Having taken a much unwanted month off from my self-indulgent ramblings on this blog to focus on exams, I found myself wholly out of practice and frustratingly unable to put into words just how relieved I am to be done with my degree, (for a good few weeks anyway). I imagine the way I feel now, typing away at my new desk, must be very similar to how Andy DuFresne felt in The Shawshank Redemption, working on his boat in Mexico after crawling through a mile of shit to escape from unjust life sentence. Needless to say, I’m quite happy…
However, whilst on the one hand it’s been frustrating not being able to write, on the other hand, to have been able to ignore this inundation of transfer stories that have come flooding in since the end of the season; some of which have been amusingly outlandish, others too stupid to even laugh at – has in fairness, been a small relief. I’ve decided to use this two-part article to accrue all the rumours going around currently, just to try and derive some order and hopefully work out which of the more feasible stories might be genuine transfer objectives for Chelsea this summer.
I’m reminded firstly of a quote that Jose Mourinho made about mid-way through last season when he said he was looking forward to spending this transfer window ‘calmly’, making two or three careful and crucial additions and working with largely the same group of players. This is obviously a sentiment at severe odds with the British media’s present insistence that we’re actively pursuing 20 or 30 big name players from around Europe. And so the following is a look at each area of the Chelsea squad as it stands, with consideration of where needs strengthening, who may be bought, sold, retained; and hopefully by the end, a much clearer picture of our squad for next season will be formed.
To start with what has been widely described as the toughest and most important decision Mourinho has to make this summer, I’ve reached the conclusion that this is actually his most simple. With all the respect in the world for Petr Cech, once you’ve extricated sentiment from the situation you realise there is hardly even a decision to make. Whilst the Czech captain remains one of the few truly world-class keepers in Europe, he is now 32 with a surgically repaired skull, shoulder, elbow and a history of knee injuries, whilst Thibaut Courtois is indisputably (I’d say) one of the top two keepers in the world and will remain so for the next decade at least.
Some have suggested a final loan spell for the Belgian on the condition he sign a contract extension would be the best way to go, especially if it helps bring in Diego Costa; but this would seem simply to once again deny ourselves of our best #1. It’s time this debate was over.
The sale of David Luiz seemed incredibly surreal at the time; I still wake up some mornings and expect it to have been a dream. Because although I can certainly understand how, to the right team, a player with as unique a skill set as David’s could be worth a fortune, a fee of €50m is truly extortionate and acceptance of such a bid must have been a mindlessly easy decision for Jose and the club.
Like many, I’ll miss watching Luiz but I also understand that in a side managed by Mourinho, where the counter attack is always the default strategy, the Brazilian had no obvious role in the starting XI, blessed with neither adequate positional sense to play centre half, nor the consistency in technique to play next to Matic in midfield.
Already several names have been thrown around as potential replacements, with Porto’s Eliaquim Mangala and Roma’s brilliant Mehdi Benatia two of the more frequently mentioned names. Raphael Varane, the 20 year old who Mourinho referred to during the season as already the best centre half in the world, is another (less believable) alleged target. I’m convinced however that a replacement is not needed and most likely will not be signed. With Terry and Cahill likely to continue together for another season (after the former’s contract extension), Branislav Ivanovic a more than capable back-up and with January signing Kurt Zouma set to return, between the young Frenchman, Tomas Kalas and Kenneth Omeruo a feasible 4th choice option must surely exist. This is a position more than adequately covered in my opinion.
The release of Ashley Cole however was far less shocking and does leave us need of a replacement. I’m glad Ashley got to prove to everyone in the games against Atletico and Liverpool at the end of the season how much quality he still has and how capable he still is of performing for a top side in Europe. A quick look at the current market though would indicate that now is the perfect time to be shopping for a young left back. With neither Ryan Bertrand nor Patrick Van Aanholt fancied, now seems like the perfect time to move the pair of them on, along with Cole, and to replenish that area of the team with more suitable, long term options.
I still believe it would be ridiculous if we missed out on Luke Shaw. The 18 year old grew up as a Chelsea fan, only a few miles from the training pitches and representing as he does, close to guaranteed home grown quality for the next decade or more, I can’t understand why we don’t seem to be pursing his signature more aggressively. There are plenty of other options however. Ricardo Rodriguez of Wolfsburg and Alberto Moreno of Seville both showed themselves to be excellent young attacking full backs this year; Ajax’s Daley Blind is another left back I’m a huge fan of (watch out for him playing in midfield for the Netherlands at the World Cup), Real Madrid’s Fabio Coentrao remains a fringe player for the new European champions and could be another option.
At the moment the most likely signing looks to be Atletico Madrid’s Filipe Luis, who has a release clause of around £20m. The Brazilian is a wonderfully technical and energetic player who, were it not for some awful knee injuries earlier in his career, would enjoy a far greater reputation than he now most likely ever will. With Atletico CEO Gil Marin seemingly adamant his club will only be selling players whose release clauses are met, Chelsea would most likely have to fork out the whole £20m. And though I think he’d be excellent, I also think there are probably cleverer ways to invest that money in a left back this summer.
Click here for part two (a look at the centre of midfield, attacking midfield and centre forward)…