IN CONTINENT

By Rob Hobson
In News
Mar 18th, 2008

To manage “on the continent” is to be beset by uncertainty, one eye ever to windward, awaiting the moment when the mute with the bowstring calls time on your career. So much are we told by the columnists. We icy Albion islanders are not of this breed. We have learned the true lesson of our race, as a wise man once said: to put away all emotion and entrap the alien at the proper time. And then, presumably, give him a kicking for looking a bit different.Not that you’ll find many Englishmen perched atop the towers of power at Stamford Bridge. American lawyers and Russian businessmen are more our colour. So is it any wonder that the un-English way of doing things seems to have insinuated its way into the corridors of our beloved club?

At the other members of the Big Three, no such uncertainty exists. Sir Ferg has held court for so long – and threatened retirement so many times, the little tease – that only the drinks cabinet dares to stand up to him. Only Arsene’s telescope could testify to what he Knows, but the fans cling to his strategic vision because without it 80% of the first-team squad would be off before you could say “Marseille turn”. But Avram Grant, who seems to be in his position entirely on merit (the merit of mingling well with the mighty), is never more than 90 minutes away from a P45.

Neither, for that matter, are his players. If you believe the hype – and don’t say that Public Enemy didn’t warn you – the mighty Blues are in line for a major overhaul this summer. Out with Grant, of course, although his twin cup humblings this season will buy him a shunt back to the director of football position. But it’s the squad that will feel the bite of Roman’s knout as they’re variously shipped off, bundled out, edged into retirement or, in one specific case, allowed to go home after presenting a note from their dad. That the dad in question is Silvio Berlusconi and the player our record signing makes no odds. The humbling by Barnsley (who I’m backing all the way to final this year) has sullied many a reputation, coming as it did right on top of a defeat by Spurs in the Carling Cup final. United’s defeat in the Cup to inferior opposition raised fewer eyebrows – Southend United, anyone? – but Chelsea’s defeat at the hands of Barnsley has, we’re told, “incensed” the owner.

If you believe the hearsay and conjecture, the club will dispense with the services of Juliano Belletti, Carlo Cudicini, Tal Ben Haim, Claudio Pizarro, Steve Sidwell, Florent Malouda and Andriy Shevchenko. In addition, there are rumours that the club is more or less resigned to having to sell Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard, with the latter’s refusal to sign a new contract meaning that he may well be able to leave for a relatively small sum of money. Relatively small, in this case, being some several million pounds but hey, this is the Premiership.

Let’s assume for a moment that the rumours are substantially true (if we don’t, this becomes a rather short article). Hypothetically speaking, I have no problem with losing the services of any of those in the first grouping, Cudicini and Belletti aside. But, again hypothetically speaking, I have something of a problem with losing all seven of them in a single summer. Does no one understand the meaning of the term “squad player” any more? On losing a top class midfielder in the mould of Essien to, say, an international tournament, is it reasonable to expect a player of equal quality to step eagerly into his shoes? Of course not, because a player of Essien’s quality is unlikely to sit on the bench awaiting an injury or national call-up before he plays. Sadly, my argument falls down when we consider that Essien’s replacement this year was the hapless Steve Sidwell, who provided Chelsea with plenty of perspiration but not a whole lot of scintillation.

Whether true or not, Chelsea’s owner is once again being painted as a sort of casual dictator: the sort of chap who casually sends players to the bargain bin whilst enjoying a late tea of crumpets and Devonshire butter. Which begs the question: if he’s such a savage, what’s he going to do to the fellow leaking all this private information when he finally catches up with him? Needles under the fingernails? Piano wire round the unmentionables? The mind boggles.

Moving on, there is certainly a feeling amongst some Chelsea fans – a minority, as far as I can tell – that the club should take the financial opportunity that a Drogba sale represents, and build anew. By the same token, should there be a chance to make some cash off of a quick sale of Frank Lampard to, say, Juventus, we should go for it. I don’t necessarily agree with the latter – I think Frank has a lot still to give, and the contractual problems that have followed him around for the last year would mean a much lower return should the club find a buyer – but I can certainly see the logic behind Drogba’s departure. This is due, in large part, to the player’s intermittent comments about the club and his own desire to leave. The club is in a position to demand a hefty fee for a player of such intimidating presence and prolific goalscoring output. Despite his age, he shows no sign of losing the athleticism which is the bedrock of his game, and his technique – while not always consistent – remains effective. Anelka is more than able to lead the line, and the Drogba fee would offer a chance to invest in our own Torres: David Villa springs to mind.

I was going to finish it here, but last week’s biopsy on Derby County adds yet more significance to the continued influence that Frank Lampard has at Stamford Bridge. I don’t doubt that the number 8 has considered leaving England – clubs like Juventus and Barca, his rumoured suitors, are legendary names that attract interest from great players – and I wonder if the more frequent suggestions about his future this and last year have been born, in part, by the opprobrium that he attracts from sections of the England support and some opposition fans in the League. To which Chelsea supporters can and should respond with gusto. There is no more effective goalscoring midfielder in Europe. We are privileged to have him. When I spoke to him on behalf of CFCnet around 3 years ago, I was told that he wanted to end his career in West London. I hope he still feels the same way.

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