From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.34 :: NO.09 :: Mar. 03, 2011
On a significant Sunday, I was at Stamford Bridge to watch Chelsea, who had just bought Fernando Torres for GBP50 million, play Liverpool, who had sold him. For their part, Liverpool had promptly expended GBP35 million on the young Newcastle United striker Andy Carroll and GBP22 million on the Uruguayan attacker, Luis Suarez. Neither of these played at Stamford Bridge. Carroll was injured. Kenny Dalglish, back at Liverpool where once he was a heroic player, decided to keep Suarez on the bench to allow him, he said, to “tone down.” This though Suarez had already come on and scored as a substitute on his debut. Chelsea late in the game deployed their new GBP23 million Brazilian international defender, David Luiz, bought from Lisbon's Benfica.
Are we, then, to assume that Torres, who has been largely out of form, though suffering injury for months, is worth fully GBP23 million more than the Bosnian striker Edin Džeko, now at Manchester City after huge success in the German Bundesliga? Who has already with a superb left-footed volley saved his new club, Manchester City, from ignominious FA Cup defeat at humble Notts County. By the same token, is Carroll worth so much more than Dzeko? These, it seems to me, are rhetorical questions.
From a Chelsea point of view, Torres' debut was a disaster, but a collective one. Torres, in other words, was ineffectual but so was the team as a whole, its tactics a disaster. Implying that, to put it as politely as possible the team now has an embarrassment of riches. Some would call it simply an embarrassment. Emphasised by the fact that in their previous two games Chelsea had scored four times. If there were any apparent weaknesses they seemed to be in defence rather than attack. So that the GBP25 million purchase of David Luiz does make some sense.
The insertion of Torres against Liverpool meant a lopsided team with a superfluity of strikers. The other two being the 33-year-old Didier Drogba, back in form after weeks of suffering the apparent effects of malaria, and the volatile French international Nicolas Anelka, who seemed to have no defined role at all. Essentially a striker who led the list of Chelsea's scorers at that point, but often used notionally at least, on the right flank in fact neither he nor any other Chelsea player was operating as a true winger. That placed the burden on notionally overlapping full backs and inevitably created gaps. One of which arguably led to Liverpool's late winning goal when Dirk Kuyt's neat reverse pass set up Portugal's Raul Meireles to score. As for Kuyt he toiled away gallantly alone up front, in a role foreign to him. Ironically on the previous afternoon one had watched a vastly more entertaining and improved game at Tottenham, where Spurs were somewhat fortunate winners against Bolton Wanderers, for whom the young attacker, Daniel Sturridge, was arguably the best player on the field. But Sturridge is, in fact, a Chelsea player who'd only just been lent by the club to Bolton.
And what chances will there now be at the Bridge for the gifted teenaged midfielder Josh McEaghran who has shown precocious skills, intelligence and confidence despite Chelsea's limp performance against Liverpool. McEaghran, who has been with the club since boyhood, never got off the bench. No so long ago Chelsea were talking about giving youth its fling. The truth is that, for all the money they have spent at home and abroad in acquiring teenaged players, sometimes landing themselves expensively in trouble as they did in the case of Leeds United youngsters, and despite the huge sums of money paid to the former Danish international, Frank Arnesen, the mountain overall has parturated a mouse.
How ironic it was that at half time in that match, Chelsea should commemorate on their closed circuit screens the death of one Led Stubbs. A long forgotten figure but a valid member of the first Chelsea team ever to win the Championship way back in 1955, fifty long years after their foundation and fifty years before they would manage it again. Stubbs was a bargain of an acquisition from humble Southend United then of the third division South, an inside left, who with other players picked up for a song by Chelsea's manager Ted Drake, once a prolific Arsenal and England centre forward, and moulded into a successful team. But Stubbs, like every footballer of that era, played for peanuts.
There is no doubt that the billions owned by Chelsea's patron, the oligarch, Roman Abramovich and to a still more hyperbolic degree those poured into Manchester City by their owner, Sheikh Mansour, have utterly distorted the English game. Chelsea, in their latest yearly accounts reveal that they lost GBP71 million: they have promised that they will bring things into balance, but the prospect is risible.
So perhaps we can console ourselves with the old adage that money is not everything. Chelsea may have spent themselves into trouble. Manchester City despite their own colossal expenditure, are, one might say, encouragingly inconsistent. Meanwhile, for those of us with long memories, it is intriguing to think that, in the case of Carroll — whose record of repeated violence, police, court appearances and the breaking of a team-mate's jaw on the training ground — history is somehow repeating itself. For back in 1946, at the end of the post-war intermediate season, Newcastle sold their big, red headed, free scoring centre forward, Albert Stubbins, to Liverpool for what was then the large fee of GBP13,000.
Stubbins, who had spent the War in reserves occupation as a draughtsman, was able to score goals galore for the Magpies, though the only time he played for England was against Wales in a so called Victory International, which didn't carry a cap. At the end of his first season at Liverpool, he scored at Wolves in June (bad weather had prolonged the season) the goal which won Liverpool the match and the championship. But Stubbins, whom one later came to know, was no thug, but an amiable gentleman. Carroll, who has already played once for England, insists that his violent days are now behind him. But Liverpool is hardly the most tranquil of cities.
Torres? He could hardly have made a less fortuitous start: it remains to be seen whether his move to London can bring a new lease of life. It is surely overdue.
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