Andre Vilas-Boas is on his way to Chelsea and already the mind-numbingly boring transfer speculation has gone into overdrive. Considering Roman Abramovich is paying millions out of his own pocket to bring the young Portuguese manager to London, it’s highly likely that some serious player investment is on the way. Will he take Porto’s most sparkling jewels with him to the Bridge and will the prospect of working with Europe’s hottest managerial property lure the big names to the Bridge? Caution is advised because here’s a look at some of the worst transfer decisions of the Abramovich area.
5. Daniel Sturridge Out/Fernando Torres In
I’m in the minority of people who think Fernando Torres may still come good for Chelsea and if he scores 20 goals a season until his mid-40s may eventually be worth the £50 million paid for him in January. All he needs is an extended rest, a new hamstring and all of next season’s Premier League defenders to lose their legs in some sort of bizarre accident whilst taking a tour of an abattoir. Making Torres’s struggles at the Bridge all the more amusing/galling was the decision to off-load Daniel Sturridge to Bolton for a few months. The two Chelsea strikers acquired for vastly different sums of money had vastly contrasting second halves of the season. One looked every bit the squad player who might get the occasional run out as a sub or in Carling Cup games and the other was Daniel Sturridge. Up at the Reebok, Sturridge was banging in the goals and looking very much like a striker who could give a faltering title challenge a much needed shot in the arm and at the same time, Torres was displaying all the control you’d expect to see from a teenage girl who’s in the general vicinity of Justin Bieber. Ultimately, Chelsea were so patchy in the second half of the season that it’s doubtful whether hanging on to Sturridge would have made the difference, but at a minimum they could have let Torres continue to struggle at Liverpool and knock a few million off his pricetag when they came knocking in the summer.
4. Mateja Kezman
Financially, Kezman didn’t hurt as much as some other of Chelsea’s flops, but he cost a fortune in terms of crushed hopes and broken dreams. Having made his name in Holland, he came with all sorts of records and recommendations, none of which turned out to be accurate. I don’t remember exactly what those records were, but I seem to recall things being said along the lines of ‘he scored more goals for PSV as a foetus than Ruud van Nistelrooy’ and ‘he’s the only player to have scored 30 goals in back to back seasons who’s still not able to grow a decent beard’. Hopes were high amongst Chelsea fans that they’d bagged their van Nistelrooy and a hatful of goals and major titles were on the way, but it wasn’t long that the adage about ‘lies, damn lies and statistics based on Dutch football’ came to pass as the Serbian striker turned into a tap-in fluffing flop. After one season, Kezman was packing his bags and en route to Atletico Madrid, but not before claiming one more dubious record. Having been sold for £5.3 million, the Blues made a small profit on Kezman, making him probably the only player they’ve made money on during the Abramovich era.
3. Jon Obi Mikel
This one is a little harsh because Mikel isn’t a bad player per se. If you want a player to fill the holding midfield role and never cross the halfway line, he’s perfect. If however you prefer your players with the attributes more traditionally associated with top class midfielders i.e. mobility, the ability to pass and the merest hint of an attacking threat, you should probably look elsewhere. On the face of it, finding Obi Mikel was a good piece of scouting work, as the Chelsea network seemed to unearth a talented, technically sound Scandinavian-based youngster who could be bought fairly cheaply and moulded into the natural replacement for Makelele. It wasn’t a great piece of detective work however as it soon transpired that Obi Mikel was committed to joining Man Utd and they had a pesky piece of paper with his signature on it to prove it. In the end, their cut-price ‘bargain’ turned out to be quite expensive, somewhat defeating the purpose of investing all that time shopping in football’s equivalent of Lidl. £12 million went to line the pockets of their title rivals and in turn no doubt finance some astronomical debt and £4 million had to be paid to Lyn Oslo. That’s £16 million in total, which works out at roughly £1 per sideways pass he’s played at Chelsea.
2. Juan Sebastian Veron
There was something rather arrogant about Chelsea’s purchase of Veron in the early days of the Abramovich era. He hadn’t worked at all well at Old Trafford, but Claudio Ranieri seemed to have the misguided self-belief that he could be the one to turn it around. It’s a similar attitude to the one that for years kept convincing women to get into relationships with Warren Beatty – ‘Oh, I can get him to tame his womanising ways. I’ll be the one to make it work’. Good luck Madonna. A number of excuses were given as to why Veron didn’t thrive at Man Utd – he was being played out of position, he was taking time to settle in, Ruud van Nistelrooy was stealing all the hay in the post-match meals – but the truth was spending years in Italian football and then being thrown into the Premier League was like being taken from a cosy Old Folks Home in the middle of the night and being placed bam at the centre of a joyride. They eventually gave Sir Alex Ferguson the £15 million he’s probably been most grateful to receive in his managerial career in return for the massive gamble and what happened? Lo and behold, the twelve time Premier League winner and 2 time European Cup winner, the Dark Lord of Busby Way was right – Veron wasn’t suited to the Premier League.
The experiment was a flop on two counts because not only was the money paid for him essentially like flushing £15 million down into the Kensington sewer system, but it turns out Veron was still a decent player in the right environment. Whilst the Blues clearly expected him to move on somewhere where his name alone could command huge wages, but decent performances are only optional – along the lines of Newcastle – Veron went to Inter Milan where he won a tap-in of a Serie A title. With age, he changed his game to become more of ‘a pulling the strings playmaker’ in central midfield and fulfilled a lifelong ambition by returning home and somewhat emulating his father by winning a Copa Libertadores with Estudiantes (daddy won three). If you think that was just an aging player being able to cut it at an inferior standard, he held his own at international level, so much so that at the age of 35 he was still a key cog in the machine that was supposed to fire Argentina to success in South Africa. That didn’t work out, but La Brujita is still going and won an Argentine league title earlier in the season, which is one more league title than arrived at Stamford Bridge this year.
1. Andrei Shevchenko
‘Paying £30,000,000 for a player a few months short of his 30th birthday – this can’t fail!’ may have been a thought that crossed Roman Abramovich’s mind as the ink dried on Shevchenko’s whopping contract. A raging hangover or a lame tattoo may be the worst things most of us have to deal with as a result of an ill-advised decision made during a night out with friends, but showing little of the eye for a deal that has amassed him a fortune said to be around £11 billion, Abramovich splashed the cash to bring his aging friend to Stamford Bridge. In defence of the billionaire Russian, in the previous season at AC Milan, Shevchenko showed little sign of the rapid decline that would soon make his ridiculously inflated transfer fee look even more ridiculous. Banging in 28 goals in 40 appearances for the Rossineri in the previous season, he looked to be very much the ruthless predator we’d come to expect, but he must have left that ability at customs because what we saw was a mildly embarrassing spectre bearing a hazy likeness to Shevchenko. To his credit Sheva did hit the ground running in the Premier League, but the running didn’t last for long and he became renowned for his sluggish movement and ineffective goal-hanging. From early on in his Chelsea career, it became clear that Jose Mourinho wanted him almost as much as he wanted a sense of modesty and understatement. Talk of a niggling injury emerged by way of explanation, but it appears this was a face-saving exercise ripped straight from the pages of the Andy Murray handbook of excuses. After returning to Milan on loan, he was finally released by the Blues and signed by Dynamo Kiev. It says a lot about the success of his time at Chelsea, that even at the knockdown price of totally free, this was considered a risk.
Have any of your own suggestions? Feel free to add them in the comments section of alternatively kick some of the people mentioned in this article when they’re down.