he is a £35million outcast with three-and-a-half years to run on a contract which pays around £90,000 a week.
His five Premier League starts since the transfer from Leicester have cost Chelsea more than £8m each, in terms of his fee and salary to date.
Drinkwater showed no interest in a move during the summer despite the indications he was not in the manager’s plans, but the opening months of his first campaign under Sarri have proved so bleak he is ready to consider his options as January approaches.
Even so, it may not be so simple. Chelsea will expect clubs to cover at least the bulk of his wages in a loan deal and want most of the fee back in any permanent move.
At 28 years old, with the experience of a champion, Drinkwater ought to be in his prime
Who will invest this sort of money in a player who has barely kicked a ball in 18 months?
Drinkwater has landed firmly outside Sarri’s circle of trust and those who worked with the coach in Italy know there is often no way back.
Even in the Carabao Cup, the Italian has not ventured far from his trusted few and sent first-team regulars on from the bench in the close contests against Liverpool and Derby. Only 14 players have started for Chelsea in the first dozen Premier League fixtures and only five others have appeared as substitutes.
Sarri operated the same way at Napoli to the annoyance of frustrated stars such as Emanuele Giaccherini.
‘He has a relationship problem with squad players,’ said Italy international and former Sunderland striker Giaccherini. ‘For him, there are only 14 or 15 players, but if you want to win things, you have to manage the entire squad. You have to make everyone feel important, but I didn’t feel like that at Napoli.’
Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri (L) made it clear that Drinkwater does not fit in his tactical system
Giaccherini predicted the policy would backfire when Sarri’s core of favourites tired and those on the fringes were not sharp enough to step in and help the cause. Perhaps he had a point. Napoli did fade and Juventus won the title.
This does not help Drinkwater, who had the courage to break out of Manchester United when upset to see other young players, including Brazilian Rodrigo Possebon, given first-team opportunities ahead of him.
He demanded the right to go on loan and joined Huddersfield, Cardiff, Watford and Barnsley before a permanent move to Leicester at the age of 21.
‘A lot of players are happy to sit at a big club and not play and call themselves a Premier League footballer but Danny wasn’t like that,’ said Richie Wellens, a team-mate at Leicester who also came through the ranks at Manchester United.
‘He wanted to play and he showed his strength of character to go on loan because that’s where young players learn. Not all the loans worked out but he did well at Barnsley and earned his move.
‘At Leicester, he developed a good relationship with players, especially Jamie Vardy and provided a lot of assists, and his energy alongside N’Golo Kante was a big factor in them winning the league.
‘It was a risk to leave. Look at Vardy, still the main man at Leicester, playing well in a team producing results. Danny took another route. Perhaps he thought Chelsea was too good to turn down but it’s difficult.
‘Top players like Kante, Jorginho, Cesc Fabregas and Mateo Kovacic keep their form and chances are rare. It’s a shame. He’s not been given a run. He’s got to keep his head down, train hard.’
Kante has thrived at Stamford Bridge, but Drinkwater’s Chelsea experience went from bad to worse.
He arrived in the midst of Antonio Conte’s dispute with the board over recruitment and he suffered muscle injuries as the Italian coaching team tried to push him back to fitness.
Tiemoue Bakayoko, signed from Monaco, had a knee injury and deals for Ross Barkley and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had fallen through. Nemanja Matic had been sold and Conte was short in midfield.
The midfielder has not made a competitive appearance since March and is often overlooked
Drinkwater did not feel 100 per cent fit last November so he rejected Southgate’s invitation to be part of his squad for friendlies against Germany and Brazil.
With Jordan Henderson, Harry Winks and Fabian Delph absent, England deployed Jake Livermore, Eric Dier, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Jack Cork in midfield over two games and Southgate has not felt the need to return to Drinkwater.
His international career, which started with an impressive debut against Holland, consists of three appearances in friendlies under Roy Hodgson in 2016.
There is no prospect of this changing while he languishes at Chelsea.