I know this is the silly season, but never would I have thought that any Chelsea fan with a genuine sense of history would let its silliness infect them. Some of the most irresponsible comments anyone can make against the club are now being spouted by supposed fans, who, deluded in the comfortable knowledge that they don’t have to foot the bill or sit through nail-biting negotiations with other clubs over players, now want everyone in the Chelsea hierarchy to be lined up and shot for signing Juliano Belletti whom they’ve uncharitably dubbed a “Barcelona reject”. To them, having salivated expectantly all summer at the prospect of signing Daniel Alves, being presented with a 31-year old down-the-pecking-order-at-Barcelona alternative is akin to being force-fed faeces. They just can’t understand why our billionaire godfather didn’t give Sevilla’s Jose Maria del Nido whatever he wanted to get our trophy signing. Now, José Mourinho’s stock has plummeted in their estimation and our poor old Chelsea are a disgrace.
Obviously, the complaining Chelsea fans have forgotten how to count their blessings. Four years ago, we were on the brink of administration when Roman Abramovich strolled in and saved our blazing butt. When he came in July 2003, the transfer window was already a month gone and in a bid to put us in a position to compete with the big boys immediately thence, selling clubs took him to the cleaners. Indeed, it seemed the whole football establishment and the bow-wowing press entered a conspiracy to send him out of the game and straight to the poor house. At the time, I wondered why anyone with his stash would want to incur this giant trouble of owning a football club. If he was doing this for merely business reasons, there were less migraine-inducing ventures to take on, I reasoned. But Abramovich genuinely loves football and it was the love that made him persevere. Apart from the unprecedented spending on players, he brought in people who understand the business and invested huge amounts off-field as well. He brought in a manager that knows his onions and has gone about ever since trying to make Chelsea a truly global name. We’ve sat there and revelled in it all; but now that the management is beginning to soberly remind us through their transfer dealings that first and foremost this is a business, we kick and scream, asking that Roman lie prostrate for the Sevilla shylock’s greedy cut.
Another important point these contrarians seem to have forgotten is the fact that transfer dealings are off-field competitions for on-field success. When you look at the transfer seasons’ spending patterns of clubs, naturally they’re aimed at achieving success on the field. One huge part of that is to seek an edge over your competition through the way you buy and sell. Chelsea are particularly targeted by all, especially the big clubs because they consider the club as occupying a unique position in the market. While the Abramovich revolution has since seen more billionaires come into the market, none of them so far have showed the kind of love and enthusiasm he’s showed for the game and none of them are investing as much as he’s doing. It’s also quite clear that he has global ambitions for the club and isn’t prepared for Chelsea to play second fiddle. So, when we come asking for a player anywhere, especially amongst the big clubs, the tendency is to deny us the player first and then do things to frustrate us getting alternatives elsewhere. Therefore, there’s always more than a whiff of football vulture politics involved whenever Chelsea are negotiating for any player. The twists and turns of the Alves negotiation have a lot to do with this negative politicking.
Of course, like most fans, I too was expecting us to sign Alves; but, having heard from the grapevine that for some days now Sevilla have been telling Chelsea behind the scenes that they’re no longer interested in selling, I had to begin a reassessment. Naturally, my first reaction to the information was to think it was another in a series of tricks being deployed by the notoriously foxy Jose Maria del Nido to force us to increase our bid. But when it was reported again that he’d rejected two fresh bids, I began to really take seriously the possibility that Sevilla may just be stringing us along, while in truth they’re really not ready to sell their star player.
Sevilla may have been seen as a selling club before, but they certainly have compelling reasons to review such a policy now. They’re no longer a small club in the shadows of their big neighbours, because they have indeed grown in global proportions within the last two years. They are today competing in the Champions League for the first time in their history on the back of two consecutive UEFA Cups and recognition by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS) as the number one football club in the world, based on statistics of wins and trophies since 2006. Sevilla have a right to change their mind about selling us their biggest playing asset in the light of their own ambitions too. And, if this is the case, as I believe it is, it is therefore no longer a question of how much Sevilla were/are asking, but whether or not they are really willing to sell. Jose Maria del Nido’s maniacal game of constantly increasing their asking price (the latest being €40m) gives enough indication that he’s really not willing to sell.
In such circumstances, I would have thought Chelsea’s decision to sign Belletti makes sense. Despite the stories making the rounds, he isn’t exactly a bad player. For four years (up till 2005), he was a member of the Brazilian national team and was part of the squad that won the 2002 World Cup in the Far East. Knowing how spoilt for choice the Brazilian national team really are, it’s no surprise that it took an exceptional performer like Cafu to keep him on the bench. Balletti joined Barcelona three years ago and immediately established himself as the first choice right-back in a team that was widely acknowledged as the best in the world up to the time they won the Champions League in 2006. Belletti lost his first place in the team last year due primarily to injury and the arrival of Gianluca Zambrotta from Juventus. In other words, if not for the extraordinary events that led to the splitting up of the then Juventus team, Belletti would still have been Barcelona’s first choice right-back today. While in Barcelona, he won two La Liga titles (2005, 2006), two Super Cups (2005, 2006) and a Champions League title (2006). He’s a very attack-minded defender whose defensive game isn’t bad as well. He’s stable, reliable and extremely energetic. For a 31-year old, he’s looked after his body very well. So, it isn’t exactly that Chelsea have gone on to sign a geriatric as right-back; after all Zambrotta who replaced him as first choice at Barcelona and who’s highly rated is just a few months younger.
Chelsea fans have to learn to appreciate situations. We cannot always approach every issue with sentiments. For three seasons now, every opposition supporter has rubbed our nose in the notion that we bought the title or are trying to buy the title with the way we’ve spent in the transfer market. Even though this is all hypocritical tosh, there comes a time we need to be throwing these barbs back at them by showing that we can pass through a transfer window without outspending everybody and yet still win the big things. Okay, we’d have loved Alves to join the team, but we didn’t have to pay an extortionate price or feel sorry for ourselves if Sevilla aren’t selling. Instead, we took the option of getting another very experienced right-back with a great pedigree at about one-tenth of the Alves price. Whether his acquisition is a mere stopgap or whether it’s a long-term measure, only time will tell. But at least we certainly look better now in the right-back department than we were last season. The team has a better balance and our balance sheet for the first time during a transfer window looks very healthy.
Now, all that is left is for every fan to get behind every player that puts on our colours and prove our own worth to the cause. We are on course to reclaim our title! We are on course to push further in Europe! And we are on course to prove to all doubting Thomases that the Kings of the King’s Road are the true Kings of the game!
It’s Portsmouth next at Stamford Bridge and we need all three points. Get out there and do your bit!