Since he has already lobbed out an awful lot of money, you can imagine that Roman Abramovich, the deepest pockets east of the Urals, has a pretty good idea of the line-up he would like to see when his new plaything, Chelsea Football Club, open the 2003-04 season away to Liverpool.
Since a goalkeeper has not been mentioned in the welter of names, you have to suppose the man dubbed Red Rom is either content with Carlo Cudicini or intends to operate without a keeper. Certainly, to judge from those reportedly sought by Chelsea, even taking into account silly-season froth and the posturing of agents with a client to push and percentages to rake in, the accent will be on attack at Stamford Bridge.
To the existing strike team of Eidur Gudjohnsen and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has been added just about every big name in the European game, with English defenders and Irish and Cameroon midfielders hurled into the mix. This is not the first new dawn promised by the chairman, Ken Bates, for a club who haven't won the League for 48 years, but it is certainly the most earth-moving to hit this, or any other, Premiership club, a gross reflection of the madness currently assailing the game.
The dozen days that shook the world of football began on 1 July, when Abramovich completed his £140m takeover, since when Chelsea's delighted, bewildered supporters have been attempting to cope with a dizzying sequence of stellar figures. Alessandro Nesta, Christian Vieri, Andrei Shevchenko, Hernan Crespo, Edgar Davids and Patrick Kluivert were just the European names. Glen Johnson and Géremi are set to join, Damien Duff is on the £17m cusp, Wayne Bridge would like to talk. A horrified and eclipsed Arsenal were forced to warn Chelsea that Thierry Henry is not for sale.
But as long as people like Abramovich keep upping the price, everyone is for sale, as David Beckham has just demonstrated and as, it seems, Duff is about to prove. The escalating price in Chelsea's pursuit of Blackburn's Irish midfielder has shown up Liverpool and even Manchester United, who backed off at the Duff demands. What Red Rom has achieved in his 12-day assault is a one-man reactivation of a nosediving transfer market.
Yet, having guided his client Geremi through the gates of Chelsea Village, the agent Barry Silkman says: "The market will not be smashed wide open, Chelsea won't go over the top." The feeling in this corner is that the figure of £17.7m, which will trigger the release clause in Duff's contract, is over the top. We shall know soon what Abramovich thinks.
One of his spokesmen has named £50m as the amount available for transfers and what he termed "ground improvements". Since Chelsea's is the best stadium in London, not a lot of improving is called for.
Some of that money has already been laid out on the purchase of West Ham's outstanding teenage defender Johnson and Real Madrid's Cameroon midfielder Géremi, who was on loan to Middlesbrough last season. Can Duff be far behind? Can Southampton resist selling Bridge to the Bridge? Not, apparently, if you listen to that club's smooth chairman, Rupert Lowe. "Bridge is not for sale, and when a player is not for sale it normally means they are very expensive," he said after a £5m bid had been rejected. How about £8m then, Rupert?
What Lowe and other chairmen have found over the last 12 tremor-ridden days is that money has, to an even grosser extent than previously, created a power shift. Whether power equates to success remains to be seen. Even before a ball has been kicked, Abramovich is insisting: "Chelsea are now the number one club in Europe," a comment which, given the club's music-hall history and reputation, is guaranteed to light a smile even among Arsenal's downcast followers.
Whether such sums will induce a destabilising effect on even the biggest of the other clubs also remains to be seen. Arsenal are already denigrated as tightwads, Manchester United's pursuit of Ronaldinho has turned into a sideshow. Even Barcelona's vice-president, Sandro Rosell, lamented the situation as "something that doesn't usually happen in football", a classic case of pot-kettle speak.
Though Chelsea's manager, Claudio Ranieri, said the other day: "You cannot buy championships," his new owner clearly does not agree. Ranieri, holder of a long-term contract since April last year, came away from a meeting with Abramovich calling him "a polite man who now knows my ideas". We shall know more about manager-owner relations if Chelsea do not come roaring out of the blocks. Already there has been, for Ranieri, the unsettling sight of Sven Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello being paraded past his office window. Even Real Madrid's discard, Vicente Del Bosque, a lookalike for the man who delivers your plumbing quote, has been aired as Chelsea's possible manager.
These may be exhilarating times in what is supposed to be the close season, but no one is safe. Let's assume, on believable acquisitions, Abramovich sees this as his starting line-up: Cudicini; Johnson, Gallas, Terry, Bridge; Géremi, Davids, Petit, Duff; Kluivert, Vieri. Where does that leave Hasselbaink, Gudjohnsen, Desailly, Le Saux, Melchiot, Zenden, Gronkjaer, Babayaro and the £11m man, Lampard? Victims, perhaps, of a Roman orgy.
- More about:
- Blackburn Rovers
- Chelsea F.c.
- Damien Duff
- Eidur Gudjohnsen
- Liverpool FC
- Mergers And Acquisitions
- Premier League
- Stamford Bridge
- Thierry Henry