Transfer window Ancelotti's last chance to turn the Blues' ship around
THE news that Chelsea's owner Roman Abramovich has agreed to fund another wave of spending at Stamford Bridge is, on the face of, it an encouraging move for manager, Carlo Ancelotti, who is currently overseeing the club's worst run of form for over a decade.
It is the first real show of faith in the trouble-worn manager since Chelsea's season came off the rails last month with Abramovich's sacking of Ancelotti's right-hand man, Ray Wilkins.
Yet on closer examination the news may not be quite as good as it seems.
Chelsea's record in the transfer market for the past three years has been little short of woeful. The slump of the past month has served to highlight a serious lack of depth with in the squad. The loss of Michael Ballack, Joe Cole and Ricardo Carvalho last summer has left them short of quality in key areas, but the malaise goes back far further than that.
In fact, it is three years since Chelsea bought a player worth his transfer fee. In the January window of 2008 the then manager Avram Grant welcomed Nicolas Anelka for £15m from Bolton Wanderers and Branislav Ivanovic for £9m from Lokomotiv Moscow, both of whom have become established as key figures at the club.
However, since those deals Chelsea's transfer activity has been marked by one failure after another, their £18m signing Ramires being the latest in a long line of disappointing new recruits.
Abramovich has been given a glimpse of a possible future recently, of a Chelsea without their John Terry and Frank Lampard and it has not been pretty.
His response, by all accounts, has been to authorise further spending next month. However, Abramovich will only be wasting his money if he continues with the kind of purchases that have characterised Chelsea's transfer activity for the past three years.
Since the January window of 2008, Chelsea have spent £69.2m and got in eight players -- two on free transfers -- but not one of them has developed to become a mainstay of the team.
The biggest transfer fees have gone on Jose Bosingwa (£16.2m), Yuri Zhirkov (£18m) and Ramires, but none of that trio has been good value for money.
Chelsea's transfer policy is complicated, with input from a host of sources including advisers such as the Dutchman Piet de Visser, agents such as Pini Zahavi and scouts/coaches such as Michael Emenalo, as well as Ancelotti. The result has been an unmitigated failure.
Last summer was a prime example. They were given the chance to buy Rafael van der Vaart for £8m, but turned it down to let Tottenham move in to snap up a player who has since lit up the league.
Javier Hernandez has scored seven times for Manchester United since joining for £7m in the summer, but the 22-year-old Mexican was reportedly not even on Chelsea's radar.
It is vital that if Chelsea are to enter the transfer market next month, they make the right buys this time. With Alex on the sidelines and Ancelotti having deemed 19-year-old Jeffrey Bruma not yet ready to step in, a centre-half is the main priority.
If they are to follow the trend of their previous transfers, then expect to see an expensive foreign player imported from Europe, someone like the Brazilian David Luiz from Benfica or Thiago Silva from Milan, both of whom are likely to command a fee of £20m plus.
However, a more pragmatic option would be someone like Gary Cahill at Bolton, Phil Jones of Blackburn Rovers or Phil Jagielka of Everton, players who are used to the particular demands of the Premier League. They will not be cheap, though, with Cahill's buy-out clause now said to have risen to £17.5m.
Signing established Premier League players has in the past produced some of Chelsea's best buys, such as Lampard from West Ham United in 2001, Damien Duff from Blackburn in 2004, Ashley Cole from Arsenal in 2006, and Anelka from Bolton in 2008.
However, it is not a policy they have generally followed in recent years, apart from Yossi Benayoun's switch from Liverpool.
The key question will be how great a say Ancelotti has on the process. Sources close to the club last summer said he wanted to make a move for the German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, but was over-ruled by Abramovich, who instead sanctioned the deal to buy Ramires, on the recommendation of the then chief opposition scout Emenalo.
The Nigerian, who has since been promoted to replace Wilkins as one of Ancelotti's assistants, was also behind the failed bid to sign the brilliant Brazilian teenager Neymar from Santos.
If Abramovich truly backs Ancelotti in the upcoming transfer window, by giving him money to buy players he wants, Chelsea are likely to be far stronger in the second half of the season. However, if the owner sticks to the chaotic transfer policy of recent seasons, the champions are unlikely to be substantially better off come the start of February. (© Independent News Service)