Chelsea: Siege, Intrigue and Champions League

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The Chelsea transfer embargo detonated by Fifa this week will have massive and perturbing repercussions. Even with Chelsea delaying proceeding and stagnating the affect of the transfer prohibition by deploying a stalling bureaucracy the outcome appears inevitable. And if the Mexès Roma policy is to be referenced, in addition to the FC Sion case, then the precedent suggests that the restrictions will be moderated if not quite abolished anyway. But the cost to Chelsea will be very rich in the long term. Though I suspect not so right away.

With an ageing first team and with the inevitable injury, suspension, loss of form and international obligation, the future might seem blighted and then compounded by this bizarre transfer restriction. Chelsea’s Premiership contention will already have been hampered by the African Cup of Nations January departures and prospective trophies will be jeopardised by the outcome of the pending Fifa arbitration. But despite all the contention this season’s Champions League must be deemed within the grasp of Chelsea even now.

The make up of the current Chelsea squad just smarts of quality and European experience, regardless of any major addition to the personnel during the closed season. But on more detailed scrutiny there has been massive addition to the Chelsea personnel. Last year Chelsea spent far too much time with unhappy and temperamental players enduring the wrong side of harmony. You factor in to the equation the return to fitness and the return to form of such seminal players as Ricardo Carvalho and particularly Michael Essien and you have a starting eleven, bench and depth to envy anywhere in Europe.

It took Chelsea less than a handful of games to rise to the top of the Premiership table and I have no reason to suspect that their passage through the group stages of the Champions League will be anything but trouble free and pedestrian. Athletico and Porto away from home will be credible European nights, but with home victories an expectation there is little for Chelsea to worry about. And given the recent pedigree of Chelsea winning two-leg European games you would fancy them to progress through each and every round regardless of random opponent.

Through the last two Champions League campaigns Chelsea have lost out to the best team in the tournament. And while Man Utd and Barcelona will be formidable adversaries and early favourites, there is the sense that both clubs are a little weaker this time around.

The high profile and much documented exodus from Old Trafford has left a cavity in the Utd team that just hasn’t been filled. Ronaldo and Teves brought glamour and prestige in addition to goals and the rather budget replacements of Valencia and Michael Owen are indeed budget. Budget in both goals and glamour. And while Man Utd should be discounted at your peril there is an aching sentiment that the team is short of class for both domestic and European glory this season.

Perhaps the most perplexing transfer dealings came from Spain. Of course from Spain. But not the Madrid carnival, we’ve seen that show before. The transfer policy at Barcelona was unbelievable. The acumen of Pep Guardiola is currently and perhaps eternally beyond suspicion, though I do have an issue with the dramatic exchange of Eto’o for the languid and dubious talents of Ibrahimovi?. Guardiola has harboured an agenda to remove Eto’o from his squad since the inception of his managerial tenure that plenty of game-winning goals just wasn’t able to resist. And while the true reason for that agenda may not be clearly evident, Guardiola was unyielding that the departure of Eto’o was imminent. Ibrahimovi? can boast some great numbers in terms of goals to games ratio, but he always carries with him an annoyance of underperformance, his fulfilment always seems pending and never quite delivered. If I had the choice of managing the imperfections of Samuel Eto’o against spending something like €70million for the latent promise of Ibrahimovi?, I know for sure where my allegiance would be pledged.

The Ibrahimovi? conundrum is not Barcelona’s only issue. With the loss of Hleb on loan and with Guðjohnsen sold, punctuated by the fact that transfer targets were not pursued with the vehemence required, the squad looks a little skinny. Premiership quality players have left and no players of any quality have replaced them. In similar circumstances to Man Utd, Barcelona might be weaker than last time around. Now, that doesn’t mean that they should be discounted or dismissed, far from. It’s just that a worthy antagonist appears more depleted for this season’s crusade.

Conversely to the Ibrahimovi? deal, Internazionale look a far stronger outfit. Inter were a little underweight on talent last season so the addition of Eto’o and his impeccable work ethic along with the undoubted guile of Wesley Sneijder makes them look a much more complete team. Certainly they hold the best chance of European glory for any of the Italian participants. Though AC Milan have a romance that should never be forgotten. They also have Pato and he should never be forgotten.

Perhaps the biggest intrigue of the competition remains with the Madrid madness. It’s undeniable that Real have purchased some excellent players, they over paid for them, but they have purchased some excellent players. But then good ingredients don’t always make for a tasty meal. However, surely it would be negligent on a biblical scale if you couldn’t find some success with that crop of talent. I suggest that letting Sneijder depart and especially allowing Robben to leave was a coarse misjudgement. Those two players can torment defences and it’s a perilous game to allow world class talent to drift away to the rivalry of the European elite. We’ll soon see how perilous.

But given the assembled talents of the current Madrid team they must be in contention for every major honour available. Though the balance doesn’t quite fit at Madrid. The formation riddle is the consistent appendage with any big spending team. The nature of the game requires left and right, back and front equilibrium; and the blemish of pragmatic necessity can’t quite be ignored with a crowbar team selection of media superstars. Can Madrid find the balance quickly enough to compete?

So in conclusion, the world of European football currently has an unpredictable landscape with the profit and loss of the major football currencies showing buoyancy and recession dependant on your perspective and opinion. And while international and then domestic supremacy has taken its limelight the Champions League lingers with the allure of great enchantment. Predicting the outcomes is even more enchanting.

From The Writings Of Jonny Carter

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