Chelsea Terrace Talk – Irish Examiner Article By Trizia
It used to be that you could always rely on Chelsea to spice up those vacant weeks when the international programme lays its dead and frosty hand across football.
A 900 word column to fill? Simples. Get Peter Kenyon, and José to tap up Arsenal and England’s full back in the most public way possible in a busy hotel at Lancaster Gate. The angst overspill flowing down from North London towards the Thames from that has kept us going for years.
Another quiet Wednesday? Let’s check up whose youth system Chelsea are raping and pillaging this week. That can generally be relied upon to create howls of outrage, with a delicious side-helping of a potential transfer ban.
Harassment of referees? We were good for that too, particularly if they were a) Scandinavian b) useless and c) poseurs. Do you remember when Chelsea were the enemies of football? Mourinho hiding in laundry baskets?
Terrygate, the handshake that wasn’t, insults about the Royal Berkshire ambulance service, the systematic winding-up of specific opposition managers such as Arsène Wenger and Rafa Benitez, time was when it was all grist to our mill.
Now under the benevolent and calm guidance of Carlo Ancelotti that rich vein of controversy seems to have fully mined. The pyrotechnics behind the scenes have been exchanged for an attractive and flowing presence on the pitch and the most controversial question you can raise since the despatch of Arsenal 10 days ago is whether John Terry’s sudden withdrawal from the England squad over a “back spasm” presages something more significant in terms of his future involvement with Fabio Capello.
Terry has been in outstanding form this season and it will be a blow if he is not available for this weekend’s fixture at Villa Park, a ground where we have underperformed more often than not in the past decade. With Alex injured after his thunderbolt intervention settled proceedings against the Gunners this would leave Chelsea with just two fit centre-halves — young Jeffrey Bruma, a Dutch international but only recently returned from his own injury and callow at Premier League level, and the highly popular Branislav Ivanovic.
“Branna” as his team-mates, and particularly Ray Wilkins like to call him (he’s more often known as “Ivan” to the supporters) is one of the players of the season so far, but it could be a daring gamble to pair him with a rookie for this game, particularly against a Houllier side which carries some power up front even if it’s only in the shape of the most recent player to “snub” Capello — Emile Heskey.
I noticed, not for the first time, that overseas clubs are beginning to sniff around Ivanovic. It was Real Madrid in the summer, and now Juventus are sizing him up. His contract expires next year and Chelsea should extend it double quick because he brings a rugged competitiveness to the back four which is not present when either Ferreira or José Bosingwa — close to a return after nearly 12 months of injury — take their place on the right next to our first choice centre-halves.
The last time we had a crisis in central defence was in 2007 and the solution was to pair Michael Essien with Paolo Ferreira in a makeshift line-up at Anfield which did not leave Blues supporters with happy memories. Although the Ghanaian is one of those rare “play anywhere” team members, a little like Paul Madeley used to be with Leeds, sacrificing his driving power from midfield —particularly with Lampard only just returning after an uncharacteristically long layoff — may not be the best idea this weekend.
It’s a conundrum for Carlo, but one that he needs to become used to if his relatively thin squad is to compete for the full range of honours in the second half of the season.
The visit of Russia, and Roman Abramovich, to the Aviva Stadium on Friday night gave me the chance to study in some more depth the form of one of Chelsea’s most enigmatic squad members, Yuri Zhirkov.
Zhirkov is a highly-talented left-sided player but in a straight match with Ashley Cole it’s no contest, and in his more promising, pushed-on, role he’s not going to displace Florent Malouda any time soon.
Watching Robbie Keane go down like a sack of potatoes from his slightest of touches in the penalty area in the second-half I began to wonder whether Zhirkov was going to be another of those players who drift across the Chelsea landscape almost without trace, like Scott Parker, Alexei Smertin, and Andriy Shevchenko.
If there’s one area that Chelsea are strong, it’s in the number of lefties in the club ranks. Apart from the first team choices the England under-21 left back, Ryan Bertrand, currently on loan at Nottingham Forest, is a Blue. The England under-19 left back Aziz Deen-Conteh is a Youth Cup winner from last season, 17-year-old Josh McEachran, also an under-19 international, and Gael Kakuta are both naturally left-footed. That’s an awful lot of competition coming up fast for the man we signed from CSKA Moscow.
Which brings me back to Ashley Cole who last night was scheduled to equal Kenny Sansom’s record of the number of caps for a full-back — 86. Mourinho described him as “a great player, but a better man.”
It’s not often that you will hear that around English grounds, or in the X-factor studio. Well done Ash.