AN EXODUS WAITING TO HAPPEN

By Mark Wheeler
Feb 14th, 2001

Mark Wheeler dips his toe into the murky waters of the transfer market and looks at why Claudio Ranieri’s expected clear out has yet to materialise. Claudio Ranieri has been incharge at Chelsea for nearly five months and is gradually shaping the squad in his own image. However, the exodus of older players from Stamford Bridge, expected by many, is yet to happen. A mini migration is surely essential if the average age of the team is to be reduced, which is vital if the club is to move forward in the future, so what is holding it back?

The best way of finding out is to look at the cases of the players who have come close to being transferred only for the deals to fall through. There are three that have had a public airing of late these involve Frank Leboeuf, Ed de Goey and Dennis Wise. Each has caused a stir among Chelsea supporters but for different reasons.

Leboeuf, who turned 33 in January, rubbed Chelsea’s travelling support up the wrong way recently with his performances at Arsenal and Gillingham. He did not appear to have the stomach for either match and he was stretchered off at Priestfield Road with a dead leg. He was fit to play again three days later at home to Newcastle.

Understandably, the doubt over his proposed move to Monaco could have played a part in Leboeuf’s below-par performances. The uncertainty came to an end though when the transfer fell through and the defender’s form has improved since, notably at home against Manchester United. But why did the deal collapse? Leboeuf places the blame squarely on the Monaco president, Jean-Louis Campora. The two clubs had supposedly agreed a fee for the player but he accuses Campora of arranging “a deal when he didn’t have the money to complete it”. Leboeuf insists that Monaco needed to sell a player to finance the move but the president kept the manager, Claude Puel, in the dark. Puel had given up hope of signing Leboeuf but Campora ploughed on with negotiations. Eventually, the French transfer deadline passed and the deal was dead in the water.

The Chelsea number five was typically modest about the whole affair. “Campora showed an enormous lack of professionalism. You have a World Cup winner ready to move back to France, and you mess him about like that,” he bemoaned. After making it clear to his employers that he was actively seeking a move, Leboeuf is left in a position as tricky as any in the Kamasutra now that he is going nowhere, hence his comments about continuing his “love affair” with Chelsea.

By comparison, the case of the 34-year-old Ed de Goey seems some what clearer cut. The third choice Dutch goalkeeper has fallen out of favour with the Chelsea management after a run of below par rather than downright awful performances. He lost his place in the starting eleven following the 2-2 draw at Ipswich on Boxing Day when many fans thought he was at fault for both goals. His replacement, 27-year-old Carlo Cudicini, has looked solid without being spectacular, which may be no bad thing given de Goey’s occasional spectacular gaffe.

The decision to accept an offer for de Goey, rather than let him fight for his place, at first sight appears to be a strange one. However, it does back up Ranieri’s claim to be thinking of the future. The offer came from Anderlecht who wanted a replacement for the injured Filip de Wilde. It was reported that the Dutchman’s £16,000-a-week wage demand killed the deal off, along with the passing of the Champions League transfer deadline. This suggests that Chelsea had agreed terms with the Belgians and the club was happy for him to go.

To his credit, de Goey has not been mouthing off to the media since he was dropped and he has been happy to play second fiddle to Cudicini while out of favour. He does not consider himself beneath warming up the first choice ‘keeper before games and his attitude is worthy of respect. Not even the signing of the 28-year-old Mark Bosnich has changed his outlook and de Goey has had no apparent stick from the support.

By far the most controversial of the three touted transfers was the one linking Dennis Wise to Blackburn Rovers. At 34 years of age, Wise is surely coming to the end of his playing career but given the paucity of English talent in the Chelsea team his presence is crucial to Ranieri if he wants to avoid the wrath of a xenophobic media. Wise also remains one of the most popular players at the club, among staff as well as supporters, so why did he come so close to leaving?

The popular rumour is that Gianluca Vialli wanted to sell Wise before the start of the season and had agreed terms with Blackburn. However, after a player revolt more common at Chelsea these days than seafood sarnies at Old Trafford Wise stayed and Vialli left. But then Wise got upset after he was dropped by the new manager and Graeme Souness moved in for a signature quicker than Dennis could throw his toys out of the pram.

Wise was talked around though, appropriately enough by his mother among others. Significantly, he has not been left out of the side since his little tantrum. His talent may be fading but his influence remains undiminished. The reception Wise got from the support after his outburst was unequivocally positive. After spending ten years at the club and being at the heart of the Chelsea renaissance Wise has earned the respect of the fans and he clearly revels in it.

On top of the failed transfers, Ranieri has stated that he wants Gianfranco Zola, 34, to stay at the club for another season. He is also reportedly attempting to sign Cafu, the 30-year-old Brazilian captain, to replace another 30-year-old right-back, Albert Ferrer, who could move back to Barcelona.

It seems that the much-touted player exodus is no longer on the cards. The Stamford Bridge Sale has been cancelled due to deadlines passing, wage demands and changes of heart. Clearly, Ranieri’s attempt to lower the age of the squad is going to be a longer-term objective than he had originally envisaged.

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