Usually when a transfer is either confirmed or officially completed, it means the end of a particular “saga”, as these stories are frequently labelled, and a return to more reliable news that is grounded less on rumours and educated guesswork. Given this, it is very unusual that the Willian saga has created more than it has ended in terms of transfer speculation at Chelsea.
An official statement by Chelsea FC recently read: “Chelsea Football Club can confirm an agreement has been reached with both Willian and his club Anzhi Makhachkala for the transfer of the Brazilian player. The transfer is subject to a work permit hearing on Wednesday.”
This statement came after a period of time in which it had seemed the attacking midfielder was first likely to join Liverpool, and then almost certain to join Tottenham having completed a medical with the north London club. Indeed, the sudden news that Chelsea had become the front runners for his signature followed soon by that official statement was an extreme shock, not only because a deal seemed imminent with Tottenham, but also due to the fact that many would question whether Chelsea really needed this type of player.
Chelsea have a wealth of attacking midfield options already, and almost all of them are flexible enough to play effectively anywhere across the front attacking three. Just to provide perspective, they are: Oscar, Schurrle, Mata, Hazard, Oscar, Kevin de Bruyne and Moses, 6 players (and lets also not forget that Marko Marin is also out on loan). Willian makes this number 7, and coupled with Mourinho’s comments prior to the agreement has led many to believe that one of the preceding six names will be leaving Chelsea either for good or on loan.
Before Chelsea’s official confirmation of the agreement, Mourinho had commented in a press conference:
[quote]I like to work with a 22 player squad so if somebody comes, somebody leaves. Do we need to sell, no we don’t. Do we need to loan, probably yes because I don’t like to work with big squads. I like to work with a small group of players, and I say 22 is a perfect number for our needs in different competitions.[/quote]
By my reckoning, Chelsea’s current squad contains 25 players (with the premature addition of Willian and when only one backup keeper is included). I have my suspicions that although he did not explicitly say it Mourinho may have been referring to 22 outfield players, i.e. not goalkeepers, in which case the revised squad would contain 23. Make what you will of Mourinho’s idealistic 22-man squad reference, but the ramifications for either conclusion are similar.
If you are to take Mourinho’s words seriously then we should expect at least one and anything up to three players to leave on loan, and one of them would surely be an attacking midfielder. Who is most vulnerable? This is the question that is now at work in the media.
Victor Moses Days Numbered?
Moses immediately seems like the most likely player to go out on loan. He may have had an impressive pre-season and a relatively successful first season at Chelsea, but this does not change the fact that he has played second fiddle to other players in his position for the majority of his time at the Bridge, appearing mostly in the cup competitions rather than the league. He is also, arguably, the least prestigious of all those names which unfortunately means something in modern football. Liverpool have been heavily linked with a loan move for him, and it wouldn’t be surprising if that came to fruition.
Incredulously, Mata is the other name that is cropping up the most. In the two years he has been with Chelsea he has scored 18 in the league, assisted 25 goals, won Chelsea’s player of the year twice in a row and has very much been the talisman of the team. Yet he has been linked with a move away from Chelsea all summer, and now with the signing of Willian this speculation has grown to a new level.
On the one hand, there is no smoke without fire. Multiple news outlets do not link a player away from a club with almost identical stories and often on the same day unless they have something to go on, especially if that player is as important to the club as Juan Mata is to Chelsea. On the other hand, Mourinho has said more than once that Mata is part of his plans for the season and that he is the only left footed player he has that he can utilize as an inverted winger. However he has also said – “We all say no. But we lie.”
Overall I would say it’s suspicious that these Mata exit stories have appeared so frequently throughout the summer, more now than ever, although it’s difficult to say where he would go. Despite the impact that Mata has had at Chelsea during his two year stint, I remain open to the possibility of a Mata transfer. Only on Monday Dan Roan wrote for the BBC: “In a further twist, it has emerged that Spurs have approached Chelsea with a view to buying a player – thought to be Juan Mata – to replace Bale”, and Mata was only an unused substitute against Manchester United the same day. I find it far more likely that Moses will be the one to give way in Jose’s pursuit of a 22 man squad, but there is also the possibility that both of them could.
Another player to be leaving?
Even after a departure (or two) from Chelsea’s attacking midfield, there would still be a couple of players more than Mourinho’s 22-man target. A skim through Chelsea’s squad and John Obi Mikel stands out above the crowd as the most likely reduction. He is a controversial figure among Chelsea fans, brilliant on his day yet frustratingly inconsistent. Following his late arrival to pre-season he was not used as often as he could have been by Mourinho, and has been linked to Galatasaray, Napoli and in general to an exit from Chelsea. If an extra player is to leave before the window shuts, Mikel is the most prominent candidate.
How ‘one in, one out’ will apply to Chelsea’s strikers
How gracious of Mourinho not to make a bid for Rooney before Chelsea’s match against Manchester United… of course this has been completely undermined by his continuous references to Rooney as a Chelsea target and the public knowledge of an imminent bid following the final whistle on Monday night. He may be right that Moyes has brought a lot of this upon himself and Manchester United by implying that Rooney was backup, but in truth nobody has added more fuel to the fire than Mourinho himself. And he knows it.
Chelsea will sign a striker – whether it’s Rooney, Eto’o or mystery option number three is yet to be seen, and since it is one in, one out at Chelsea right now then one of Torres, Lukaku or Ba would have to make way.
It won’t be Lukaku, a potential star who most would consider Chelsea’s current best striker. Torres seems unlikely given the wages he is on and his enthusiasm to remain at the club. That leaves Ba, a player who was brought in on the cheap and primarily to make up the numbers in the striking department last season. If Chelsea were to offer him up for sale or loan they wouldn’t be short of takers, and it seems West Ham are very keen to secure him if Chelsea do sign another striker.
So if Chelsea and Mourinho remain true to their word about signing striker A, B or C, this would likely spell the end of Ba, at least for this season. As for reaching that 22-man target, it’s yet to be seen who will still be a Chelsea player on August 2nd.