Even the best footballers can take time to adapt to the challenges of the English Premiership, the only major league where possession of the ball is merely an option and players spend more time looking up in the air, or closing down opponents, than they do on the ball.
Dennis Bergkamp and Robert Pires are just two who were derided when they were thrust into the helter-skelter only to be celebrated as they confirmed the dictum, "form is temporary, class is permanent".
So it may prove with Andrei Shevchenko. So far the Ukrainian striker has looked bemused as he tries to adapt to Chelsea and the English game. He has one goal in seven competitive appearances and none in the last five. It is not much of a return for £30m. He also carries baggage in that the wider world believes he was Roman Abramovich's signing, not Jose Mourinho's. Last week's admission, in The Independent, that Abramovich first "tapped him up" two years ago seemed to firm up such a suspicion.
Yet no manager in Europe, even one as quixotic as Mourinho, would have rejected the chance to sign a striker with such a lethal record in Serie A. Shevchenko, surely, will come good and, last night, Mourinho said he was prepared to wait as long as it took. "Sheva is such a top player, he has nothing to prove," the Chelsea manager said. "If he is one month, two months or three months without scoring goals, he is still one of the best strikers in the world, so the goal will come. He knows that I trust him."
Mourinho was speaking upon arrival in Bulgaria where Chelsea had travelled ahead of tomorrow's Champions' League group stage match against Levski Sofia. Europe is the arena Shevchenko was signed for, and Mourinho confirmed Shevchenko will start.
But questions remain, not least about the blind date Chelsea are lumbered with having paired Shevchenko with Didier Drogba. Mourinho added, of Shevchenko's performance against Fulham on Saturday: "He gave me a big contribution. I told him at half-time that I only wanted to say one thing, and that was if they play man-to-man in midfield, we must get an extra player to go in midfield and get the ball from there.
"That player cannot be Drogba, it has to be Sheva because he is confident with the ball at his feet. He can receive and turn and pass. For me in the second half he had a big responsibility in the way we broke down the defensive strategy of Fulham."
Thirty million for a midfield water-carrier? Mourinho could have bought Danny Murphy and had £28m to spare. And it does not say much for £24m Drogba that, implicitly, his manager believes he is not "confident with the ball at his feet". Drogba, however, is confident in front of goal. As Mourinho added: "The combination of Drogba and Shevchenko works. Chelsea are winning matches, Chelsea are scoring goals."
But this is because while Chelsea are not the sum of their parts at present, the parts in themselves are good enough to win most Premiership matches, and, indeed, to win here tomorrow. Sterner tests lie ahead and Mourinho will certainly need to have integrated Shevchenko into the team come the knock-out stages of the Champions' League.
In the shorter-term his concern is in central defence. John Terry, who missed Saturday's match after suffering back spasms, travelled last night but the sight of him receiving treatment on the plane suggests he is still 50-50.
If Terry does not make it. Khalid Boularouz, absent with an eye infection on Saturday, but looking better yesterday, is likely to return. The alternative, to retain Paulo Ferreira, did not seem to concern Mourinho. "I would have no problem playing Paulo in the Champions' League," he said. "He is very fast, and specially with him and Ricardo [Carvalho], also very fast, we can press high. And if you do that, the team is very compact and you do not see many problems."
Votes of confidence all round. But as listeners in Manchester G-Mex centre will have pondered yesterday, not every speech can be taken at face value.Reuse content