Disclaimer: The entirety of this article is fiction, hyperbole and guesswork. Although predictions on signings and managerial decisions are based on educated decisions and information found in the media, you are welcome to agree or disagree with as much of it as possible.
In our next hypothetical, we’re diving back to probably one of the lowest points in recent Chelsea history. Losing in 2008 against Manchester United hurt. It was especially crushing considering we’d lost the league to them by just two points, and lost the League Cup to our bitter London rivals Tottenham. But what if we could wind back the clock and look for a different outcome?
Several minutes past midnight, local time in Moscow. The Champions League final has gone to extra time, Cristiano Ronaldo’s opener cancelled out by Frank Lampard on the stroke of half time. United dominated the first half, Chelsea the second. Drogba hit the post in added time but was then sent off in extra time for an altercation with Serbian powerhouse Nemanja Vidic.
Chelsea lead Manchester United in the penalty shootout in the Luzhniki Stadium after Petr Cech has saved from Ronaldo. Didier Drogba was due to take the 5th penalty but after his red card, it’s expected that captain John Terry will step up for the final crucial spot-kick.
However, at the last moment, Ghanaian powerhouse Michael Essien steps forward instead. The Bison blasts the penalty in emphatic fashion past a stunned Edwin Van Der Sar.
For the first time in club history, Chelsea FC have been crowned Champions of Europe.
Roman Abramovich has completed his set of trophies within 5 years of purchasing the London club. A season which started in such chaos under Jose Mourinho has ended with Chelsea claiming a stunning domestic treble.
The Man No One Wanted
It wasn’t easy. Avram Grant’s staunch team selection worked on the Mourinho principle of being tough to beat. He had, however, claimed Premier League Manager of the Month for April, as Chelsea tried to complete the arduous task of chasing down a seemingly unstoppable Manchester United spearheaded by Sir Alex Ferguson and driven forward by the attacking triumvirate of Ronaldo, Tevez and Rooney.
With minutes to go on the final day, Michael Ballack powered home a winner against Bolton at Stamford Bridge. Meanwhile, Wigan shocked Manchester United to claim a shock draw on the final day, as Antonio Valencia’s piledriver following a Jason Koumas corner deep into added time. The title returned to London after a single season away.
Chelsea had also claimed the League Cup against London rivals Tottenham Hotspur, as Nicholas Anelka scored twice in extra time to cancel out Jonathon Woodgate’s goal at Wembley.
Against all odds, Avram Grant, appointed due to his personal links to Abramovich as Director of Football in July 2007 and then catapulted into the managerial hot-seat just 2 months later was now a contender for most successful Chelsea manager of all time. A manager who hadn’t even received the UEFA B and A coaching licenses expected for a top team.
A manager who had been protested by his own fans who chanted for the return of The Special One and shamefully scorned by a select idiotic minority with anti-Semitic sentiments. Described by his players as 25 years behind the times, he had defied the critics and delivered the greatest prize in English football.
Undoubtedly, questions would be levied, and snipes would be made – Grant was living in the shadow of Mourinho. This was Mourinho’s squad and ethics, one final flourish and salute to ensure that The Blues would be unable to forget The Special One.
However, despite the scorn and humiliation, he’d experienced, Avram Grant had permanently marked himself into football history. Whether he was picking the team sheets or not was irrelevant, he stood only alongside Sir Alex Ferguson as managers to achieve a treble in Premier League era.
Days after the Moscow Triumph, it was announced that Grant would receive an extension to his 4-year contract at Chelsea, with Henk Ten Cate receiving a similar extension. Both included generous pay rises to reflect their new lofty status as the only Champions League winning managerial team in London. In the furore and chaos, Steve Clarke left the club to pursue his coaching career elsewhere.
With no additional Director of Football hired by Roman Abramovich, it was a sign that for once, he was prepared to give a manager (albeit one he was extremely close to) carte blanche when it came to transfers and team management.
Alternatively, it just showed that Abramovich himself wanted to take more active role and intended to use the Israeli Grant as a figurehead for the club, whilst he managed everything himself.
Chelsea’s victory against Manchester United leads to long celebrations throughout the night in the capital of Russia, but soon enough, business must return. Didier Drogba has already kicked up a fuss about leaving the club earlier in the season, disappointed at the way Mourinho has been hounded out and frustrated that fans and media alike are criticising him frequent for his simulation habits.
The red card against Vidic becomes a final indelible image for fans to remember the Ivorian by. He makes it clear that he wants out and has only place that he wants to go. Inter Milan have just announced the hiring of The Special One as they look to win the Scudetto and also mount their own challenge to win Europe’s biggest prize.
Abramovich knows how valuable his prize Ivorian asset is, but equally, he’s keen on Andriy Shevchenko coming good. At the same time, he has his eyes on a new option – flair and samba in the form of Brazilian star Robinho, who has been hit and miss at the Santiago Bernabeu.
On the 1st June, Chelsea announce that they have agreed a fee to sign the Selecao star on a 5 year deal, for £48 million. A world record transfer fee at the time, it stuns the world and confirms that Abramovich is determined to continue investing in Chelsea to ensure they retain their status as one of the world’s new elite footballing superpowers.
With the money Chelsea coughed up for Robinho, Real Madrid once again flexed their financial muscle and Galacticos policy, and plucked Ronaldo away from rainy Manchester – he couldn’t face the prospect of returning, out of fear that the partisan fanbase would blame him for losing the final. The merry-go-round continues as Manchester United replace Ronaldo with another Sporting Lisbon star – Luis Nani, who rejects a move to London to go to the beaten finalists.
Just a day later, Jose Mourinho is unveiled at the Giuseppe Meazza and announces his intention for several major signings to help Inter reclaim their status as top dog in Italian football. His intention was clear – he would acquire two of his stars from his spell at Chelsea to spearhead the title charge.
With Drogba already making it clear that he wanted to leave London and Jose well aware of this, Inter lowballed Chelsea with derisory bids, until eventually Drogba handed in a formal transfer request. He would leave Chelsea on 15th June for Milan, signing a 4-year deal for around £26 million. The Ivorian’s transfer request meant Chelsea wanted rid quickly, as they feared it might unsettle the squad just weeks after their greatest triumph.
It became clear very quickly that none of Chelsea’s back five would be following their old Portuguese manager. With rumours swilling around about the future of John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho, the latter signed a new contract extension, whilst the former released an open letter reaffirming his commitment to Chelsea. The club still rejected several bids for the club captain, before he also signed an extension.
However, Frank Lampard, Chelsea’s midfield goalscoring supreme would be the other big departure in a summer of change. Frank and Chelsea had been at an impasse for several months leading up to the Champions League Final – the former wanted a 5-year-deal whilst Chelsea would only guarantee the 30-year-old English superstar a 4-year-deal. The prospect of Lampard leaving on a Bosman to another English club was a genuine threat and he’d now accomplished everything he could do at Chelsea – winning the Premier League, League Cup, FA Cup, Community Shield and Champions League. Perhaps it was time for a new challenge?
Again Inter Milan came swooping in. Two bids were rejected and president Massimo Moratti admitted patience would be needed to strike any deal. Although Lampard departed in July with the Chelsea squad for the pre-season tour in July, his replacement had already been signed in the form of Portuguese playmaker Deco, picked up from Barcelona. The writing was on the wall.
With Chelsea declaring interest in Ricardo Quaresma, keen to see if the Portuguese international could replicate the form of Cristiano Ronaldo in England, a rarity was agreed. Chelsea get a free run at Quaresma, an Inter target and in exchange, Chelsea allow Inter to negotiate with Lampard. Chelsea get a pacey, skilful winger, Mourinho get his midfield lieutenant back. Quaresma becomes the third Portuguese international signed under Grant, after Bosingwa and Deco, signed for £25 million. Lampard goes to Italy for just £17 million.
The Steal of the Window
Other names are banded around, such as Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik, the young stars of an exciting Napoli side that are starting to make noise in Serie A.
However, the club are keen to take advantage of another contract situation. With Hernan Crespo going to join Jose on a free transfer, Shaun Wright-Phillips departing to the new Arabian megabucks at Manchester City and Claudio Pizarro leaving on loan, plus concerns about whether Shevchenko will actually ever come good, Chelsea need a proven Premier League goalscorer.
Michael Owen’s future is up in the air, having failing to agree a new deal on Tyneside and Chelsea snap him up for the paltry fee of £5 million. This is considered by many to be the steal of the window.
The New Dawn?
With Avram Grant now at the helm, Chelsea’s squad looks significantly different. A number of youngsters including Scott Sinclair, Michael Mancienne and Jack Cork are promoted to the full senior squad. The Israeli has a reputation for giving younger players a chance and they will hope to get a chance as Chelsea try and defend their three trophies.
On the opening day of the new season, Chelsea retain a 4-3-3 formation, but there are some notable differences as Grant tries to shun off the Mourinho shackles to play expansively.
With this new team, Abramovich is expecting a more attractive brand of football. Cole and Belletti will be expected to bomb forward into the space, whilst Essien will be less of a box-to-box midfielder and will play as the defensive sentinel in front of the back four – occupying the ‘Makalele role’. Ballack will be expected to help out defensively and help to start counter-attacks, as well as control possession along with Deco, who will have a free role and play slightly forward – the early shoots of a No. 10.
Of course, he’ll be expected to link up with Portuguese international Quaresma who is first choice on the right-wing. Quaresma won’t be required to track back, like Robinho on the other wing. Instead, they’ll occupy space in and around the opposition box and drive into the box, using the space that Shevchenko will vacate when he drops back. He’s not expected to be the only goal threat in this team, to hopefully relieve some of the pressure on him.
Chelsea start the season well, winning the first ten games in style and with poise. However, teams begin to work out how to isolate Quaresma, who gets stroppy and Robinho struggles with the English winter. Shevchenko stops scoring, Anelka and Malouda are unhappy with a bench roles and cause havoc behind the scenes and Owen unsurprisingly gets injured again. Through the winter, Chelsea limp and threaten to drop out of the top four. Manchester United run away with the title, as Sir Alex Ferguson comes roaring back following the previous year’s disappointments.
With Chelsea losing a crucial match in February against Liverpool, as Fernando Torres scores a brace, Abramovich wields the axe. The team is not delivering the exciting, attacking football that was expected with the expenditure in the summer window.
Most jarringly, Mourinho is succeeding expectations in Italy, with Drogba and Lampard spearheading I Nerazzuri to the top of the table.
Abramovich doesn’t do sentiment and his friend is not saved despite his status as treble winner and Champions League winner. Chelsea need a solution to arrest their flagging form, and a few days later, Guus Hiddink is named Interim Manager for the rest of the season.
Some things never change…