Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Schurrle You Jest: A Note On Summer Transfers, the Bundesliga and Pep

Chelsea have played an astronomical number of games this summer, and the holes in our squad that existed back in August have become even wider than they were at the beginning of the year.  The largest hole, as always, is the seemingly bottomless void on the touchline - a manager capable of filling the shoes left by Jose Mourinho so many years ago - while on the field, the gap in central midfield has become a chasm, and the less that is said about our striker situation, the better.  So what does this have to do with the Germans?!?

Think back, almost one year ago - to a time of confusion and chaos, when Chelsea were poised to advance to the Champions League final for the second time in their history at the expense of Barcelona. From that moment, our club has been inexorably tied to the Bundesliga. On a warm April evening in Spain, Chelsea Football Club broke Barcelona. A Ramires chip followed by an astounding goal by Fernando Torres (not to mention a hilarious penalty miss by Lionel Messi) canceled out Barca's openers, continuing our march to the final and prompting Pep Guardiola's resignation only a month later.  Roman Abromovich's lust for Pep is well documented, so there was no small numbers of articles linking us to the Spaniard to the seemingly vacant position at Chelsea. Fastforward to May 19th, the Allianz Arena, Munich. After 120 minutes of football (plus penalties), Chelsea prevails over Bayern Munich, lifting the big-eared trophy for the first time in club history.  Manager Jupp Heyneckes soon announces his retirement, to come at the end of the following season.  A Bayern team - only a month removed from the salivating prospect of completing a treble - finishes the season empty-handed.  A bountiful harvest in the summer transfer window gave way to unbridled optimism for the upcoming season.

April 22, 2013. Manchester United secure title number twenty, Luis Suarez, though charged with violent conduct for a vicious bite on Branislav Ivanovic, is still fresh from stealing two points from Chelsea, and Pep Guardiola, preparing to manage Bayern Munich since November, appears to be the reason why Bayern have activated Mario Goetze's release clause on the eve of their total annihilation of Barcelona.  Perhaps most distressingly, Chelsea have crashed out of a depression-inducing SEVEN competitions - for the most part, while represented by eternal-Red Rafa Benitez and the shambling corpse of Fernando Torres.  The Champions of Europe have become the Chumps of England, and, should we miss out the top four, our season would elevate from a failure to disaster.  Our fans, bruised, battered and accused of yet another act of racial abuse (against the questionably loyal Yossi Benayoun) look forward to the summer like no other year before.

For four German (or German-based players), the summer window will define their careers. For Andre Schurrle, a long-mooted move to Chelsea seems to be apparent - I must confess, I was certain the "big news" coming out of Germany would concern his transfer.  For Mario Goetze, a chance to play for Pep is on the horizon - and, for another Mario, his transfer from Bayern seems even more certain.  Pep seems to resent out-and-out centre forwards (the cautionary tales of Samuel Eto'o and Zlatan Ibrahimovic ring especially true), and for Gomez, a brilliant natural finisher, an exit to Juventus or Chelsea - long-rumoured admirers - is inevitable. Perhaps the most interesting case is that of Robert Lewandowski, who is poised to become the greatest Bosman transfer of all time - likely to either Bayern (his favourite team) or Manchester United.

What we are seeing are a host of forces animated during Chelsea's run to the Champions League affecting each other.  In Germany, Bayern Munich  has reasserted their dominance in a ferocious way and are essentially a lock for a domestic double (and, perhaps, a treble).  Even more worrying, they seem to be able to attract some of the best players in Europe - no doubt in part to the allure of Pep.  In England, Manchester United, on the back of losing their dominance as a force in England and Europe last year, have cantered to the title, snapping up Robin van Persie for a fraction of his true value, and are strong favourites to add a menagerie of ferociously good players, including Kevin Strootman, Lewandowski and even Radamel Falcao. Chelsea, on the back of a season of failure, are doubtless going to be a much less favourable destination than the two champions.  It would appear, then, that our ability to attract world-class talent (manager and players) is hamstrung.

It's here that the transfer of Andre Schurrle becomes interesting for three reasons - prestige, money and use.  Chelsea play in London, the brightest city in Europe, and undoubtedly a favourable destination for many players.  Even more important is Roman Abromavich's billions - while, in the light of financial fair play, getting money from competitions is crucial, when worse comes to worst, we have a golden parachute we can use where very few other clubs can relate; of course, the money we get from winning massive competitions (looking at you, Champions League) also sets us apart as an elite club. Perhaps most important is use.  If he had chosen to come to Chelsea, Mario Goetze, while a phenomenal footballer, would be competing against Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Oscar and (one day) Kevin de Bruyne - simply put, he would be an unnecessary luxury. Schurrle is a player who could start in any of four positions, including striker - and fills a need, allowing for rotation and off-setting the rawer talents of Moses and Marin (perhaps making the latter irrelevant). On the other hand, Gomez and Lewandowski, as great as they both are (and upgrades to the current twosome), would also be luxuries - with a projected strikeforce of Romelu Lukaku, Demba Ba and Fernando Torres, the competition would be ridiculous.  The futures of Torres and Lukaku are still very much in doubt though - Lukaku may be loaned out once again, while Torres may be used in a long-mooted move for Falcao.  With news of a Chelsea bid for Gomez filtering in this morning, he may yet become a Blue - but this rumour has not gained the traction of the Schurrle rumour, so I'll wait for another day to discuss it.

So what have we learned? The balance of power in Europe has shifted - Munich and Manchester once again reign supreme in the west. But does this mean Chelsea is out, never to get a favourable transfer ever again? Of course not. Chelsea and their billions will get the players we need - either by recalling loanees or by spending. The hole in midfield has to be addressed, but, with last year's major holes plugged, there is no way that the club could NOT get away with it.  The big blue machine will roll on, as always.

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