It was Groucho Marx, at Carnegie Hall, who once said: “My experience is that people are most likely to listen to reason when in bed.” Unfortunately for Chelsea, as far as anyone knows, no-one is available to speak to Roman Abramovich in bed, which almost certainly means that the club’s owner doesn’t know what a lot of people do know and won’t be told any time soon: that signing every single good player going spare is not usually how you end up with big smiles and shiny things at the end of a season. Honestly, it isn’t.
It’s that knowledge-gap which has all but defined Chelsea’s summer so far (although John Terry may have nabbed some room for himself in that one, again). Pick a name, any name, and London’s blue ones have probably had a look at them on Youtube, called up their agent, then made a ludicrous bid for them, then called up their club, remembering the whole tapping-up technicality. Marin, Hazard, Oscar, Hulk and Schurrle have all received the call, with only slightly varying degrees of success: yes or almost yes. Presumably it goes: “Do you want to play for us? We’ll give you this much money,” say Chelsea. “Give me more,” say the player and club. And then Chelsea decide whether or not to give them more money, which in turn decides whether they sign the player or not. It’s all very exciting.
But as a result of Abramovich and whichever lackey he has in charge at the moment having spent all summer saying yes to the more money option—£80million blown already—a squad which, granted, has shredded a lot of last season’s fat, is already beginning to look slightly bloated again. Jose Bosingwa, Salomon Kalou, Didier Drogba and, in all likelihood, Flourent Malouda will have all left the club by next month, but deals for Eden Hazard, Mirko Marin and Oscar have seen them replaced with, as John McClane would have it, a vengeance: most of the players on their way out were squad players; those on their way in will surely accept nothing but the pitch every week.
It’s a risky tactic, if that isn’t an overly generous term for buying every player you see on Youtube, particularly as: if this spending spree was a piss you’d be standing around waiting for it to finish for a while yet. Hulk and Andre Schurrle are just two other known targets but deals which have been less well reported are likely too, seeping away in the background ready to become the biggest thing to hit Twitter since the last one. These are all big-name, attacking players and the weight of attacking talent which could start the season at Chelsea looks garish: Mata, Marin, Torres, Sturridge, Hazard, Hulk and Oscar could well come together in one squad. What about the middle ones – you know, midfielders?! Or the rough ones…defenders?!
The problem with this is whole thing is that it’s difficult to imagine the manager, Roberto Di Matteo, having been well consulted about what’s gone on here or how he’s meant to fit them all into a team. Have a look for yourselves; they don’t exactly seem to slot in nicely together.
And more than the details, the ideology doesn’t seem quite right. Last season Chelsea won the Champions League and FA Cup. Ask anyone—this wasn’t because Chelsea had the most gifted group of players in those tournaments. It was, romantically, achieved from the creation of a shared sense of grievance at the manner in which their old coach had treated them, which the players wielded in the face of adversity against Napoli, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. A group effort comprising of blocks, moments of good fortune conjured through force of will alone and the always potent influence of revenge won the day for them, not acts of individual skill. You can say goodbye to that kind of togetherness this time around, if only because of the speed in which the squad is being re-shaped. And the kind of players who have been brought in won’t help either: Eden Hazard spent June touting himself around different clubs on Twitter – does that make him sound like a willing runner for the cause?
Obviously the old group of players couldn’t stick together forever (that, remember, was where all the grievances with the last manager came from in the first place) but that isn’t the issue here at all. To move in an entirely opposite direction so quickly feels ill-thought-out. How often have massive transfer splurges resulted in instant success? PSG lost out on the Ligue Un title to Montpellier last season despite their year with crazy money; Manchester City have spent five years spending money before capturing a league title; and Real Madrid broke spending records in 2009 but only nipped in ahead of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona last season, once Jose Mourinho had built a proper team from the flashes of big names.
Contrary to popular belief, money will buy you love, but it doesn’t buy you a team unless you spend it carefully, and usually slowly. Duh. Chelsea might be about to start a season with a what looks like an unworkable number of attacking stars, having begun constructing a squad with almost a bizarre level of ignorance about what it takes to actually construct a squad. Now, hands up who’s going to get into bed with Abramovich and tell him he might want to slow down a bit with this whole money burning business and ask his manager which other players really need to be signed, if any?