Sunday, February 04, 2007

I must admit to being a little suspicious of all these stories about strife at Chelsea, just because it’s surely what everyone who isn’t a Chelsea fan wants to hear. No more money! Mourinho’s off! Terry’s going with him! Lampard’s agent has found an obscure clause that lets him off his contract for £8 million! Peter Kenyon’s restaurant expense account has been frozen! Etc.

On the other hand, I feel a little vindicated: I’ve been saying for a while that Abramovitch wasn’t going to fund unlimited big-money signings, but given that Abramovitch is unimaginably wealthy, it’s hard to tell. That’s the whole ‘unimaginable’ part of it, you see. My thinking, though, has always been that he’s a businessman and however much cash he ploughs into Chelsea, he does want to get at least some of it back. This judgement was partly based on the fact that I’ve heard talk of a ‘five-year plan’ at Chelsea (although not the kind that Stalin was so fond of), whereby Chelsea would be generating enough money to no longer require the massive cash injections Abramovitch has been administering with his massive cash syringe.

It now seems likely that the £30 million for Shevchenko was the last hurrah of Chelsea’s silly-money era (as it will no doubt be described in the history books), designed to give Abramovitch’s little mate the accolade of world’s most expensive footballer (which looks more like a double-edged sword all the time, but Roman probably meant well). Chelsea have gone from signing the biggest transfer cheques world football has ever seen to griping about whether to offer Bolton more than £2 million for Tal Ben Haim. Vive la difference. It’s hardly surprising if Mourinho is indeed irritated with Abramovitch – but then, as Mourinho was reportedly keen to sign Milan Baros, Abramovitch is also entitled to think that Mourinho has gone absolutely fucking mad.

Villa fans have been dreaming about getting shot of Baros for about a year, and we’ve just been hoping that we could get enough cash for it to not be too embarrassing (annoyingly he reached his 50th appearance for the club against Manchester United last month, thereby obliging Villa to pay another instalment to Liverpool and raising the overall fee to £7 million… sob). Indeed, Villa have taken a leaf out of Chelsea’s book on this transfer: when the tedious Ashley Cole saga reached an impasse, it became a swap deal, enabling both clubs to claim victory. Likewise, if John Carew performs reasonably well for Villa – and he’s made a great start, adding another dimension to the attack by being able to run towards goal and hit the target – it’ll look like we robbed Lyon blind by fobbing off Baros on them, regardless of how much money we wasted on signing Baros in the first place. Thanks for the tip, Kenyon.

Still, if Mourinho does depart as has been widely predicted, I will miss him. He seems to have annoyed more and more people as time goes on, but these people seem to be labouring under the misapprehension that football management is a dignified profession. He does his job well and he’s provided me with a lot of amusement: no complaints. As for Chelsea themselves… well, I don’t want them to go on dominating the Premiership forever, but they always had one thing in their favour as far as I’m concerned: they aren’t a member of G14. See the previous column for why this is a good thing.

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