The internet is buzzing today with the rumour that Brazlian defender Alex may be on his way out of Chelsea. The centre half, of course, was displaced from choice selection by compatriot David Luiz in January (a knee injury didn't help), and it's difficult to see him reclaiming his place for the 2011/12 season. This sort of thing is the transfer-rumour-monger's dream, because absolutely nobody will call them out on the idea that, he's going to (for example) Bayern Munich for £9M. It make sense, right?
Wrong. Yes, Chelsea have John Terry, David Luiz, and Branislav Ivanovic all more than capable of starting at centre back. Yes, they only need two centre backs unless Andre Villas-Boas puts on his Marcelo Bielsa hat and goes all 3-3-1-3 on us. All of that is true. It's also kind of short-sighted.
In fact, it rather smacks of the situation last summer. Chelsea had John Terry, Alex, Ricardo Carvalho and Branislav Ivanovic as recognised centre backs, with Jeffrey Bruma as a prospect and Michael Mancienne away on loan at Wolverhampton on loan but recallable. The thought at the time was that Michael Essien could probably serve as a centre back as well, should push come to shove.
Chelsea, apparently, considered their defensive cover to be more than adequate, selling Carvalho to Real Madrid late on as part of the veteran diaspora, leaving Carlo Ancelotti with three 'real' centre backs at his disposal. Oh, and one of them was also our first choice right back and another has been playing through pain since he was four years old. This arrangement set off more than a few alarm bells, because Chelsea play a lot of games and it was almost inevitable that John Terry would go down at some point.
There was a push to sign David Luiz even before August became September, and fears that the Blues would come to seriously regret Carvalho's sale turned out to be not unfounded in the least. John Terry went down (surprise!), that coincided with Alex picking up a knee problem, and the whole thing culminated in Branislav Ivanovic paired with Paulo Ferriera in the centre of the defence, which as it turns out was a recipe for a 3-0 home loss to Sunderland.
Having three capable centre backs would be ok for most Premier League sides, but Chelsea'a back line as it stood last year (and as it stands now) is a different kettle of fish. The fact that one of those centre backs is also the first choice right-back means that using him as the backup severely weakens the right side of the defence, and when you combine that with Terry's propensity towards injury being stuck in a situation where you need at least four players capable of playing in the middle - and preferably a backup, too.
Last year, Chelsea made a major mistake in forgetting that, and they had to rectify the situation by shelling out huge money for David Luiz in January. And now, the tabloids would have you believe they're going to make that mistake again - only this time, the situation would be even worse. Mancienne's been sold and Bruma's away on loan. Essien, of course, appears to be out of action for a long time. If Alex moves on, Chelsea's fourth centre back is probably Paulo Ferreira, which is enough to make me want to guzzle down whiskey like there's no tomorrow.
But, you say, Chelsea could just buy a new centre back. How about a Gary Cahill?
To which I would respond 'no, that's stupid'. If we imagine that John Terry and David Luiz are our starting centre halves, I'd have to think that the hope would be that any newcomer wouldn't actually play that often. Neither is going anywhere, so there's very little point spending a lot of money buying a hugely capable player. So if we're not buying anyone good, and we already have Alex, and we have to have four centre backs, why would we sell Alex in the first place?
The answer is that we probably wouldn't, at least not unless something interesting happens with the rest of the defence (particularly at right back). For the rumours of Alex departing to be true, Chelsea either have something immeasurably cunning up their sleeve or are stupid enough to have forgotten a lesson taught to them less than nine months ago. Call me crazy, but I'm not buying it. In a sensible world, Alex stays.