Chelsea recently smashed the British transfer record with their £50 million deal to sign Fernando Torres from Liverpool. There is no doubt that Torres is a world class striker, arguably the best in the world, but I just feel as if it is going to highlight Chelsea’s desperate need to spend elsewhere.
I believe Chelsea have gone from winning back to back championships in 2005 and 2006 to winning only one in the past four years because they have never really replaced one man, no not Jose Mourinho, no not Claude Makelele but Arjen Robben. Until they find a suitable replacement for the explosive winger I fear they may never win the Champions League.
Chelsea miss that spark that all great teams have. That one player who is a magician on the ball, who can dribble it around one, two even three players and produce that killer pass at the end. The player that sells tickets on his own and gets them ticket holders off their feet. Arjen Robben was that player at Chelsea and to their own detriment I don’t believe they have found an acceptable replacement.
Robben’s time at Chelsea was an injury plagued one, but for the few months he was fully fit he lit up premier league grounds across the country with his delightful dribbling and lightning quick pace. He scored 15 goals in 67 appearances for The Blues which does not seem like a lot, but many of them were critical such as the opener in a 2-0 win at Highbury in 2005. However, it is not the goals that were Robben’s most essential attribute to the Chelsea team; it was his ability to open up defences with his quick, direct dribbling or his inch perfect crossing from the byline. He would scare the life out of full backs and centre halfs alike. This not only puts them on the back foot but also keeps them so preoccupied with trying to tie down Robben that it allows space and time for other players to work their magic. Robben was imperative to the way Chelsea played. He gave them that cutting edge and attacking flair that the great Gianfranco Zola used to bring. When defenders looked at the team sheet prior to the game and saw that Robben was starting they knew they had a tough afternoon ahead of them, I don’t believe many of the Chelsea players since then, excluding a certain Didier Drogba, have given defenders such nightmares before a game. It is this cutting edge, this pace, this flair, this ability to open a defence which Chelsea have been lacking in recent years. The year since Arjen Robben was sold to Real Madrid.
Now I hear some of you shouting about Joe Cole and Frank Lampard and Florent Malouda. But as good as each of these guys are, none of them can bring what Arjen Robben did. Joe Cole did have the ability to open up defences with a sublime flick or incisive through ball, but he never delivered week in week out. Joe was never blessed with pace so if his tricks and turns didn’t work he never had a plan B. Robben on the other hand could beat players with bare pace if all else failed. Of course Joe Cole brought other qualities, especially under Jose Mourinho where he became a more rounded player, learning the importance of tracking back. But this is the exact opposite to what Chelsea currently need. The club has numerous ball winners in the side such as Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel. Mourinho should have allowed these players to do just that and this would have released Cole to provide the bit of flair needed. Instead Mourinho made Joe into a more conservative, team player which was the opposite of his natural game. As a defender I would much prefer to play against Joe Cole the conservative team player than Joe Cole the tricky, skilful man beater he once was. On top of this Mourinho fell out with Robben and sold him to Madrid. In the space of 6 months Mourinho had managed to rid Chelsea of all its attacking flair and replace it with yet another industrious winger in Florent Malouda. Something which I believe cost them the next three Championships.
The obvious caveat to this argument is that Chelsea brought in Deco who is that special playmaker I have been crying out for. However, Deco never really looked like he had the hunger to play for the club, I mean he had already won 2 La Liga titles and 2 Champions Leagues; he had come for the payday. Someone young and exciting is what was needed.
There are numerous example of how such a creative player is needed to win trophies. If we look at some of the great teams of recent times we can see that they won major trophies with a world beating creative player in their side, whether playing in the hole behind the strikers or on the wing. The obvious examples are Lionel Messi for Barcelona and Cristiano Ronaldo for Manchester United/Real Madrid. Both of these have played the starring roles as their clubs won their respective leagues and the Champions League. So much so that when Ronaldo left United they lost the league title for the first time in three years. It’s safe to say that without Messi’s amazing goal record Barcelona too would struggle to retain their championship. Looking at other examples we can see that Inter Milan won the treble last season with Wesley Sneijder at the heart of that team. Sneijder also won the Champions League’s MVP for that season. Their opponents in that final were Bayern Munich who also won the Bundesliga last year. Is it a coincidence that Arjen Robben scored important goals in the quarter and semi finals of the Champions League for Bayern as well as winning the German Player of the Year in his first season at the club? Kaka was fundamental when Milan won the Champions League in 2007. Tottenham’s Champions League qualification push last season was down to the form of their pacey, creative winger Gareth Bale. They have now found an even more creative player in Rafael Van Der Vaart who has propelled them into the Champions League knockout stage for the first time. Athletico Madrid won the Europa League last season with Sergio Aguero in stunning form and even less noticeable teams such as Blackpool have that one creative player that can run past players or pull the strings from midfield in Charlie Adam.
Now I don’t believe it is a coincidence that each of the players I have mentioned above are arguably the best players at their club. I think it takes a special type of player to be successful in the role I am talking about and those players that are world class in that position are a rare breed and cost an awful lot of money to obtain. These players are the best players at their club because they are so important as to whether that club is successful or not. When each of the above clubs won their respective trophies it was largely down to the players mentioned. Without them, they probably would never have won them trophies. On the back of this it is fair to say that any of the above would walk into the current Chelsea team. That’s because Chelsea do not have any player of that type. If Arjen Robben was still in the squad would it be so easy for them to get into the starting 11? I don’t believe it would.
Now if Ancelotti was to go out and buy such a player where would he play him? I think the simple answer would be “it depends”. If he decided to bring in a winger like Robben, you have to play him on the wing BUT with a license to float. Torres plays up top and feeds off Robben on one wing and Malouda/Kalou on the other. Alternatively, you play Robben on the wing floating into the space between the midfield and attack but play with two up front, Torres and Drogba/Anelka. If Ancelotti decides to bring in a player such as Kaka or Aguero then you have to play them in the hole. There is no point is sticking them on the wing where they are wasted. Then he just has to decide whether to go with two up top or play with the Dutch 2-3-1. Whichever formation he chooses I am certain with the addition of a creative playmaker either on the wing or in the hole it will give Chelsea that cutting edge and fear factor back.
Now the obvious caveat to this whole argument is the fact that Chelsea smashed all records and scored 103 goals last season. As true as this is, it is now irrelevant. Each and every Chelsea player was on form in the last few months of last season which is when that league title was won. Malouda, Drogba and Lampard were firing in the goals from all angles. However, for one reason or another all three look like shadows of their former selves and don’t look like retuning to form anytime soon. This shows Chelsea’s reliance on two or three players to both create and score the goals. A playmaker or pacey winger will not only score goals but will certainly create a handful of unmissable chances for the likes of goal-shy Anelka, Essien and Ramires.
Now after splashing £50million on Torres I believe it would have been prudent for Chelsea to invest heavily in playmaker. There is no point in signing Torres if he is to be standing around starved of chances from midfield. This was never more evident than at Stamford Bridge on Sunday when Liverpool defended like their lives depended on it and didn’t give Torres a sniff. That is the exact type of game which highlights Chelsea need for a creative spark in the midfield. Robben could have skinned Carragher, Agger and Skrtel and laid it across for Torres. Instead any supply Torres got was limited to knock downs from Drogba and difficult balls into the channels. Torres needs the ball in and around the edge of the box for him to be lethal. Robben et al would provide him with the ball and the space to start scoring and paying back that hefty price tag. Until Robben is replaced I fear Chelsea will struggle to win that coveted Champions League trophy and Fernando Torres will turn out to be a very, very expensive piece of business.
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