Blues Under Boas: Should Transfer Policy Be Revolution Or Evolution?
Andres Villas-Boas arrived in West London last month as successor to Carlo Ancelotti at Chelsea Football Club. The appointment, whilst not being a particularly well-kept secret, has been commented upon with mixed opinion. In one corner you have those who cite the Portuguese’s youth as a reason why he will not succeed; that he does not have the relevant experience to take a stuttering Premier League giant to the very pinnacle of domestic and European greatness. The opposite corner see the same factor as a reason why he will succeed: a lack of a playing career means that what Villas-Boas does have is over a decade of coaching experience with some of the games most impressive figures; Bobby Robson took the aspiring 16 year old under his wing at FC Porto, just as Jose Mourinho would do some years later, leading him to Chelsea and Inter Milan.
Robson, one of British football’s most celebrated and revered personalities and Mourinho (whilst perhaps more controversial) one of the modern greats, are names that glow from Villas-Boas’ CV and were perhaps one of the main reason’s Roman Abramovich saw the 33-year old as the ideal man to take Chelsea forward. Whatever your feelings towards a man with no recognised playing career behind him, the fact of the matter is that the new Chelsea boss led Porto to a treble of silverware last term, bringing home the Portuguese Primeira Liga, the Europa League and the Portuguese Cup. He is not here to play football, he is here to coach and Villas-Boas has the lion’s share of coaching experience.
Having done away with the argument over whether Villas-Boas has become the correctly installed manager, the more pressing matter for Chelsea and the major concern for every Chelsea fan over the next eight weeks is who will be following in the Portuguese’s footsteps. Who else will be coming on board?
Let us firstly take a look- a brief look, I promise- at Chelsea’s squad. Yes, you’re right. That should be “ageing squad”. Here’s a list of 30 somethings who are zimmering away in the first team:
Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda, Paulo Ferreira, Hilario, Yossi Benayoun, John Terry and Nicolas Anelka.
Here’s a (admittedly short) list of player’s who are destined to join the over-30’s club in the next season:
Petr Cech and Alex.
Whilst two of those players are goalkeeper’s, the names above are representative of an XI who are, or will be, the wrong side of 30 next year. XI men who are ever closer to, if not living out their twilight years. XI men who are only a few years younger than their new boss. There has to be some changes to this ageing squad if Chelsea are to prevent themselves being referred to as The Pensioners in a more literal sense than a nickname should allow.
So who are the players that new coach Villas- Boas should be earmarking? And just as importantly, who are the existing players who will either be forced to make way or potentially leave the club?
Lets begin at the beginning. Petr Cech. Recognised number one; numero um our new coach might say. Top-class international ‘keeper and won’t lose his sell-by-date until mid to late 30’s. No problems there unless the giant Czech falls foul to injury. A quality back up may not be high on Villas-Boas’ list of targets as Ross Turnbull should provide adequate cover.
In defence John Terry is one of the more recent member of the over-30’s and like Cech, has a longer shelf-life than his midfield and attacking counterparts. We’ve seen centre-halves regularly enjoy success well into their late 30’s, even at the highest level (cite. Paulo Maldini, Franco Baresi, Alessandro Costacurta…Hmm, maybe it’s an Italian thing). Alex is slightly younger than Terry, and again will be around for a long time to come, but the Brazilian’s fitness may be cause for concern for the new boss. Ashley Cole I believe will monopolise the left-back position for at least another 2-3 years. He has an excellent level of fitness and you would struggle to find a better left back anywhere else.
That leaves us with the right-back position. Branislav Ivanovich played there for much of last year, and despite doing a fine job, he is not the long-term answer. Ferreira under anyone else would be first out of the door, but because of the Portuguese connection, I can see Villas-Boas finding place for the veteran. Jose Boswinga is a wonderful attacking presence on the right side, but he is not a defender. Gregory van der Wiel of Ajax looks a promising talent and has already show-cased his talents at the highest stage at last year’s World Cup for the Netherlands.
Moving to midfielders, we see things are less stable. News that Michael Essien has suffered a knee injury that could see him miss most of the season is a blow. Lampard, despite his legendary status among fans is not quite the player he once was. A fit Lampard will still score important goals, so a useful player to have around but Villas-Boas should be wary of relying on him. John Obi Mikel’s growth in a Chelsea shirt has stagnated somewhat in the last 12 months. The lanky Nigerian appears to suffer when others around him aren’t playing well and the new coach will have identified this weakness. The combined problems with this midfield trio could cause Villas-Boas to delve into the market for an established midfield playmaker who will provide and score goals. Luka Modric would fit that bill perfectly; it all depends on whether Spurs are willing to negotiate.
Lastly, Chelsea’s attacking ensemble is terrifying when it’s in full effect. Too often last term however, it looked limp and lifeless. Didier Drogba can still be a force but we are not seeing enough of it. Nicolas Anelka falls into this same category; his blase attitude may not sit well with the new boss. Florent Malouda is another member of the over-30’s club and as a winger, he relies heavily on his pace and acceleration. How much longer will the Frenchman be able to fly with Chelsea? Santos’ Neymar has been the name on most people’s lips this summer and it could be the Brazilian club’s name in Abramovich’s cheque book if they are willing to strike a deal. Young, established at international level and a goalscorer- the perfect addition to a new look Chelsea team. Romelu Lakaku is another young striker being touted in Chelsea’s direction.
Whilst it would be foolish to tear down the walls completely and start from scratch, what Chelsea need is a fresh injection of youth combined with a careful trim of their excess. New faces are a must if Abramovich is expecting his team to win trophies this year, but they must be careful not get rid of the essence of SW6. Terry and Lampard will be more of an influence off the pitch than they will be on it, but recruitment is important, and Villas-Boas needs to start planning not just for the season ahead but for the one after that, and the one after that.
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