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Recent Lessons In Clubhouse Chemistry

Fernando Torres, image from

Now that the English teams have pretty well fleshed themselves out in Europe, as well as the Premier League title race, I think it’s time to take a look at some clubs who made personnel moves on the pitch. The January transfer window was as active as ever, and now that mid-April has approached we are beginning to see some of the fruits to these moves. While a few bring wonderful tastes of sweetness to the palate, others cause you to spit acidity while you grasp for a tumbler of water.

Today, we saw Chelsea drop out of Champions League play. This was a team that looked unbreakable in August and September. As the fixture list began to clutter, breakdown started to happen. The 3-0 thrashing by Sunderland was a harbinger of the coming months. Just as the Blues had started to find their legs again, the owner went shopping for a 50 million pound striker to solve all of the problems. Prior to Fernando Torres’ entry into the team, Chelsea enjoyed four goal performances against Bolton and Sunderland.

As soon as Torres took the field with Drogba, they lost 1-0 at home to Torres’ former employer, Liverpool. The offensive revival hit a snag. An up-and-down set of months ensued, with Torres looking distracted and Drogba uninterested in forging any partnership with the Spaniard. Of course, Torres wasn’t the only transfer, and center back David Luiz has actually fit into the squad rather well thus far. But the culmination of the mangled striker corps was today’s second leg against United, where Torres again lagged around the pitch like the overweight kid in gym class. After the half, Drogba came on and grabbed a goal, but it has been assumed that the Ivorian will be on the way out of Stamford Bridge. Not only has the addition of Torres been ineffective at finding offense, but he seems to have drained the confidence out of the entire forward group.

As I indicated earlier, there were transfers which have led to favorable results. One such case was on display yesterday, and was contrasted against a team that lies somewhere in between. The team that sold Torres, Liverpool, used the funds earned on the Torres transfer to purchase Luis Suarez from Ajax, as well as Andy Carroll from Newcastle United. To be fair, the Reds also benefited from a change in managers two weeks before the transfers took place. Another aspect was that there were similar rumblings about Torres’ attitude before his departure from Anfield. As I see it, there are four possible answers to their improved form (or some combination of the three): a) the change from Roy Hodgson to Kenny Dalglish, b) Torres’ flight, c) the loss of captain Steven Gerrard to injury, or d) the inclusion of Suarez and Carroll. If I had to choose, a) and b) together have livened up the dressing room, regardless of who has been striking. Suarez and Carroll are definitely asserting themselves, and I think the Reds’ future exploits will be dependent as much on d) as anything. I don’t think Gerrard’s absence has been much of a factor, but I imagine some might disagree.

Their opponent yesterday, Manchester City, have been major buyers over the last couple of seasons. They didn’t disappoint in January. Their prize signing was Edin Dzeko, a striker who wowed at Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga. The Bosnian has enjoyed his moments for City, but none of them have come in Premier League competition. In fact, most of his goals have come in the Europa League, where he should have a comfort factor against defenses that are less physical in their play. His only goals in English competition have come in the FA Cup, against League One competition Notts County.

Generally speaking, the Citizens are a horse of a different color though. Roberto Mancini tends to be a more pragmatic manager, especially on the road. To say that their offense struggles is to be inaccurate; it would be closer to the truth to say that Mancini tactically under-utilizes his expensive weapons. As the opposition gets tougher, the Italian manager asks his team to retreat into a shell to preserve a clean sheet. I don’t believe Dzeko is as much of a concern as Torres for Chelsea. Dzeko has actively pursued goals in the times I’ve watched, while Torres is somewhere between timid and unmotivated.

So where does this analysis lead? My hypothesis is that the main factor lies within the continuity of vision between ownership and the manager. In my opinion, the vision of Liverpool’s ownership group syncs well with that of Dalglish. In the case of Chelsea, I think Roman Abramovich’s vision is that he knows what’s best for the on-field product, and that leaves Carlo Ancelotti seemingly forced to play a guy whose play would be described as second choice right now. For Manchester City, I doubt Sheikh Mansour spends millions on strikers to have Mancini play ten behind the ball.

Therefore, I see no other end but for both Chelsea and Manchester City to both make managerial changes this offseason. Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour will try to get tacticians who can develop on-field tactics to best utilize their high-price forwards.

With all of this, if we take the time since last summer’s transfer market, one has to say that the  most productive recent acquisition has been Javier Hernandez. At a time when Manchester United was suffering from Wayne Rooney’s distractions and Dimitar Berbatov’s inconsistent performances, Chicharito became a super substitute. Even in the Community Shield he showed his poaching prowess. His hard work earned his way into the starting squad. He has 17 goals in all competitions, all for 6 million pounds. Hernandez has now become a fan favorite at Old Trafford and abroad. His energy has invigorated the league leaders, a team that looked suspect back in October and November. Of course, there is little question that Sir Alex Ferguson is responsible for his signings, and his leadership seems to produce more gold than grime, especially from his modest acquisitions.

My point is not to glorify Manchester United, but rather to back my hypothesis that unified vision down the line can help explain some of these trends. I’ll be interested to see how things play out in the offseason, and to see how those moves affect an ever-shifting Premier League. Splashing cash can gain you quality players, but it doesn’t always translate into trophies.

Don’t forget! Learn how you can win Champions League gear signed by Torres, Giggs, Fabregas, Rooney, Gerrard and Ronaldo.

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  1. Bill Turianski

    April 13, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    Farlieonfootie nailed it (comment #3).

    Abramovich is messing up his expensive toy (Chelsea FC), and that gives me great joy. Anyone with a heart should be rooting against this guy. This is a man who schemed his way to billionaire status by robbing petroleum workers of their shares of stock. How did he do that? By holding workers as economic hostages. In the days after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the new Russian government was hastily trying to turn over to a capitalist society, coupons for stock in most large, formerly-government-owned industries, like oil and natural gas extraction, were issued to workers of said industries. But the new government just printed coupons, instead of issuing, in writing, specific shares for specific persons (in other words, the government made it very easy to barter those shares). And the problem was that in many isolated locations, the chaos of the early days of the Russian Federation wrecked havoc on these workers. They literally were forced into handing over their soon-to-be-valuable stock coupons for food! Abramovich took advantage of 1). the failure of ex-Soviet citizens to grasp capitalistic theory (ie, those stock coupons are going to be valuable soon); and 2). the fact that he could set up a scenario where the isolated workers, who weren’t being paid, had no other option than to fork over their stock coupons to avoid starvation. And then Abramovich was part of machinations that only benefited holders of large bulk-shares of the stocks. By then it was too late, and hence the concentration of former state-owned wealth into the hands of a couple dozen Russian oligarchs, like Abramovich.

    From ‘He won, Russia lost’ [ ], by Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark, from (8 May, 2004) – [excerpt below] –

    ‘The Sibneft minder shrugs his shoulders and Sterhov continues. “After Abramovich won the ‘loans for shares’ auction in 1995, we became Sibneft employees and the company stopped our wages for two, three, four months at a time.”

    The Sibneft minder nods vigorously. “It’s true. That’s right,” he says. “Our wages were held back.” Sterhov continues: “Sibneft said it couldn’t afford to pay us. The country was heading for another financial crisis, and by August 1998, when the economy collapsed for the second time, people here were desperate. Then Sibneft started saying that although it couldn’t pay our wages, it would buy any shares left over from the privatisations of 1992.”

    Company shops sprang up in Noyabrsk and Muravlenko, where the Sibneft shares were accepted instead of money. “Food, fridges, anything,” says Sterhov – a claim that would be repeated by many Sibneft employees we interviewed in Muravlenko and Noyabrsk. This was not the only way that Sibneft ended up with the bulk of the shares. An account of Sibneft’s complex financial manoeuvrings, produced by Russian analysts and seen by Weekend, confirms that in August 1997 Sibneft issued 45 million new shares in one of its most profitable subsidiary companies.

    Core shareholders such as Abramovich and his partners were able to increase their stake in this subsidiary from 61% to 78% in this closed share issue. As a result, the shares belonging to workers who had bought into the subsidiary in 1992 were watered down and significantly dropped in value. The Sibneft workers launched a futile legal action while the £168m in extra revenue raised by the share issue was used by Sibneft to settle tax liabilities.

    Christopher Granville, chief strategist of United Financial Group, a brokerage in London, told us, “Sibneft’s minority shareholders were completely ripped off. The new shares were a closed subscription offered only to core shareholders.” The Sibneft minder sitting beside us chips in. “My shares plummeted in value, along with everyone else’s, when the 1997 closed share issue was announced.”

    Lord Richard Layard, co-director of the Centre for Economic Performance at the LSE and an economic adviser to the Yeltsin government, said that this strategy was possible due to loopholes in company law. “Most Russian companies did not issue share certificates. The only proof of ownership was a shareholders’ registry, quite often a handwritten book that was held by the company.

    In some cases, the records of a shareholder’s ownership were simply crossed off this list. In other cases, firms issued new shares, free to some of their shareholders, without informing the others.”Mann responds for Sibneft: “Any registrar system based on people, pen and paper is open to human error but Sibneft has never had a policy of crossing shareholders off its registry.”

    By 1999, Sibneft’s most productive worker, Vladimir Sterhov, was struggling to feed his family on a monthly salary that sometimes dipped as low as £112. Abramovich and his core shareholders had bought out Berezovsky, and through a new series of auctions won control of 97.2% of Sibneft.

    The following year, the company began paying dividends that broke all Russian corporate records: £28m in 2000; £552m in 2001; £612m in 2002; and £696m last year, of which £640m went to Abramovich and his fellow core shareholders (who by now included Eugene Shvidler and Kenneth Dart, a carpetbagging Styrofoam cup billionaire and resident of the Cayman Islands).

    Vladimir Sterhov takes a sip of honey whisky: “In Russia, a lot has changed. We workers are now the small people and we do not matter.”

  2. FC Asheville

    April 13, 2011 at 8:17 am

    There’s a manager out there, living in England, who bought and got the best out of Torres….hey Chelsea, hope you like your new manager…Rafa Benitez!

  3. R2Dad

    April 12, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    Point well-taken. This issue of vision, building a compatible team and developing chemistry is a big picture issue which SAF understands. Fergie makes the decisions and lives with the results (as does Wenger). Mancini was never going to say No to the money, despite the fact that his vision/tactics are at odds with Mansour’s. The Sheikh is going to have to reconcile his desire for hardware with his need to micromanage. This also seems to be the case with Ancelotti and Abramovich. Torres seems to have been an Abramovich itch that needed scratching rather than the final piece of the Chelsea puzzle. Thankfully, money can’t buy CL happiness–unless the unlikely RM beat Barca AND ManU in succession (and I wouldn’t take those long odds).

  4. farlieonfootie

    April 12, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    There’s no way to blame this one on the manager. Anyone who thinks Carlo willingly chose to play ‘Nando instead of Drogba is not facing up to the facts at hand. Torres was handpicked by Roman, Ancelloti never wanted him, and he’s now being forced to play him to satisfy the owner’s whim. Carlo Ancelloti didn’t become a dunce, or even a terrible coach, overnight. Something is wrong at CFC, and as I learned a long time ago, “A Fish Rots From the Head.” You can say what you want about the Glazers, but they’ve been very hands off with the team management. Abramovitch, on the other hand, is reminding me more and more of Dan Snyder at the Redskins. Chemistry is invaluable, and can’t be bought. A small matter in today’s game, but one which caught my eye: You know who was the first guy up off the bench celebrating Chicharito’s goal? Berbatov — the league’s leading scorer who now finds himself sitting while the young Mexican starts. That alone should serve as an example to all out there who under-rate chemistry…..

  5. Unknown

    April 12, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    Real Madrid to win the final at Wembley, Jose Mourinho to come back to Chelsea for next season. He loves the club, the club needs him, Ancelotti has to be strong enough to make the right decision and play Drogba. If your not in form, you don’t play, doesn’t matter if it is Torres, Solamon Kalou is playing better lol

  6. Chelsea Fan

    April 12, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    Here’s my take as a Chelsea Fan. After watching the game, I’ve come to the conclusion that buying / spending millions of quid on good players is not the key to winning in the prem or in Europe. Chelsea has all the quality there is that money can buy right now, Fernando Torres, Didier Drogba to name a few. The problem does not lie in the players… It lies in the manager. If Carlo Ancelotti cannot sculpt them into a winning team, then the players cannot be at blame and buying more isnt the option. Carlo must find the correct equation for his strikers and midfielders. We need Benayoun back and fit because we have no playmakers and that is also a problem. Not enough Barcelona-esque play where the midfielders pick up the ball and play nice through balls to the forwards who can then have a 1v1 with the keeper.

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