Last year I took a week-long trip to Mexico in August, during which Chelsea snared the signature of one Juan Mata. This year, I took a four-day trip to Maui with my wife, only for Chelsea to continue the tropical trend of inking Mr. Eden Hazard. Perhaps I should get on my gallop to Tahiti with the quickness. More, after the jump:
By now, word has spread through every conventional and digital media outlet that Eden Hazard has selected Chelsea as his prom date. Delighted as all are at the news, it has yet to be formally announced by the club, which is more a matter of logistics and legalities than any last-minute hijack ploys by Hazard's agent. The deal, which will see young Eden earn approximately 110,000 pounds per week, includes a six million one-time payout to his agent for brokering the transaction. According to various sources that have come to light in the last twenty-four hours, Hazard's agent, John Bico, contacted Chelsea on the eve of the Champions League Final to inform them that he could sway the Belgian to London if a financial package was put together that was deemed suitable. It appears that Manchester City fell by the wayside a week ago, with United remaining as the only real contender for his services- until Chelsea were tempted to cough up a significant chunk of cash.
Hazard: The Shift in Philosophy
The consensus on Hazard is such: an incredible talent with the comprehensive package of offensive abilities and tactical magnificence. Questions linger on his mental acumen, and of course, his self-inflated ego which appears to have doubled in the last two weeks. That said, the deal represents something of a massive coup for Chelsea, who up until two months ago were left for dead by the world at large- a failed experiment in expensive asset management and fantasy football that appeared on its last leg. In short, the acquisition of Eden signifies a giant step forward for Chelsea in the pursuit of prodigiously talented players that have yet to reach their true potential. In past iterations, our strategy seemed to be laser-focused on purchasing players with established reputations, despite being on the downward trajectory of their respective careers (see Shevchenko, Pizzaro, Ballack, Deco et all). While it may have worked in spaces, that structure clearly has been phased-out and seems an unrealistic option given the influx of cash-laden clubs in the market today- where Chelsea's competitive advantage used to simply be 'lets just spend more than the rest', now even they have been priced out of deals.
Adding Hazard to the ranks ultimately highlights the renaissance currently evolving at The Bridge. Under Abramovich's instructions, Michael Emenalo and his staff have undergone a series of transfers that underline this advanced philosophy of attracting budding superstars, high-potential youth players, and established rotation players under 25. There's Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtouis, Oriol Romeu, Juan Mata, Kevin De Bruyne, Marko Marin, Gary Cahill, and now the crown jewel of this influx, Hazard. As the club undergoes this self-inflicted makeover, it's important to consider not simply the value of Hazard's inclusion in the side from a footballing perspective but also what his 'decision' could mean about the reputation of Chelsea Football Club as a potential destination for other young players seeking to ply their trade at the highest level. Certainly, winning the Champions League has vaulted Chelsea into rare-air and was one of the pivotal swing points in seducing Hazard to Stamford Bridge. But perhaps more importantly, Hazard may well be the first domino to fall this summer in our favor- which could see us undergoing a massive change in shape, style, tactics, and composition over the next year. For more in depth analysis on what Hazard's inclusion means to the side, check out the always fantastic Graham over at We Ain't Got No History's breakdown. Yet again, he hits a home run. Check it out here.
Hulk: The Second Domino
By now, we've all read that Porto's Brazilian man-child Hulk is next on Abramovich's wish list. With Roman pledging fealty to Fernando (very odd indeed), we can safely assume the Falcao rumors are going to dissipate. Thus, the Hulk saga wages on. Inside sources suggest a deal was thrashed out back in January by Andre Villas-Boas, and an agreed-upon price of 30 million was set for a June transfer. Contradictory reports claim that no such agreement has been reached, with both sides continuing to talk towards a resolution. But the latest piece discovered claims the deal is close to completion- roughly 90% of the way through. As mentioned above, Hulk would resemble the second piece of the proverbial puzzle in Roman's quest to build the greatest attacking team in the history of the universe. Coinciding with Hazard's inclusion, Hulk would likely be deployed on the right side of an attacking three, with Hazard through the middle and Mata on the left. All of whom, mind you, would provide more than capable service for Fernando to pillage- in theory.
Most of us are aware of Hulk's enormous potential, that he has a cannon of a strike, and can score goals in bunches. What makes him particularly adaptable to the rigors of the English game are his physical tools- the combination of brute strength and deft finesse not seen in a winger. Many have doubts about Hulk's necessity with the addition of Hazard, considering the now glut of wingers we've acquired and of course the inclusion of Ramires in the mix. I'd gambit the more prevailing concern is whether or not these lads will manage to share and share alike. All of them, perhaps Mata the least of the four, are inclined to scoring goals. If Fernando remains the focal point of the attack, with the remaining three offering up support, then things appear to be in great shape next season. But should they fight amongst another for chances, we're in for a messy divorce come January. Still, the promise of Hulk is such that he would make a more immediate impact than Hazard might- simply based on his overwhelming strength. Hazard might take a season to get the style and speed up to his standard, much like Mata, but Hulk should be an impact addition to a side desperate for creativity.
Speculation is also mounting that Chelsea are hot on the heels of Dutch international right-back Gregory Van der Wiel. The player has been tracked for over three seasons now by the powers that be, and his purchase seems more of a necessity than Hulk. With our numbers at the back having been tested throughout the recently retired campaign, it remains paramount that Chelsea capture a capable replacement for Ivanovic on the right, and perhaps someone that can fill the shoes of Jose Bosingwa (not really asking for much here but still). Van der Wiel's agent has been busy chatting up both Chelsea and Real Madrid, but the former appears to be the favorite. Should this matriculate, it will represent the most impressive trio of signings under the Abramovich regime since inception. Three critical pieces in under ten days, simply astounding.
The Dearly Departed & Extended
Though not confirmed by the club in an official capacity, Ron Gourlay recently claimed that the duo of Jose Bosingwa and Salomon Kalou are to be released from their contracts come June 1st. Cue the rapturous applause of many who have called for their respective heads for several seasons now. Despite what might have frustrated you about the pair over the past three years, one can't deny that both were critical contributors to this season's Champions League quest, both started in the final, and both deservedly earned their stripes. While it seems Kalou will land comfortably on his feet at Schalke next year, Bosingwa's final destination is murkier. There are suggestions that he might return to Portugal, while rumors are swirling that a few English clubs in the middle tier might be inclined to take a chance on him.
Jack already touched upon the fantastic news regarding Cech's extension, but the other tidbit from Gourlay's presser involved an extension for Frank Lampard. The club are apparently deep in negotiations with his agent and looking to extend his contract for another four years of service, while putting him on even earning terms with Fernando Torres. While nobody can deny the massive and incredible achievements Frank has conjured for his many years of service, I find this extension slightly troubling, given the cost and years involved. Under Financial Fair Play, a Lampard extension would count significantly towards our cap, and this could potentially pose problems for us down the line. I'll reserve true judgement until the numbers boil out, but until then, it's a wonderful sight to see the club working so tirelessly to wrap up critical business for existing members of the club, while working tirelessly at the other end to acquire new pieces.
Putting the Puzzle Together
So how exactly do Chelsea put this mess of a puzzle together come August? Ideally, we'll have our manager installed long before the opening kick-off, even as soon as next week once some of this transfer business is completed. Roberto is still my first choice for the slot, but might not be Roman's long-term desire. Indeed, Chelsea sources seem to be hinting once again in Pep Guardiola's direction- suggesting that in fact the ex-Barcelona gaffer could be tempted to swap the Camp Nou for Stamford Bridge sooner rather than later. As Roman continues to lay the groundwork for his future dream team, many believe that this is a guided attempt at persuading Guardiola into taking the helm with a fleet of fledgling superstars at his disposal. While my gut still suspects Pep will honor his initial desire to sit the season out, there remains a faint belief that he could perhaps be coaxed financially into taking the gig full-time this summer. Still, we have to assume that Roberto's the guy for the time being, seeing as how there are no other true suitors to the Iron Throne.
How then does this all work out? The shape which worked wonders for salvaging the season might not be the ideal method going forward. On paper, Chelsea will retain the services of the following gamut of players (mind, I'm trying to include the key pieces and not some of the reserve/youth prospects) while adding Hulk and Hazard to equal:
GK: Cech, Hilario, Turnbull
DF: Terry, Cole, Luiz, Cahill, Ivanovic, Ferreira, Bertrand
MF: Lampard, Mikel, Ramires, Essien, Romeu, Meireles, McEacharan
ATT: Hazard, Mata, Marin, Hulk, Malouda, Kakuta, De Bruyne
ST: Torres, Sturridge, Lukaku
On paper, that amounts to a grand total of 27 players. Factor in a handful of youth players and some of the returning misfits from respective loan spells and you've got a cocktail of epic proportions. One of the possible ways to make this mixture work would be to adapt the formation to resemble a 4-3-2-1- while a return to the AVB 4-3-3 is also an option. Either way, there will certainly be players who feel worthy of starting that may not make the grade each week. What's clear is that some of the above figures are going to be marginalized next year in an effort to showcase the abilities of some of the new guard. This list includes Michael Essien, Florent Malouda, and Paulo Ferreira. While all three are technically expendable and not necessarily critical to the cause, it has been rumored that the former pair are in line for contract extensions. Why the club would choose to extend two players on the tail end of their careers remains to be seen. In Essien, there exists a glimmer of hope, but in Malouda, he's simply getting in the way of the new recruits.
Regardless of who is elected to navigate the waters, the Chelsea renaissance is in full effect. While many clubs are slowing getting their respective engines fired up for a summer of tracking football's next great hope across the continent, the Blue hierarchy are in full-motion with their deal-making extravagance on display. Led by Roman's riches, Chelsea are poised once more to lead the new wave of recruiting, attracting, and acquiring the best and brightest talents the game has to offer. That it's begun not even a week after our club's greatest triumph is a true testament to the commitment and desire to consistently outperform the market, setting a standard of excellence and laying down a firm indication of our intent to truly dominate the game on a global scale. Clearly, the best is yet to come.