Transfer of power
With the new season almost upon us, manager’s of England’s top clubs are busy putting their player’s through their paces and scouring the transfer market for a last-minute bargain (unless, of course, your chairman’s name is Sheikh Mansour) as they target Premier League glory.
But if you take the extravagant spending spree at Eastlands out of the equation, this summer’s transfer activity among the Premier League’s top clubs has been curiously subdued, particularly on the back of the World Cup in South Africa.
And nowhere more so than at Stamford Bridge, where the only notable movement at the home of last season’s double winners has been the swinging of the exit door, with Joe Cole (Liverpool) and veterans Michael Ballack (Bayer Leverkusen) and Deco leaving the West London club for pastures new. Heading in the other direction, with barely a flash bulb in sight, is Yossi Benayoun, Carlo Ancelotti’s sole signing of the summer.
The Israeli schemer is hardly the marquee signing that will have the Chelsea hordes swooning or the club’s megastore selling out of merchandise, particularly after the 30-year-old found it hard to nail down a first-team spot at Anfield last season.
There have been rumours of a bid for Fernando Torres doing the rounds, but in truth it is in midfield that Chelsea look desperately short, and were they to lose the injury-prone Michael Essien at any point next season, it’s fair to say that they would be hard-pressed to repeat their title triumph. John Obi Mikel has failed to live up to his early promise, while it remains to be seen how much of an impact England’s dismal World Cup campaign has had on Frank Lampard’s form and fitness. Florent Malouda will be just as eager to put his travails in South Africa behind him, and there will be extra pressure on the Frenchman to repeat the sparkling form of last term if Chelsea are to remain serious contenders for the Premier League title.
On paper, Chelsea’s new look midfield is hardly likely to strike fear into the opposition, and the expected departure of Ricardo Carvalho (who has turned making John Terry look like a competent defender into an art form) to Real Madrid, along with Alex’s untimely injury, makes the Blues look vulnerable at the back too. Throw goalkeeper Petr Cech’s absence into the mix and Chelsea’s opener against West Brom looks less like a gift-wrapped three points than we had previously thought.
The youngsters coming through the Chelsea ranks hardly fill you with confidence either. Daniel Sturridge seems destined to be a bit-part player trotted out for the odd FA Cup game, while Fabio Borini, Sam Hutchinson and Michael Mancienne are unlikely to make the step-up to regular first-team duty. Only the controversial Frenchman Gael Kakuta looks like he has the swagger and flair to make his mark in the coming season.
Chelsea’s inactivity in the transfer market also begs the question of whether Roman Abramovich has the clout, or indeed the appetite, to compete with the oil-rich billionaires bankrolling the revolution at the City of Manchester stadium. Before the takeover at Manchester City, it was Chelsea who were linked with the world’s top players every summer and some huge names have graced the turf at Stamford Bridge in the last few years, albeit with mixed success. The last true marquee signing at Chelsea was arguably Andriy Shevchencko, so Abramovich perhaps has good reason to be thrifty with his hard-earned money. However, if the Champions League remains the holy grail for the Russian billionaire, he may need to loosen those purse strings somewhat, as the current Chelsea squad has next to no chance of wrestling the European title from Inter next season, especially with the prolific David Villa now plying his trade at Barcelona and Real Madrid significantly strengthening their squad over the summer.
Indeed, unless Abramovich gets his chequebook out and makes some significant additions before the transfer window slams shut in September, this aging Chelsea squad could face the same ignominy as Liverpool next season.