Roman’s got the Blues, quite literally. Life must be simple if even Billionaires can be found celebrating the beautiful game. While some see their empire crumble after decades of dominance (Silvio Berlusconi’s AC Milan), Roman Abramovich’s just closing-in on his first decade as Chelsea’s emperor. His troops even captured the trophy that has eluded him for so long – the 2011/12 Champions League title. Life should be good. The highly unlikely triumph has prompted the Chelsea owner to sanction a spending spree not seen since the early Mourinho-era. The ever-reliable and loyal Didier Drogba was afforded a hero’s departure - quite fitting for a player that has all but dragged Chelsea to Champions League glory. Some others refused to play by Roman’s rules and left the Blues (Florent Malouda). In the grand scheme of things it makes sense to dispose of the old guard. The victors of Munich were arguably the unlikeliest team to win the recent Champions League campaign. In comparison to the finalists of Moscow, the 2011/12 squad was definitely weaker. Nevertheless, Chelsea won the trophy; fair and square, regardless of how one feels about the style the Blues applied to accomplish the coup. Yet the capture of the Champions League trophy has not stilled Roman Abramovich’s hunger; it only served to increase his appetite for more. For he is not a very outspoken man, at least not in public, he let his bank account do the talking - out with the old, in with the new.
To satisfy his imperial ambitions a new (and costly) breed of exciting players were signed to replace the veterans that have departed the Blues, or are in the process of leaving. Rivals such as Manchester City or Manchester United were simply blown out of the water in the acquisitions of such prodigious talents as Eden Hazard (who was rumored to favor a move to the Citizens until Chelsea’s Champions League triumph), Oscar, Victor Moses and Marko Marin. With the exception of Moses none of the new recruits is particularly physical. However, they’re all technically astute, the Belgian Eden Hazard being the standout.
Over the past two years Chelsea made some inspired signings to help change the style from counter-attacking physicality to a more continental free-flowing football approach. Of course Chelsea’s dealings have not been flawless. There are still question marks over David Luiz in central defence, especially in light of his heavy price tag (around £25,000,000). Gary Cahill, however, appears to be a good value. But the worst investment has been Fernando Torres. The former Liverpool hitman/hero has not been able to live up to (unrealistic) expectations placed upon him. The most expensive domestic transfer in Premier League history, at a mind-bending £50,000,000 (or roughly €60,000,000), his name is not found near or at the top of the scoring charts. As a matter of fact, it’s been a while since El Niño’s goal-scoring exploits have even warranted half the value of his transfer to Chelsea. Usually it’s English talent whose price is heavily inflated (Stuart Downing? Andy Carrol?) but Torres' transfer from Liverpool to Chelsea set the new benchmark. Nevertheless, at £50,000,000 one expects something, anything better than 19 goals in 86 games (that’s 1 goal in 4 games or 0,22 goals/per game). There’s absolutely no way that Fernando Torres can improve his statistics to get close to the standard of world-class strikers of 1 in 2 or 0,5 goals/per game.
No matter how one slices it, that’s not what Roman Abramovich has paid for. He paid a world-class transfer fee for a Emile Heskey numbers. During his first 18 months in London it was assumed that Torres was incompatible with Didier Drogba. Then it was suspected that he was on a different wavelength than his teammates. Now that Drogba is gone, Torres should flourish, right? Wrong. Even with the best supporting cast that the Premier League has to offer (Juan Mata, Oscar, Eden Hazard), Torres is unable to score regularly. Sure, his partnership with Steven Gerrard at Liverpool was a joy to behold but at Chelsea he has probably the most creative trio behind him. Unless Andres Iniesta becomes available, that’s the very best money can buy.
It becomes less clear what prompted Roman Abramovich to sanction these signings. Did he really want to change the style of his team, or did he try to get the best out of Fernando Torres - HIS vanity purchase. If history is anything to go by I’m inclined to lean towards the latter. In 2006 the Roman emperor bought Andriy Shevchenko from AC Milan for a then English record of £30,000,000 (accounting for inflation: around €45,000,000). This time, however, he doesn’t have to deal with defiant general like Jose Mourinho. Roberto Di Matteo seems to be much more manageable in that regard. Rumor has it that even Carlo Ancelotti didn’t want Fernando Torres at Chelsea in the first place. The precedent is there, every time Abramovich decides to mingle in the club’s transfers business it turns out disastrous and costly. Making a mistake is just human. Making the same mistake twice is, quite honestly, stupid. If I’m being cynical I believe Abramovich is just fixing his own blunders.
Since the market of genuine world-class strikers with global appeal is fairly limited, only one name is probably just good enough to lead Roman’s troops: Radamel Falcao. Sure, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is still on everybody’s mind but he’s 31, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is also an option but he has the stigma of big club flop hanging around him while trying to buy the likes of Karim Benzema or Mario Gomez from Real Madrid and Bayern Munich would be an effort in vein; both clubs don’t need to sell.
Atletico Madrid on the other hand are handicapped in two ways due to their fiscal problems and the Spanish requisite buy-out clause. Radamel Falcao’s buy-out clause is set at £48,000,000 (€60,000,000), probably just about his market value. Under a different scenario it’s safe to assume that Atletico Madrid could squeeze out an extra million or two. Either way, Fernando Torres time is drawing to a close. In Chelsea’s 4-2-3-1 set-up there’s only room for one spearhead, not two. El Niño has never flourished in a two-striker system and Chelsea will not spend a fortune on a squad player, let alone pay massive wages (the best in the EPL) to one.
In the end empires always rise and fall, even the Romans didn’t last forever.