CHELSEA: AT A CROSSROADS
I approached the Times Fanzone with some trepidation when I wrote this after the Liverpool game. Through one half-closed eye, I ran down the list of recent posts. A triumphal Liverpool post would, I thought, act as the Gorgon to my Polydectes, turning me instantly to stone. If, by ‘stone’, I really mean ‘helpless and incoherent bundle of rage’.
Nothing. Not a bean. Looks like I’ll be getting my retaliation in first, then.
First things first. Chelsea were awful. And by ‘awful’, I mean ‘devoid of ideas’, ‘fractured and incoherent’, and ‘offering all the attacking depth of the Women’s Auxiliary Balloon Corps’. Mikel looked lost and harried in a log-jammed midfield. Lampard showed few moments of virtuosity, a flick or two aside, before his harsh sending off. The best we can say of the team is that, had Mike Riley not decided to go for the headlines, we would probably have hung on for a goalless draw. How are the mighty fallen.
What to do with this team, assembled so expensively and now with what looks to be three successive seasons of underachievement to deal with? Nothing is over yet, of course, and the League has a long way to run. Even so, Scolari’s record against the teams adjudged to be title challengers is dismal. There is no consistency in defence, with Carvalho or Terry usually injured and the Brazilian manager’s favoured option for width – attacking fullbacks – leaving us exposed time and again when we meet experienced opposition. Claudio Ranieri must be chuckling into his limoncello in anticipation of Juventus’ visit at the end of the month. I don’t suppose someone could slip a Mickey Finn into Del Piero’s Horlicks, could they?
There was an almost audible sigh of relief as José Mourinho kindly donated the out-of-favour Ricardo Quaresma to us as the transfer window juddered to its usual panicky close. On current form it’s an Elastoplast on a gaping shotgun wound to the head, given our lack of invention in the final third last Sunday. If Roman remains as committed as ever – and I note that several newspapers have been at pains to point out that this is the case, doubtless aware of the writ the club has served on an organ not a million miles away from this very website – then some serious thinking needs to be done between now and the beginning of the next transfer opportunity over the summer. The futures of Malouda, Drogba and Deco must surely be called into question. Michael Ballack’s intermittent form is also cause for concern. I’ve used the Elastoplast analogy already, so I’ll have to think of something else to describe Salomon Kalou’s recent goalscoring exploits. The boy has got us out of jail more than once in recent weeks, but that shouldn’t hide his all-too-common on-field demeanour: that of a quick and tricky goalscoring forward who seems, usually, to be neither quick enough nor tricky enough to score many goals.
And therein lies the real problem. Restocking defenders rarely seems to be as much trouble as freshening up an attacking line-up. Predators and creators are, rightly, the most coveted and expensive of employees. Buying in players of the very highest quality – the Messis, the Benzemas – costs lots and lots of someone’s money. If we believe what we’re told, that money won’t be coming from Roman. And, with the club stretching every sinew to break even, the money from a (hopefully) renewed and improved Samsung deal won’t go very far. New stadium? Maybe, maybe not. Merchandising? No good unless we’re winning, surely.
I’ve wittered on about this before, but there is an opportunity for the club to make some serious decisions about where it is going. The dwindling influence of Frank Arnesen is testament to the Dane’s failure to indentify the searing prospects that his CV led us to expect. The culling of a large number of his scouts points to a loss of interest in the Europe-wide identification of promising youth. Perhaps there is already a plan in place to concentrate efforts on a specific region. Chelsea have, under Roman, attempted to tap into English talent, but names like Tom Taiwo, Michael Woods and even Scott Sinclair have not featured on our radar for some time.
I don’t mean, necessarily, that we should avoid spending to spite ourselves. Arsene Wenger has illustrated, rather elegantly, that that’s a one-way ticket to battling for fifth. But the points above are a reasonable argument for describing ourselves as a club in transition… or perhaps a club at a crossroads. Which way does Roman see us turning? What vision does he have of the next 5… or 10, or 20 years?
Enquiring minds want to know.