Striker saga shows Chelsea are lagging behind Manchester clubs

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte looks dejected after defeat to Arsenal. The Italian admits his side lack the purchasing power of the two Manchester giants. (REUTERS)
Updated 26 January 2018
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Striker saga shows Chelsea are lagging behind Manchester clubs

LONDON: Antonio Conte remarked this week for all they would have liked to sign Alexis Sanchez, Chelsea could not pursue him because they knew that if it came to a bidding war over his wages, they could not compete with the Manchester clubs. There is no reason to suppose that was anything but the truth, which represents a remarkable turnaround in the way Chelsea conduct themselves financially. Instead of the Chilean, the Blues found themselves chasing an increasingly unlikely series of English forward.
The link with Andy Carroll at least made some kind of sense. Conte has been consistent in his desire to bring a target man to Chelsea. He had tried to land Fernando Llorente before Tottenham signed him from Swansea and there were attempts to resurrect that deal for this window.
When that fell through, Carroll was a reasonable alternative. When fit he does still represent an extraordinary force. He demolished Liverpool almost single-handedly last season. To say that he is good in the air does not do justice to his awesome power. He is not just capable of launching ferocious headers goalwards, but of acting as a battering ram to get into position first. And he is rather better on the ground than he is often given credit for as well.
Given the trend toward ball-playing center-backs, defenders whose skill is their positioning rather than the more traditional attributes of winning aerial duels and tackles, Carroll could have provided a fascinating means of attacking their weakness. But the deal fell through because he will be out for a month with an ankle injury — which is the story of Carroll’s career, every moment of promise ruined by a body that lets him down again and again.
And that was when things got strange, as though once Chelsea had started to think about a classic English nine, they became fixated on the idea. If not Carroll, then Peter Crouch. If not Peter Crouch then Ashley Barnes. Only his arrest on suspicion of tax fraud, presumably, prevented Glenn Murray being added to the list. In the end, somebody finally remembered the big center-forward with Premier League experience who had played so well against Chelsea earlier this season and the conversation turned to Roma’s Edin Dzeko.
It is understood that only a disagreement over the length of the deal being offered is holding up the signing.
As the saga has played out over the past week, the temptation has been to blink and wonder what on earth was going on, but Chelsea’s search for a forward has been indicative of three inter-related issues at the club. It really comes down to the problem of replacing Diego Costa, who managed to be both poacher and brawler, somebody who could physically dominate an opponent but was also a superb finisher.
His ostensible replacement, Alvaro Morata, has flickered but seems to have struggled with the pressure of being the first-choice forward for the first time in his career. He has never quite offered the physical threat Diego Costa did and his three wasted one-on-ones in the league game against Arsenal suggested a player whose confidence has ebbed.
With Conte not fancying Michy Batshuayi — a slightly odd aversion given how effective the Belgian has been at times — that required a new signing.
Chelsea are short of home-grown players (in part because they loan so many youth players out) and so could do with somebody who ticks that box. They have also embarked on a policy of retrenchment that means their funding is relatively limited. They can just about afford the signing of a 31-year-old Bosnian — although not on a long contract — but are not competing for big-name players in their prime.
Conte may or may not see Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang fitting into his side, but it is revealing that with the forward desperate to leave Borussia Dortmund and the club looking to sell, Chelsea have not even been part of the conversation, his £50 million-plus ($70 million) price tag too much for them.
What that means in the longer term is debatable. It is hard to
understand why there has been such a change of policy and, while it is hard to imagine Chelsea slowly fading away, at the moment their transfer policy seems both to frustrate managers and to place them a level behind the Manchester clubs.


Benevolence, not bluster: How ‘Brand Salah’ bucks the trend

Updated 24 May 2018
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Benevolence, not bluster: How ‘Brand Salah’ bucks the trend

  • Mohamed Salah lines up for Liverpool in the Champions League final against Real Madrid on Saturday
  • Mohamed Salah has been unveiled as DHL’s new brand ambassador for the MENA region

LONDON: On Saturday Mohamed Salah will line up for Liverpool in the Champions League final against Real Madrid.
He will do so not only with the every member of the Red army behind him, but also the entire Arab world.
That is testament to his stratospheric rise — over the past nine months the Egyptian ace has gone from being a very good player, but one deemed as needing to justify his $52 million transfer fee, to a global superstar and cultural phenomenon.
As with any sporting star, with the adulation and attention comes potential pitfalls and, invariably, a new lexicon. So it was not surprising to hear the 25-year-old speak of “his brand” when he was unveiled as DHL’s new brand ambassador for the MENA region on Wednesday. Stars becoming brands is almost cliche now and one that Salah has clearly taken on board — he now has even his own logo.
“We are proud of him. Over the past two years, no has done what he has done. He has proved himself as one of the best and we wanted to deal with no one else, just him,” CEO of DHL in the Middle East and North Africa, Nour Suliman, said. “He is competing on another level and is the star of the Arab world. No one in the Arab world has done what he is doing. We are very proud to have him.”
Those types of corporate events, where a big multinational signs a deal with the latest big, young thing, lend themselves to the odd dollop of hyperbole. But there is little doubting the impact Salah has had on the pitch for Liverpool and Egypt, and off it in becoming a true Arab icon. And his utterance of the word “brand” is where Salah as a walking cliche begins and ends.
Every year in Egypt ahead of Ramadan the best dates are named after the most popular person in the country — the man or woman revered by the nation at that moment. In the past, the staple food of the holy month has tended to be named after political leaders.
This year there was no competition: The most succulent date has been named after Salah. At the DHL press conference he was presented with a packet of dates emblazoned with his face and name.
It said much about the man that he both looked and confessed to being “embarrassed.”
This week the British Museum in London displayed Salah’s green football boots as part of its Modern Egypt exhibition. And in a documentary about the player broadcast in the UK, he was credited with increasing attendances at England’s oldest mosque in Liverpool and improving the image of Islam by Dr. Abdul Hamid, a trustee at the mosque.
So while the signing of big deals hints he is very much the modern-day footballing superstar, everything else off the pitch suggests something else.
Salah is on social media, but does not, like many sports stars, live on it; he knows he is a hero for many, but pays more than mere lip service to his position as a role model; and he embraces attention (of both opposition defenders and fans) rather than seemingly getting annoyed by it if things are not going his way.
“I am not heavy into social media, I am on it and aware of it, but I don’t follow it that closely. It does not influence me,” he said.
“I am aware young people look up to me and I feel great that they do and that I can influence a young footballer to play better or train harder, or do better; that that makes me proud.”
This season Salah has done what few footballers have done before, transcend the game, and he has done so in a way characterized by benevolence rather than bluster.
Against Real Madrid he can again illustrate just what a talent he is — and if he does lead Liverpool to their sixth European Cup triumph, you get the feeling he will not let the adulation go to his head.