The 4-3-3 system, for long, considered to be The Chelsea Blueprint, has stuck on to The Blues even after the departure of Jose Mourinho. In years, the man who perfected the system at Chelsea moved on and adopted other formations depending upon his team’s strengths, weaknesses, and the opponents, but Chelsea remained there where he had left them, untouched by time.
Stability, here at Stamford Bridge, has an altogether different meaning. For other clubs, it more often than not means to be patient with the manager, while at Chelsea, it’s all about the formation and the same set of players. Managers have come and gone, but Chelsea have maintained its stability. The coaches and tacticians, who have tried to move beyond the system, have had to revert back to the tried-and-tested, sooner or later. Few players at the club are so bound to the formation that their reluctance to try something new, to move out of their comfort zone is there to be seen.
The problem here is not in the system, but in the inability to evolve, to shed inhibition, and to mould thyself on the basis of the threat posed by the competition. The system worked brilliantly for Mourinho, who had Arjen Robben and Joe Cole/Damien Duff playing on the wings and utilising the width on the pitch to full effect. Mourinho left, wingers left, but the system hung on. So much so that, over the years, Chelsea have looked happier playing out-of -position central strikers on the wings, than deploying a different shape.
Few things must happen in the summer, if Chelsea are to build a successful team for the future. After a sane manager and coach are appointed, they should be allowed to mould the team their way. Players should be bought depending on the chosen system, in addition to eliminating the obvious weaknesses in the squad. Players who don’t fit the system or have repeatedly under-performed ought to be sold or released. Last but certainly not the least, youngsters have to be respected.
‘A poisoned chalice is desirable, until you drink from it.’
Ever since the notorious axe fell on its latest victim, a lot of names have surfaced for the role of Chelsea Football Club’s new manager; however, the club doesn’t really have a choice. If one sits down with the list of managers, then most of the names on the list would be struck off for one reason or the other – untested in these waters, inexperienced, bound to a 16-million release clause, loyal to his club, unfinished business at present club, too unpredictable, or just a cruel joke.
Only one man would be left standing, and he is none other than Guus Hiddink. As it stands, he looks the most likely option. In the 109 days, that the Dutchman was at Stamford Bridge in 2009, he had managed to carve out a cult following for himself. However, the Dutchman is 64 years old presently and in an year or two, if not now, he would look to take a role similar to that of a Director of Football. Ergo, it’s imperative for Chelsea to bring in another younger, hungrier man, who can work as a first team coach under Hiddink and if need be, take over from him.
There are a few men who may fit the bill for this role, but may not be ready for the role of an understudy; hence, the search has to be deep and exhaustive. If at all, someone like Gianfranco Zola or Roberto Di Matteo is up for the job, the club does not need to look any further. Such a popular appointment would also help the management bring the fans closer, after the discontent which followed the sacking of first Ray Wilkins, then Carlo Ancelotti.
Hiddink is a very special manager. Not only has he managed six different clubs in three countries and coached the national teams of Holland, South Korea, Australia and Russia but also has deployed a variety of formations over the years. From a highly fluid 3-4-2-1 system with Russia and Holland to a high-tempo 4-3-3 with PSV Eindhoven in 2005; from a peculiar 3-3-3-1 formation with Australia in the 2006 World Cup to a 4-3-3 with Chelsea in 2009 – Hiddink has shown unprecedented flexibility to mould his teams depending on their strengths.
Therefore, it’s very difficult to narrow down on the system the Dutchman would prefer if and when he returns. However, we can look at the basic arsenal needed at the club for a manager to deploy any system, effectively.
Before looking at the reinforcements needed in the squad, here’s a list of players who may have served Chelsea well in the past, but it’s now time for them to bid farewell to the club.
Nicolas Anelka – Nicolas, along with Branislav, was signed by Avram Grant, and what a good piece of business it was on the part of the Israeli. Anelka has served the club well, truly justifying his transfer fees in the last two and a half years. This is the happiest he has been at a club, almost leaving behind his Le Sulk moniker, and has selflessly played out of position to accommodate the likes of Drogba and Torres in the team. However, with Sturridge ready for the big stage, this is an ideal time for the Frenchman to move on.
Florent Malouda – The other Frenchman’s career has blown hot and cold since arriving at the Bridge in 2007. He was poor at the beginning of his career, but peaked under Hiddink and in Ancelotti’s double-winning campaign, only to get lost in the realms of mediocrity and inconsistency in the last season. Often, he has shown lack of desire on the pitch and this is a time for the club to look beyond him for the left flank. If sold now, Chelsea can even expect to make some money from his sale – an opportunity which may not arise in the future.
Jose Bosingwa – The former Porto right-back started his career brilliantly at The Bridge, and was often regarded as Ashley Cole’s mirror image on the right. However, he injured his knee and was out of action for an year. He returned to first team football in October, 2010, but sadly couldn’t match his pre-injury exploits as inconsistent performances became the order of the day. There is an apparent interest from Juventus for a fee around 10-million, and he should be sold.
Henrique Hilario – While there’s nothing to choose between Hilario and Turnbull as far as assurance between the posts is concerned, the latter comes under the home-grown rule. Any injury to Cech, short-term or long-term, is a frightening prospect for the club as either of his two replacements hasn’t inspired any confidence. It’s time for the Portuguese keeper to move on. Considering Cech’s age, it’s highly unlikely that a good goalkeeper would relish at the prospect of starting from the bench for eternity, so Chelsea can promote either Rhys Taylor, Sam Walker or Matej Delac to the first team, preparing one of them for a future role.
The first team lacks a..
Left Winger: With Malouda gone, Yuri would get more opportunities here, but still the first team has no other player capable of utilising the left flank in tandem with Ashley Cole.
Right Winger: Chelsea do not have an out-and-out right winger. The fact that the club has sold Jacopo Sala, the most notable player from the academy who could have played in this position in future, indicates that a player would be signed for the position.
Central Attacking Midfielder: For this position, Chelsea has two players on opposite ends of their careers. Without doubting the talent of either of the Englishmen, an honest admission is that a 23-26 year old creative force is needed in the midfield, who can serve the club during the transition period – from the old guard to the new.
Right-Back: Despite the presence of a certain Serbian, a more consistent but attack-minded young right-back would be a good addition to the squad.
Kevin De Bruyne
In-house Alternative – Chelsea have a left winger of the same age coming through from the academy – Gokhan Tore, the Germany-born Turkish national, who was a key component of the FA Youth Cup winning side of 2010 and the Reserves side which was crowned champions this season. In addition to him, in Patrick Van Aanholt and Ryan Bertrand, the club has two extremely skillful left-backs; the latter was converted to a fullback from a left winger. As they are of the same age and compete for the same position, one of them will leave if neither is asked to play further up the pitch, first in reserves then for the first team.
Position: Left wing, Forward
Style of play/Strengths: Exceptionally good with ball at his feet, prolific goal-scorer, equally good at delivering crosses as well.
In-house Alternative – Milan Lalkovic. The Slovakian, who is of the same age as Neymar, can play on either wing or as a forward. Pace, trickery, and close ball control are his best assets. He is equally comfortable shooting with with either foot.
Position: Right Wing, Forward, Attacking Midfield
Style of Play/Strengths: Primarily a right winger, can play from the middle. He can beat defenders with his sheer pace and trickery.
In-house alternative – There is, however, an available option – Gael Kakuta. The Frenchman is left-footed, good on the ball, likes to drift inwards from the right, and then shoot with his stronger left foot. He is better suited to the right wing or in a withdrawn role in the centre.
Position: Attacking Midfield
Style of Play/Strengths: Graceful, creative, and unbelievably skilful, while playing just behind the forwards.
In-house alternative – Although Chelsea have signed Lucas Piazón, a 17-year old attacking midfielder from Sao Paulo, but he is one for the future and not for today.
Gregory van der Wiel
Playing Position: Right-back
Style of Play/Strengths: An attack-minded right back, noted for his pace, work-rate and crossing ability.
In-House alternative – The club is blessed with a talented right-back in Billy Clifford. However, the 18-year old Englishman may not yet be ready for first-team action.
There’s one more name doing the rounds – that of the New Drogba, Romelu Lukaku. However, ironically for the youngster, he may only be signed once The Real Drogba exits the grand stage.
Now it’s left for the club to decide – whether to open the war-chest and buy all the required reinforcements, or to show some restrain and sign two or three players, while trusting the their own boys for the remaining slots on the first team. One alternative would put the Chelsea careers of our own in jeopardy, while the other would be welcomed by one and all.
Writer’s Notes: I can’t think of a better man than Guus Hiddink to take over the Stamford Bridge job. He knows the owner, the club, the players, and the fans. Let me list down the players who would directly benefit from his appointment – Alex (PSV Eindhoven), Yuri Zhirkov (Russia), Jeffrey Bruma and Patrick Van Aanholt (Nationality), Gokhan Tore (Turkey), in addition to the other first team regulars who thrived under him in 2009.