Chelsea's dilemma: the A-team know it pays to turn them down

They might be the richest but they can't have it all.
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The Independent Football

As with the last two summers, it seems, the A-list - this year comprising of Steven Gerrard, probably Ashley Cole and one from the strikers Andrei Shevchenko, Samuel Eto'o or Adriano - has stubbornly evaded the world's richest club.

It is glibly stated that Chelsea can buy any player they want. But that's not the case as Mourinho - and chief executive Peter Kenyon - are acutely aware despite their boundless resources. Money, thankfully it seems, does not always talk for the world superstars that Roman Abramovich assumed would clamour to play for him. The list of the ones that got away is lengthy - from initial targets such as Thierry Henry, Christian Vieri, Alessandro Nesta and Rio Ferdinand through to Deco, Kaka and, so far, Ronaldinho.

It is a problem that Mourinho recognises. Recently he acknowledged, in the bizarre forum of a Portuguese children's programme Morangos com Acucar" ("Strawberries with Sugar") that: "It is very difficult for Chelsea to sign players because the team is already good and great clubs want to keep their best players." The latter is a more powerful reason than the former, of course.

Mourinho also understands because he himself was a second choice following Sven Goran Eriksson's brazen dalliance with Chelsea - which resulted in a £1m-a-year pay rise for the England coach. That, too, is a familiar scenario. Players, agents and clubs have been quick to link themselves to Chelsea, not in the hope of a move but to secure a better deal where they are or somewhere else.

Take Vieri. Two years ago the Italian international let Chelsea down at the eleventh hour, when a deal was practically signed, by suddenly and inexplicably upping his demands even though he was being offered in excess of £100,000-a-week. It even moved Abramovich to anger and in that anger he decided to buy Hernan Crespo, then Vieri's striker partner at Internazionale, instead. It certainly infuriated Vieri.

Chelsea know too that once they make any approach, the price automatically increases. It's a problem familiar to many big clubs but - crucially - Chelsea do not yet have the necessary kudos to mitigate against this. They are still arrivistes. Nouveau riche in every sense. The very top players are not desperate to play for them while Chelsea also simply suffer from the fact that the leading Brazilians, Italian and Spanish players don't want to play in England despite the wages.

A lot of money has been wasted at Stamford Bridge. Again even Abramovich has been moved by the excesses - Juan Sebastian Veron and Adrian Mutu, in particular, have been infuriating costly mistakes. Both have been written off. To an extent that was inevitable given the headlong rush Chelsea made into the transfer market once Abramovich arrived and because they were vulnerable to the demands of agents and clubs. But the attitude has changed. A new strategy is in place and it has been in evidence this summer.

Although they have been linked, once more, with many players the names have been fewer than in the last two years. The targets are clearer. When he arrived last summer, Mourinho joked "if all the names you wrote are correct we will have a 50-player squad". And he was right. He said he would pare back the squad and few believed him. But that's exactly what he's done. Mourinho will not quite go into the new season with the "21 plus goalkeepers" squad that he said he prefers. But he will almost be there. Chelsea will have just 23 players plus three goalkeepers. When Mourinho arrived the squad was around 37-strong.

Negotiations with the new arrivals have also been different. Chelsea, possibly cynically, have targeted two players for every position. They let it be known that Del Horno was not the only left-back. Milan's Kakha Kaladze was also in the frame. In the end they got the Spaniard for a lower price than expected - an unheard-of development - because they played the two off against each other.

Things went awry when Liverpool won the European Cup because Gerrard, who Chelsea were convinced would sign up until the events in Istanbul, was unattainable. But then the ridiculous saga of earlier in the week delighted Chelsea not just because they felt Gerrard may arrive after all but because it meant Lyon would suddenly want to negotiate more reasonably over Essien.

A new striker has proved tricky even if Chelsea always knew they had the option of bringing back Crespo, which they have done. None of their targets - and there were only really three - were attainable. Instead they re-defined their strategy and will pick up Wright-Phillips instead as the "attacker" Mourinho declared he wanted.

The Manchester City winger, partly because he is so small, hardly fits the bill of a typical Mourinho player but he will suddenly offer balance to the squad. Chelsea now have two players for every position.

Instead of having to rely on Damien Duff and Arjen Robben, who by the very nature of their positions are injury-prone, Mourinho has ample cover and competition in Wright-Phillips and Joe Cole. His forward combinations can be mixed and matched and never again, Mourinho hopes, will he go into a Champions' League semi-final shorn of the formation he favours.

Another significant - and hugely controversial - signing is Frank Arnesen from Tottenham Hotspur. A compensation package of £5m has been agreed, which is unheard of for someone who will be in charge of scouting and youth development. But Arnesen, too, fits into Mourinho's masterplan and will have to provide the conveyor belt of young talent that the manager craves. That was another promise he made on his first day at Chelsea and, once more, Mourinho has been as a good as his word.