Chelsea's Brazilian revolution has them believing they are back in the title hunt...
The arrival of David Luiz and Ramires is just the start as Abramovich eyes a new era at the Bridge, writes Mark Fleming
Tuesday 22 March 2011
Two goals from a pair of Brazilians in the last 15 minutes of Sunday's game at Stamford Bridge earned Chelsea a 2-0 victory over Manchester City but they did much more than just rekindle the champions' hopes of retaining their Premier League title.
The contributions of David Luiz and Ramires left Chelsea with an outside chance of mounting a late challenge to Manchester United. But they were also a marker to the rebuilding of Roman Abramovich's ageing side, and signalled the way the future is shaping up for the Russian's team over the next five years or so.
In recent years, when Chelsea needed a goal late in the game, it was to the likes of John Terry and Frank Lampard that they looked.
Those two players have been the key men for Chelsea for the past seven or eight seasons, but both are the wrong side of 30 and, although they still have at least a couple more seasons left in them, they will have to be replaced sooner rather than later.
Against a doggedly defensive City side, with Chelsea requiring a goal from somewhere to keep their title hopes alive, it was not Terry and Lampard who delivered but Luiz and Ramires, two players who have come to Chelsea from Brazil via the Portuguese champions Benfica.
Luiz and Ramires, who are both 23, have been described by manager Carlo Ancelotti as being "the future of Chelsea", and as such they are laying the foundations of a new – and very different – Chelsea of the future, a Chelsea with a very Latin feel to it.
The impact of £21m signing Luiz since arriving at Stamford Bridge has been both immediate and influential. His all-round excellence alongside John Terry in defence has been outstanding, particularly given his lack of English, reading the game and timing his interceptions with precision.
However, it has been his adventurous streak that has caught the eye and earned him important goals for Chelsea against both Manchester clubs. On Sunday, he appeared on the left wing, tried a couple of tricks and drew the foul from Micah Richards; it was from the resulting free-kick that he headed Chelsea's opening goal. Little wonder the latest trend among Chelsea fans is to wear curly wigs to the Bridge.
Luiz's enthusiasm extends beyond the pitch; asked about Chelsea's title chances in a post-match interview the Brazilian was much more bullish than his more seasoned team-mates might have been. "We can definitely still win the title. There are still a lot of games to play, a lot of points to play for, so there's no reason why we can't win it. We are in good form now and we have to believe we can win trophies. We're playing well and anything is possible," he said.
The arrival of Luiz has seen a marked improvement from his countryman and former Benfica team-mate Ramires, whose weaving run and goal in stoppage time against City were the highlights of his eight months in London.
The Brazilian influence is blossoming at Chelsea, where the defender Alex is also on the books. And it is only likely to grow in the next year or so, as the work of Abramovich's scouting adviser Piet de Visser begins to bear fruit.
De Visser is the famous Dutch scout who – legend has it – first spotted Romario and Ronaldo and brought them to PSV Eindhoven. He has had the ear of Abramovich for many years now, and was instrumental in the decision to sack Luiz Felipe Scolari and replace him with Guus Hiddink two years ago.
De Visser is renowned for his Brazilian contacts, and the 76-year-old has been in South America recently running his experienced eye over potential transfer targets among the next generation of Brazilian stars.
It is on De Visser's say-so that Chelsea have already agreed terms with Sao Paulo for their 17-year-old playmaker Lucas Piazon, who will move to England when he turns 18 in January 2012. The London side pipped Juventus to the signature of Piazon, who is currently the star of Brazil's Under-17 team playing in the South American Championships in Ecuador. De Visser is also recommending they continue to chase Neymar, the brilliant 19-year-old striker with Santos who turned down their overtures last summer and is likely to start for Brazil in Sunday's friendly against Scotland at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium.
De Visser was also behind the club's signing of Alex, via an acclimatising spell at PSV Eindhoven, and gave the OK to the recent moves for Ramires and Luiz.
With manager Carlo Ancelotti also keen on a summer move to recruit Kaka from Real Madrid, there is a markedly Brazilian flavour to Chelsea's current recruitment policy.
Club insiders say the trend for Brazilian players is not a policy decision. The club looked at a number of targets, many of them English, and their assessment was that only a few were considered to be good enough. Of those, some are Brazilian, while others – such as the Belgian pair Romelu Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyne – are European. They also point to the likes of Josh McEachran and Daniel Sturridge as English players who are already at the club and of whom great things are expected.
The arrival of several Brazilian players, however, does signify a marked change in direction for Chelsea, whose success over the past seven seasons has been built around a fundamentally British core. The addition of Fernando Torres has necessitated Chelsea altering their style of play, as the Spaniard requires a more precise pass to feet than might in the past have been lumped forward to Didier Drogba. Another reason perhaps to want to buy from South America, where young players are groomed in technique but are also strong enough to cope with the rigours of the European game.
With Luiz and Ramires already in the team, and more Brazilians to come, Abramovich has clearly been converted to the Brazilian school of thought.
De Visser said in an interview in 2009: "Roman's real wish is a dream team. He does not just want trophies. He wants a team like Barcelona, a team the whole world will be talking about."
Abramovich's eight-year quest for a "dream team" has now seemingly taken him to Brazil, where they like to say about football: "The English invented it, but the Brazilians perfected it." They might have to add: "And then the Russian bought it."
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