We have a conundrum. One that was not easy to predict. If you’d told me a year ago that people would be suggesting we keep Franco and sell Jimmy I’d have laughed in your face.
A year can be a long time though. Jimmy suffered the first serious injury of his career – ironically because he played when unfit in an attempt to win the FA Cup for us. It should also be remembered that so bad had Franco’s season been that he was not considered to start despite Jimmy not being able to run. Jimmy’s operation and lack of pre season saw him struggle. He had to play at the start of the season when he patently wasn’t fit, and then suffered niggling injuries throughout the season.
On the other hand, we saw a wonderful Indian summer from a rejuvenated Franco. Training hard, he hit the ground running, and for the first third of the season he was unstoppable. The goals were flowing and he recaptured the form, which had been missing for a good couple of seasons.
But this led to a dilemma. Franco had extended his contract by 2 years and it was due to run out in the summer of 2003. The first season of his extension had been nothing short of a nightmare. Just 3 league goals, a spell of 19 games without a goal and the contemplation of retiring in the summer of 2002. However, his dedication and effort were rewarded with a very good goal return. That in turn led to the thought of extending his contract for another season.
It should at this point be noted that in his “bad season” Jimmy was still our second highest scorer with 16 goals in all competitions. Comparing that to Franco’s “bad season” the year before and the calls of those to get rid of Jimmy seem silly.
There is also the problem of Gudjohnson, Forssell and Cole. These 3 are the future of Chelsea. How long can we realistically expect them to hang around behind Zola? For as long as Ranieri has the option to select Zola then he will. He sees him as his talisman. The crowd will demand his inclusion. Ranieri, and indeed Chelsea, need to learn how to cope without Franco.
So what do we do? Casting aside emotion and sentiment, which player is the more likely to score and set up goals next season? Looking back over the past 3 seasons, there really isn’t any comparison. Jimmy has scored and set up more goals than any other player during his time here. He’s scored 20 goals in 6 of the past 7 seasons. The assists Jimmy contributes are vastly under rated. He is seen as being selfish, but the truth is that whilst he is not a pretty player, he scores and sets up goals better than any other player we have. He is also 6 years younger than Franco is.
I don’t think we can keep 5 strikers happy. We can’t lose Gudjohnson, Forssell or Cole. So it boils down to Franco or Jimmy.
Me? I’d take Jimmy every time. Because of age, past record and I think he’s more likely to score and set up goals next season.
Emotionally, seeing Franco go will be difficult. But Chelsea is bigger than any individual, and we have to move forward. We need to give Gudjohnson, Forssell and Cole their chances to shine. There is no reason why we can not move forward when he has gone. Arsenal did when Wright left, likewise Man U when Cantona and Hughes left.
One last point. Spurs have just let a 37 year old go a free transfer. He was their captain, talisman and top scorer. Why did they do that? To move forward. I would not normally hold up either Spurs or Hoddle as examples to Chelsea, but in this case I think they’ve got it spot on.
So I say onwards and upwards. A striking core of Forssell, Gudjohnson, Hasselbaink and Cole looks to have the perfect balance to me.
If Franco goes we’ll miss his presence, his smile and the odd bit of magic.
If Jimmy goes, we’ll be missing goals and assists.
Forget sentiment. You have to make tough decisions in this business and in my opinion there is only one decision to be made here.
Thank you for the wonderful memories Franco, and please go out on a high.