Tuesday 24 October 2017

Chelsea's trophy acquisition becomes ultimate misnomer

Dion Fanning

T he story of Chelsea's failure has been portrayed as the failure of Fernando Torres. It is a valid point of view, but there are others who have failed and have been neglected since Torres arrived.

When Nicolas Anelka lost out in a foot-race with a 40-year-old goalkeeper on Tuesday night, it was an indication that he was treating the game at Old Trafford with his noble insouciance.

Anelka is referred to as only an afterthought in all the stories about how Chelsea will have to change in the summer. This seems unfair. He may not rival Ashley Cole for the title of 'Mr Chelsea' but he has brought a clear identity to the club in recent times. Chelsea's problem is not one of identity, however. If anything they have too many identities. How do we know them? Are they a team personified by John Terry, stout as a yeoman, loyal as a hound dog? Or Didier Drogba -- explosive and domineering but brittle?

Anelka brings his own cultural stamp. He was typically languid on Tuesday night, providing the touch of "King's Road swagger" that has been neglected at Chelsea in recent years. As usual, he was answering to a higher calling, unconcerned that he could be robbed so easily by Edwin van der Sar or outthought by Ryan Giggs.

He has made himself part of the furniture at Chelsea. When the newspapers were drawing up their lists of who will be culled this summer, Anelka was on them all. He is out of contract at the end of next season so the club are said to be interested in "moving him on" this year.

I wouldn't like to be the man to suggest to Anelka that you might be moving him on. Certainly it would require a different choice of words. It is entirely in keeping with his personality that he is said to have no interest in being moved on and will, instead, see out his contract at Chelsea before going to play in America where they will respect him. Or ignore him.

Chelsea, unlike Manchester United, are hindered by an excess of personality. Everything at United has been sublimated towards fulfilling Alex Ferguson's desires. Wayne Rooney's personality seeps out but the others now just move inexorably closer to fulfilling their supreme leader's wishes.

Chelsea are more complicated. Ashley Cole embodies all that makes Roman Abramovich's Chelsea so loveable and I expect he will make a fine club ambassador one day, a role he had been fulfilling unofficially long before he signed at Stamford Bridge.

Torres' personality finds little purchase there. At Liverpool, where there is an insistence on believing in the collective, it was easier for the philosophy of the club to be projected onto Torres as long as he just made the right hand gestures every now and then. There was more to it than that but Torres embraced a culture that wanted him to be himself once it was revealed that he has messianic qualities.

Liverpool craved but Chelsea demanded. He was a trophy acquisition and he boarded Abramovich's yacht but it turns out there may be a right time and a wrong time to board a yacht. Chelsea won the double last year but perhaps the injury to Rooney helped them over the line. They won the title by a point and it bought Carlo Ancelotti another season. By Chelsea's standards, he is now a long-serving manager, their version of Dario Gradi, a man who created a dynasty. Nobody can go on forever and Ancelotti will be gone in the summer, lasting much longer than some of us, who felt he'd be lucky to survive one season, had predicted.

Abramovich is said to be ready to become more involved so he may soon be standing on the sideline, clutching an iPad and issuing directions. This may be the only way to get through to Nicolas Anelka.

The stories last week suggested that Chelsea do not feel they have reached the end of their days. The average age of the squad is not as old as some have suggested but the average age is irrelevant when the players making it youthful include Salomon Kalou and John Obi Mikel. Neither of them started at Old Trafford when players like Lampard, Terry and Drogba might have seen their last chance of winning the European Cup pass by.

Torres is living in a world of capriciousness now. It is one he elected to join and he is being judged by the standards he set himself.

Chelsea's standards are both higher and lower than those anywhere else as they are whatever Abramovich wants at any time, but it always includes the European Cup. His interest may be all that fluctuates. Right now, he is said to be engaged as a list of names is presented as possible signings to excite Chelsea fans. Until the purchase of Torres, it had become normal for these names to be thrown around and for nothing to happen as Chelsea, in their own fashion, cut costs just like everybody else.

There is overwhelming evidence that when Abramovich gets involved, things don't end well. He won't see it that way. He will see his involvement in everything good and he will have a point.

Jose Mourinho wouldn't have achieved what he wanted to achieve without Abramovich. When Mourinho arrived, he shaped the Chelsea side, providing his own list of players which wasn't as glittering as the one drawn up to excite Abramovich.

Exciting Abramovich gets harder and harder. Chelsea's exits from Europe become less dramatic every year. There were some feeble attempts to search for injustice in the penalty that wasn't awarded and the sending-off of Ramires but they wouldn't take. Instead Chelsea confront a mundane reality. Abramovich has always wanted more and, once he got involved, he ended up getting less.

Torres is a conundrum for the new man to solve. Or he is the latest conundrum. Guus Hiddink is said to be favourite to be asked to solve it. Hiddink should never go back. His three months in charge are viewed as a golden age, a demonstration in its own way that Chelsea remain torn between low and high expectations.

Torres won't be cut any slack. When you are bought, you are expected to stay bought. He has no identity within the club. It may be his redeeming feature.

dfanning@independent.ie

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