No panic as Jose Mourinho fine-tunes his machine for title defence
Chelsea boss happy to allow players to prove worth rather than buy big
The transfer merry-go-round is in full swing, yet Jose Mourinho is not jumping on board.
While Louis van Gaal and his friend from across Manchester, Manuel Pellegrini, are flexing their financial muscles, the man they are trying to catch is fine-tuning a squad which was the strongest and, ultimately, the best in the Premier League last season.
Yes, United have rapidly brought in quality at a cost. City's £49m purchase of Raheem Sterling is a stark indicator of how serious their domestic ambitions remain. Oh, and naturally, Petr Cech, a bedrock in the Portuguese's first two English titles, will become invaluable to Arsenal.
Yet, as Mourinho sits in Chelsea's Montreal base dressed in club blue, glint firmly in eye, there are no pangs of panic. Instead, bullish talk comes of his champions being given the chance to prove themselves even more accomplished this time around. After all, Manchester's mammoth spend is their prerogative. The only new faces at Chelsea have been like-for-like purchases - Radamel Falcao, who will join up with the squad in New York on Tuesday following an extended break after the Copa America, for Didier Drogba, and Amir Begovic for Cech.
Mourinho, like every other manager in world football, is an admirer of the Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba. He is confident of landing Everton's John Stones, who will be the target of a renewed offer this week. Yet Mourinho will not be hamstrung if Stones, Pogba, or anyone else for that matter, does not fancy a move to Stamford Bridge. He is happy with his lot.
"To go for somebody, it's because I lose somebody," he says. "It's because somebody wants to leave and because somebody brings the perfect offer for Chelsea to accept. I think the market is inflated. I only have to look at what is happening in my own country. [Portugal] is a country in trouble generally - socially, politically, economically. It's a country in trouble, people are suffering a lot, there have been a lot of cuts, old people have trouble with their pensions, tax is higher - salaries, jobs, everything.
"This season, Porto pay €20m for Imbula, they give Casillas an amazing salary, Sporting are paying millions for coaches and players. Football breaks every situation. This season we are saying, 'Oh, look at this amount for Sterling'. But it will be worse next season. Next season, someone will pay £60m. Football is like this - one season is financial fair play, the next is a way to dribble [past] the financial fair play. It doesn't upset me. I'm happy with the way that we are doing things, I am happy with the challenge of fighting against this power. I told the players that we are the same team and the others are not the same team. I cannot stop opponents to make an assault to the banks and spend millions and millions. I cannot stop that. I cannot stop [that] the others have a feeling that we are playing against the champions.
"The others are spending. The others are buying a lot to try to be better than us and the fact that we are the same - we are changing a goalkeeper for another one, a striker for another one."
Strengthening from a position of superiority is often the way, though Mourinho believes looking within and moving forward without spending needlessly is a steadfast way of ensuring a dynasty is created at Stamford Bridge. Roman Abramovich, believe it or not, has been relatively frugal in the past - following title victories in 2005 and 2010, tweaks in the squad followed rather than wholesale changes. That caused friction with Mourinho and his successor, Carlo Ancelotti.
This time, however, Mourinho feels it is different. "It's a big challenge. To be better with the same people, the players have to be better individually than they were last year. So when they think, 'Oh last season I did great', this season it is not enough," he added.
"John Terry - great season. This season, it is not enough. Must be better. Fabregas - I don't know how many assists last year. Fantastic. It's not enough. Because the others are going to improve with the players they are bringing and we have to improve by ourselves with our work."
The young France midfielder Pogba remains on every club's wish list, yet his midfield talents would only enhance Mourinho's crop. Wonderful to get someone of his calibre in; not a disaster, however, if nothing materialises.
"Pogba is not to put pressure on people," Mourinho says. "Pogba is one of the top players in the world. Pogba goes to any team and improves that team automatically. If he stays at Juventus, they will be very strong again. If he goes somewhere else, he will improve immediately a team. This is not our case. We are changing Cech for Begovic, we are changing Didier for Falcao and we are changing kids by other kids. I think everybody has an interest in Pogba. But there are things you can do and things you cannot do. I love the Eiffel Tower, but I can't have the Eiffel Tower in my garden. I can't even have the Eiffel Tower of Las Vegas."
What Mourinho should be able to stand back and enjoy will involve Stones wearing Chelsea blue in time for the Premier League opener against Swansea on August 8. Everton face an almighty task to stop the 21-year-old's head from turning. Speaking to the Portuguese, although predictably keen to keep his counsel for now, makes one believe this deal will happen sooner, rather than never. With the 34-year-old Terry entering the final phase of his career, Stones, with four England caps, has been identified as the heir apparent in the Chelsea manager's attempt to create a new spine, in which Thibaut Courtois has already replaced Cech.
A fee that would eclipse the £30m, a record for an English defender, Manchester United paid Leeds for Rio Ferdinand in 2002 is not a problem for Mourinho. "We have three [central defenders] plus Ivanovic, so that is four. We have two who are more than 30 years old. We would like to have two less than 25 years old, which would give us the next 10 years. But as you can imagine it's not something urgent, it is not something we are desperate for it.
"I think 10 years ago or five years ago, every Chelsea supporters would say, 'I can't see Chelsea win a title without Frank Lampard'. And Chelsea won the title without one of the three best players of the last 10 years. No one is irreplaceable. Difficult to replace, yes. To replace one by one is very difficult, very difficult. To replace by good time, a good structure, a good dynamic, good options, it's possible.
"One day when he stops, and I don't think it will be next season, we have created already a situation for John to be replaced. I always think in this direction. I imagine now my perspective is to stay in the club for more time than before.
"I had this thing in my mind to go to different countries and try to win different leagues. I will be here for the next 10 years if the club doesn't sack me."
It is tough to see Falcao still running the channels in 2025, yet for the 29-year-old Colombian, the here and now is vital. A dispiriting spell at Old Trafford that yielded just four goals in 26 appearances was not enough for Van Gaal to extend his stay. Mourinho, however, who shares the same agent - Jorge Mendes - has no fears about Falcao's suitability.
"When a player is injured or has bad consequences of a big injury, there is sometimes nothing you can do. We made ourselves sure that was not the case with Falcao because, if that was the case, he would not be with us," he says.
"He didn't perform [at United] for many reasons. Some players don't perform with me, some players don't perform with Chelsea, they go to other clubs and they perform. This can happen. So we know that Falcao is in good condition related to the surgery he had before he went to Man United.
"We believe that he can perform with us and, to replace a big player like Didier, we wanted to go with another big player with experience, ready, so these three strikers are for us - Falcao, Remy and Diego. We are very happy."
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