It must have been tempting for Claudio Ranieri to use the phrase "jewel in the crown" to describe yesterday's arrival of his latest signing, Claude Makelele. But the Chelsea manager chose to welcome the £16.6m arrival from Real Madrid with a less well used image. "I have a fantastic watch," said Ranieri. "And Claude is my battery. The watch runs with the battery."
Which is good and bad for the Italian whose job has been the subject of fervid speculation since Roman Abramovich took over at Stamford Bridge. Now that the mechanism is complete, the clock is ticking on when the first tangible return will come for more than £111m worth of investment.
Asked if he felt any pressure to produce trophies straight away, Ranieri creased his face into a child-like grin. "Look," he said. "Mr Abramovich wants to build a big team, one of the best in the world. We have a start. Now we must play, we must build first the foundations. And then, slowly, slowly, I hope to win. I know everybody will want to put me like Jesus Christ. But I am strong. Don't worry.'
Ranieri's last point was presumably a reference to the fact that he would be nailed to a metaphorical cross if he failed to deliver, rather than an intimation that he will be obliged to turn water into wine. For never can Chelsea have had such a fine vintage of playing staff, especially now that the manager has secured the services of the man he describes as the first player on his list - "one of the best, if not the best, playmaker".
Meanwhile the playmaker himself was sitting quietly alongside Ranieri, clad in black, with Neil Sullivan - another new arrival at Stamford Bridge - towering over him. Fleetingly, as they filed into a packed press-room, the former Tottenham goalkeeper looked like Makelele's minder.
But while he spoke quietly in French, the 30-year-old Kinshasha-born midfielder's translated comments indicated he was more than able to look after himself. This, after all, was the man who earlier this month justified his opinion that he was the best player in the world with the response: "Because I just am." This, too, was the man who, with Spanish titles and a Champions' League medal to his name, went on strike at his old club over a pay dispute which came in the wake of David Beckham's arrival - a turn of events which patently displeased him.
Asked if he felt the Chelsea squad was good enough to win the Premiership or the Champions' League this season, he said: "The club has a squad of great, great quality. The manager is trying to create good links between all the players. If that happens, Chelsea have a chance to win the Premiership and perhaps the Champions' League as well."
Ranieri was more cautious about the Champions' League, pointing out that Alex Ferguson had been in charge of Manchester United for seven years before winning it. Ferguson's assertion earlier this week that he had been offered the Chelsea managership by Abramovich - denied at Stamford Bridge - raised little more than a rueful smile from Ranieri. "I don't like to speak who wants me," he said. "I like to work."
As from yesterday morning, when Makelele had his first training session, Ranieri is working with a man central to his plans and would "maybe" play against Spurs today.
Makelele revealed he had discussed the move to Chelsea with his fellow French internationals who were already at the club, Marcel Desailly and William Gallas. "They spoke very well of Chelsea and told me they have big plans for the future," he said. The only question is, how far into the future?Reuse content