Congratulations to a worthy set of champions for 2008. Despite the drama of the last couple of weeks, the title was always in United’s hands – at the risk of invoking old ghosts, I’m sure José would have approved – and they finished it off in fine style.
so whither Chelsea now? Let’s not look ahead to Moscow just yet, as I’m sure that the protracted grind of build-up will be starting any second now. So let’s plough an entirely different furlough of tedium as we make wildly uninformed speculative remarks about the shape of Chelsea’s squad this season. Why, you ask? Well, everyone else seems to be doing it.
So, who’s moving on? Let’s zip through the obvious suspects: players who may or may not move, but whose place in the team seems to have gone the way of the dodo, or perhaps Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Sorry, Steve Sidwell, but that attempt to show the world that you were as good a player as Michael Essien seems to have reached its inevitable conclusion. The former Gooner and Reading midfielder will surely find a suitor in the Premier League – more than one, if the rumours are to be believed – but a midfield berth at Chelsea seems to have proved beyond your reach.
Up front, both Claudio Pizarro and Andriy Shevchenko must surely be wondering where to buy their next executive home, with neither getting much playing time, nor impressing when they do. Having said that, a late goalline clearance from the Ukrainian has undoubtedly cemented him a place in my affection, whilst at the same time giving me an object lesson in how far it is possible to fall in professional football. Thank you both, and surely goodbye.
Tottenham, if you believe the papers, want Tal Ben Haim – a mighty statement of intent from Juande Ramos – and, with Paulo Ferreira signing a long-term deal this year, Jose Bosingwa’s arrival probably means curtains for long-range goal specialist and awful, awful defender Juliano Belletti. Rarely have I seen a right-back get caught out of position so frequently, or make such half-hearted attempts to recover when a zippy left-winger brushed past him. The last right-back we bought from Barca – the majestic but understated Chapi Ferrer – turned out so well. Perhaps the blaugrana were getting their own back for letting the Catalan go by squeezing £4m for a Brazilian with a blind spot instead of a positional instinct. Sneaky.
The off-again on-again saga of Frank Lampard’s contract must surely be resolved this summer, with unconfirmed reports of a change of heart and a provisional decision to stay in west London for our midfield talisman. Michael Ballack, I’m sure, will hear that news with all the relish of a man asked to pickle and eat his own crown jewels, but the elegant German must also be looking at the button marked “contract extension”. A barn-storming finish to the season has masked his slow start, but he’s now beginning to elicit joy and affection from a crowd that had hitherto felt alienated by his casual style. Retaining that pair, along with the terawatt energy of Essien and the still-developing skills of Mikel, leaves us well catered-for in the middle. Makelele still has some time left in him, as a both player and elder statesman of the squad, and has agreed to stay for at least another year.
Both Florent Malouda and Shaun Wright-Phillips have large question marks next to their names. The Frenchman hasn’t had a bad end to the season, but has comprehensively failed to live up to the impressive billing he brought from France. Given that we’ve persevered with SWP for 3 years despite his consistent underachievement, I find it hard to believe that we’d cut Malouda loose after just a year, but stranger things have happened. Ask Asier del Horno.
Which brings us to the big, big question. It’s Drogba-shaped, and it comes with added uncertainty. I think it’s fair to say that Didier Drogba is a master of the mixed message: from sullen misery to cheerful optimism in a matter of days, or even sentences. Being in a relationship with him must be a thrill a minute. If the big lad is on his way – and my instinct tells me he probably is – that will be 3 strikers out of the door in one summer, leaving only Nicolas Anelka as a recognised target man in the squad. I say target man, but his strengths do not lie in the archetypal English centre-forward zone. The Frenchman prefers the stiletto to the sledgehammer, to put it mildly. There may well be room for Scott Sinclair to finally make the leap to the senior squad – it’s also rumoured that the promising centre-halfMichael Mancienne will be doing the same this year – but that leaves Anelka, Joe Cole, Salmomon Kalou and a promising teenager as our only options up front.
In terms of Premiership pedigree, we’ve briefly seen names like Kenwyne Jones (author grits teeth) linked with a move to the Bridge. Dimitar Berbatov is another name consistently linked with a move away from his existing club, but the Bulgarian shares Anelka’s languid style and his nature would demand a shift in team strategy. This isn’t to say that Chelsea couldn’t accommodate him – in fact, a buy like this could be Grant’s best chance of imposing his own style on a team that still feels full of Mourinho conservatism – but the question is how long that new approach would take to bed in. It might have the advantage of reducing our dependence on a single goalscorer, and bringing Lampard, Ballack and Joe Cole to the fore as goal-getters, but it would take time. Across Europe, the usual names crop up: Mario Gomez, David Villa… perhaps even Samuel Eto’o, who is rumoured to be flirting with Ramos at Spurs. We’d humbly suggest that one of those three, with Sinclair and Kalou as options both central and wide, might be enough, with the possibility of another left-winger should the club decide to cut its losses with Malouda.
With Ferguson doubtless ready to spend another £60m, it’s going to be another long summer of conjecture and flirtation. But where Ferguson is looking to bolster a winning combination, Chelsea may very well be looking for a new style and ethos. It’s going to be interesting.