Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. When Deco joined Chelsea at the start of the season it seemed as if we had managed a major transfer coup. The neat playmaker arrived from Barcelona on a three year deal for £8m on the last day of June 2008, but by the first day of July 2009 – when the transfer window re-opens – the one year he has spent at the Blues may be the only year he spends at the Blues, and the £8m price tag is likely to plummet. But what happened to the Deco of old, the midfielder who could dazzle and dance his way through opposition sides? Over the course of one season, Deco has gone from flamboyant to flop.
Brought to the club by his ex-national team boss at Portugal, Luis Felipe Scolari, Deco was one of two signings made over the summer with his compatriot José Bosingwa also joining up with Chelsea. At the time, a friend of mine heralded Deco’s arrival, claiming he could be, and I quote: “The signing of the season.” It is worth pointing out that this same friend once adamantly announced that ex-Portsmouth striker Collins Mbesuma would go on to win the Premier League golden boot upon his arrival on these shores back in 2005.
Mbesuma played four games for Pompey, without netting. Deco did not go on to become “signing of the season.”
Things seemed to start well for Deco however, and incidentally it was against the South Coast side on the opening weekend of the Premier League season. With Chelsea leading 3-0 against the hapless Pompey – after the Portuguese had crossed for Nicolas Anelka to score earlier in the game – Deco fizzed a shot in from fully 40 yards. Although David James could perhaps have done better it was the outlandish nature of the shot which surprised England’s number one goalkeeper. The swerve, the pace, and the precision were perfect in equal measures. Deco seemed a perfect fit.
He followed this blockbuster goal with another fine finish in Chelsea’s next game, away at Wigan. A pinpoint free-kick opened the scoring and as thereafter the Blues struggled against Wigan’s battling style of play, it proved to be the winner.
The Premier League Player of the Month award followed, and then, very little.
The Wigan game may have been an early indication of things to come for both Deco and Chelsea however. Some teams quickly figured out how to stop Chelsea from playing the short passing game Scolari had brought to the club, and with Deco a player who excelled in this environment, he was in turn stifled by the opposition.
A sending-off against Roma in the Champions League accelerated his downward spiral, but there was a brief revival in December against Bolton Wanderers. A spectacular scissor kick goal reminded us of his talents which had been sadly subdued in the months beforehand.
When Scolari eventually departed, Deco may had well have kissed his Chelsea career goodbye. Having fallen out of favour already, Guus Hiddink’s arrival and subsequent playing style left Deco firmly on the sidelines.
Hiddink favoured a direct style, which incidentally rejuvenated Drogba, a player who had been on the periphery under Scolari. Deco was ignored by the Dutchman who picked Michael Essien – back from injury which robbed Scolari of his services – and Michael Ballack ahead of him. They fit Hiddink’s style; Deco did not.
A thigh injury late in the season seemed convenient, and Deco was not even given a place on the bench for the FA Cup Final.
On June 11th, Deco reportedly said: “I do not want to stay, I have said that. I have not liked my experience at Chelsea.
“I want to find a club that can bring the joy of playing football back for me.”
And just like that, Inter Milan and José Mourinho came calling. Along with the unsettled Ricardo Carvalho, Deco is expected to leave Chelsea and join the Italian champions within the next few days and end his Blues ‘nightmare’.
So how does a former UEFA Cup winner, Champions League winner, UEFA MVP, Ballon d’Or runner-up, and so on and so forth, go from the top of his game, to the bottom of the barrel, only to be flirted with by one of the best managers in modern football and the champions of Italy?
When he joined he looked nimble, creative, and, dare I say it, almost Zola-like. But whether it was a case of age catching up with the 31-year-old midfielder, form deserting him, or if he was just a victim of a turbulent season at Chelsea, one thing is for certain. If, as expected, Deco leaves, he won’t even be called a ‘one-season wonder’. He will go down as a flop.
Danny Blanchflower – himself a Chelsea flop albeit in a managerial sense – said of the Tottenham Hotspur player Ossie Ardiles upon the Argentineans’ arrival: “It could be that the other lads at Tottenham find themselves playing a different game from Ardiles.
“If this happens, he’ll have to go – on the basis that it’s easier to find nine players than one.”
As it turned out, Ardiles settled at Spurs. Deco’s game however, doesn’t seem to work at Chelsea. And it’s easier to accommodate the powerhouse likes of Ballack, Essien, Lampard, Drogba et al, than it is the fragile and careful Portuguese.