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Saturday, June 3, 2006

PREMIER REPORT

Chelsea's spending spree may backfire in the end


LONDON -- Chelsea has new tactics as it prepares to dominate European football next season.

Christopher Davies

Instead of buying the best player from English clubs, the Premiership champion for the last two years is now buying the best player from the best clubs in Germany, Italy, Holland and, it hopes, Spain.

The race for second place is on . . .

Michael Ballack (Bayern Munich) and Salomon Kalou (Feyenoord) were followed by AC Milan striker Andriy Shevchenko, the finest player ever to join a Premiership club.

Arsene Wenger has made Thierry Henry into a world-class striker since arriving at Arsenal from Juventus, but Shevchenko, 29 is a truly great player at the peak of his powers.

His 173 goals in seven seasons for Milan make him the second top scorer in the club's history, and made a significant contribution to the winning of an Italian League title, an Italian Cup, Italian Super Cup, a Champions League and a European Super Cup.

His sale also represents good business for Milan which doubled its money on Shevchenko, having signed him in a £15 million move from Dynamo Kiev, where he won five domestic league titles.

He cost an English transfer record £30 million and negotiations for his four-year contract seemed to be conducted in next to no time. I am sure it was not quite, "OK, Andriy, how much do you want? Fine, no problems . . . " but that is the impression.

No translator would have been needed for the Ukraine captain as Chelsea owner and benefactor Roman Abramovich was no doubt around to lend a hand, the other hand digging deep into the Russian billionaire's seemingly endless supply of cash for the London club.

During his three years in charge of Chelsea, Abramovich has sanctioned transfers totaling around £330 million. -- roughly £2 million a week. An expensive hobby but he probably earns that in bank interest.

Chelsea's wage bill next season will be an estimated £125 million -- just over £2 million a week.

It may be journalistic license, but £4 million a week is a mind-boggling figure for Abramovich's time at Stamford Bridge.

"Chelsea keep spending money and there's not much we can do about it," said Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein with a strong candidate for the understatement of 2006. There isn't.

All Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool and Europe's elite in the Champions League can hope is that the galactico culture Jose Mourinho is nurturing at Chelsea has the reverse effect.

While no ego will be bigger than that of the self-styled Special One, bringing in highly-paid mercenaries (as the tabloids love to call foreign players) can have an unsettling effect on the dressing room.

Players such as John Terry and Frank Lampard, the English heartbeat of the club, will feel they deserve salary parity with Ballack and Shevchenko, while unless Mourinho offloads some players, Chelsea would have a B-team capable of finishing second behind the A-team in the Premiership.

The first-choice midfield will probably be Claude Makelele in the holding role behind Ballack, Lampard and Joe Cole, with Kalou and Shevchenko in attack.

Where does that leave Shaun Wright-Phillips, Michael Essien. Arjen Robben, Damien Duff, Eidur Gudjohnsen, Didier Drogba, Hernan Crespo -- about £130 million of reserve talent?

Chelsea does not find it easy to sell players -- the buying club can probably afford the knockdown fee, but the champion's players are on such enormous salaries few can compete with their wages.

It is naive to believe a player will take a drop in earnings for regular first-team football -- why do you think reserve goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini, who could walk into most Premiership sides, has been happy to remain at Stamford Bridge?

Mourinho said the signing of Shevchenko was the fulfillment of a dream.

"Today is a day when the dream became reality," he said on Wednesday. "Andriy has always been my first choice since I arrived. Milan is a big club, a great club, but for him to leave Milan for Chelsea is a big statement about where Chelsea is."

No doubt Sheva's bank statement was also a big influence on his decision, though the Ukrainian's American wife Kristen apparently asked her husband to move to London as she would prefer their son Jordan to grow up in an English-speaking country.

Chelsea is that country.

I HAVE NEVER coached a country at the World Cup finals but it does not seem rocket science that to planning take Wayne Rooney to Germany was misguided going on madness.

Sven-Goran Eriksson is leaving his post as England head coach after the finals, and a man criticized for being too conservative is certainly going out in a blaze of controversy.

Rooney sustained a fracture of a metatarsal in his right foot on April 29. Next Wednesday, we shall know the result of the second scan that will decide once and for all whether the Manchester United striker is Germany-bound or stays at home to continue his rehabilitation for next season.

If the scan shows Rooney cannot play in the finals, as most expect, Tottenham's Jermain Defoe is the favorite to be drafted into the squad.

Eriksson remains optimistic that Rooney can play some part in the World Cup, but he would say that, wouldn't he?

And why did he name a player with a broken foot in the original party?

The suspicion is the Swede was worried about the criticism he might get had he left Rooney out, a classic case of being damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Let's assume, though, the scan gives Rooney the go-ahead to remain with the squad. He would not be able to resume training immediately and with the second stage on June 24-25, the realistic target in the best-case scenario, it would be almost two months after Rooney's last match.

Could any player reach the sort of fitness required to play even part of a game against one of the 15 other best teams in the world -- probably Germany or Poland -- with no reserve run-out to help the process?

And if England manages to progress to the quarterfinals, would Eriksson drop one of the strikers who has played his part in helping the side reach the last eight?

Eriksson is obsessed by Rooney who at his best is as good as any striker in the world.

Even so, Rooney cannot possibly be at his best after such a long layoff and it is easy to understand United's concern, because it wants its star asset to report back for preseason training raring to go, not nursing the after-effects of returning to soon to play in the World Cup.

The smart money is on the scan showing Rooney will not be fit for the finals, a huge shame for the player but it would at least spare us the daily update on Metatarsalgate.

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal, Chelsea and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.


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