In March, Andre Villas-Boas was sacked as Chelsea manager. At the time, the Blues faced the possibility of an early exit from the Champions League, a difficult away trip to Birmingham City in the FA Cup and a top four finish was looking increasingly unlikely. Come May, the West London side had won two of the three competitions.
Hard to believe that, when the former FC Porto head coach was relieved of his duties and Roberto Di Matteo placed in interim charge, Chelsea were overcoming Liverpool at Wembley to lift their seventh FA Cup trophy and, just two weeks later, had defeated Bayern Munich, at the home of the German outfit, the Allianz Arena, on penalties to become the first London side to win the Champions League.
The win in Bavaria meant that, despite a sixth place finish in the Premier League, they would be taking part in Europe’s elite competition next season at the expense of rivals Tottenham Hotspur. With the financial backing of owner Roman Abramovich, coupled with the allure of the participating amongst the games top teams next season, the summer may be an expensive one for the West London side, especially if they wish to challenge Manchester City for the Premiership title.
Comings and goings
The biggest loss to Chelsea this summer will be the departure of Didier Drogba. The powerful Ivory Coast front-man is set to leave for Shanghai Shenhua once his contract expires next month. On his day, Drogba is unplayable; defenders up and down the country must have been counting their blessings when the exit was confirmed.
Whenever a team loses one of their most prized assets, replacing the player is usually difficult, but never impossible. With the 34-year-old, however, many have described him is irreplaceable and at times, they aren’t half wrong. When Drogba was in the mood, he was a handful for even the most experienced of defenders. His explosive power, strength, physical presence and keen eye for goal made him one of footballs better strikers.
The Blues may have Lukaku in reserve, a player dubbed the new Drogba, but his lack of first-team action last season saw him drop off the radar. Nevertheless, he has all the attributes to succeed the Ivorian, just not yet.
Across the squad, fans will see the likes of Michael Essien, Florent Malouda, Jose Bosingwa, Paulo Ferreira and Saloman Kalou depart, having now been deemed surplus to requirements or are out of contract. A new right-back may come in, with Ajax youngster Gregory van der Wiel strongly linked with a move to England in order to cover the loss of the aforementioned Portuguese duo.
Furthermore, FC Porto’s Hulk is believed to have secured a big money switch to Stamford Bridge, and his arrival will only strengthen Chelsea’s attacking threat, and one which now consists of Marko Marin and Eden Hazard.
This brings me swiftly onto my next point; if there was one player to soften the blow of Drogba leaving, it was sure to be the arrival of Hazard. The Belgium international, at long last, announced where he would be plying his trade next season on Monday after, what seemed to be, a very long wait. Chelsea’s Champions League win appeared to convince the youngster of the move to Stamford Bridge after much debate as to where his future will lie.
In Hazard, Chelsea have secured a player of immense talent and even more potential to make it as one of the game’s biggest household names. Not forgetting Marin, of course, who saw his move to Stamford Bridge announced before the end of the season, the Blues have a scarily efficient attacking set-up next season, with the possibility of playing Juan Mata, Hazard and Marin in behind either Hulk, should he sign, or Fernando Torres. But, with the three big name player’s arriving, a question still lingers over Stamford Bridge; whose signings are these?
The new manager
Let’s face it; Di Matteo will go down in folklore for his Champions League exploits, irregardless of their final league position. Many of the playing staff and fans are calling for the board to appoint him on a full time basis, rather than spend heavily bringing in a new man for next season. The safer option would be to keep him on a permanent basis, which could be wise unless Abramovich is to bring in the world class name he craves.
Understandably, the Russian is eager to see Chelsea play in a similar fashion to that of Barcelona and, with Pep Guardiola now out of work following his four years with the Catalan giants, is reported to have been pulling out every persuasive trick in the book in order to convince him to cut his sabbatical short.
As good as Di Matteo was in landing silverware during his two months at the helm, the form in the league suffered severely. Yes, results were being picked up and the brand of football that was on offer wasn’t what Abramovich wants at Stamford Bridge. To be fair to the Italian, he managed to get the player’s performing to their strengths and his reliance on utilising the ‘old guard’ of Drogba, John Terry and Frank Lampard clearly paid dividends.
But, with one of the trio off, and the other two not getting any younger, there will come a time when they are forced to rely on other members of the first team. Abramovich would surely have been made aware of the need for a younger manager in order to help stabilise the club, which would suit both Di Matteo and Guardiola, with the duo being 42 and 41 respectively.
The signings currently being made, without a manager in place, appear to sway more towards the Spaniard, with Marin and Hazard being very attack minded midfielders coupled with the expected arrival of Hulk. Then again, with the Italian already based in and around the club, he could still be pushing for the oligarch to bring in the players that he believes can improve the squad. Either that, or Abramovich is doing what he did with Andrei Shevchenko in 2006 and Fernando Torres 18 months ago.
Financial Fair Play
The big ruling that is set to come in at the end of next season will undoubtedly see most, if not all, the big spenders curb their spending significantly. Chelsea, with the backing of Abramovich, will be one of the teams that will be forced into slowly the spending sprees they have been fabled for in the past.
Chances are, this will be the last summer they can really splash the case like they have been already, having spent £6m on Marin, a reported £32m on Hazard and are believed to have offered £30m for Hulk. Closing in on £60m spent without the window being open, it is hardly surprising that the Blues are looking to release some of the deadwood that will be eating into the wage budget.
Either way, the money being injected into the club by Abramovich will have to be toned down after this transfer window, while offers for player’s that could see money recouped and injected back into the club may have to be accepted in order to fulfil the FFP quota set out by UEFA president Michel Platini.
James Turner is a huge Chelsea fan and splits his time between betting on football and playing live roulette on the internet. He is certain Chelsea will win the League again next season!