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  1. Past hour
  2. Chelsea's Transfer Targets

    I would rather have Chilwell for 40m than Tagliafico for 22m considering everything. But Alaba would be my dream LB.
  3. General Transfer Talk

    That Pep Barca team is my first association when we speak about lightweight and short teams. Valdes 183cm, Mascherano as CB 174cm. Puyol also just 178cm. Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Villa, Alves, Pedro, Adriano all so small.
  4. 7. N'Golo Kante

    Or to keep his salary
  5. Aston Villa v Chelsea

    Just thought as timing has it we have City in the second week I think. If Liverpool win at Everton and City win both their games. We would hand Liverpool the title if the game is on before Liverpool play and we beat City.
  6. 7. N'Golo Kante

  7. Today
  8. Roman Abramovich

    lol, I have some CUNT yank spuds fan who is trying to be me banned from a US Democratic political chatboard that I have been on for close to 10 years simply because I am a Chels fan (the Roman/Putin angle) The fucker keeps alerting on me, calling me a crypto-Trump voter!!! <<<<<< LOLOLOLOLOL He went fucking mental when I posted this (after he had started attacking me in post after post)
  9. Aston Villa v Chelsea

    Official confirmation out now... https://www.premierleague.com/news/1674011
  10. General Transfer Talk

    I would agree normally but look at the rest of the squad. It is really small and lightweight. That is the reason why so many mid table teams have been able to roll us over as they just bully us. We are quickly becoming like Wenger's Le Arse in the second half of his time there. If we go out and start buying players like SMS, Oblak, Mahgalhaes, Harvetz etc, then sure small technical FB's aren't a problem. However when your GK is 6'1 with weak t-rex arms, your three main CM's are 5'9 (Jorgi), 5'8 (Kova) and 5'5 (Kante) and all lightweight and your CB's are 6'0/slight (Tomori) 6'2/ Slight (AC), 6'1"/average (Rudi) and 6'3/stocky (Zouma), you have a problem.
  11. La Liga Thread

    Real’s squad depth gives them an edge over Barca in the title race https://theathletic.com/1833321/2020/05/28/messi-real-madrid-barcelona-lionel-nacho-vasquiez-diaz/ Having Nacho Fernandez, Lucas Vazquez and even Mariano Diaz to call on makes Real Madrid favourites to win La Liga this season if the 2019-20 title is decided on the pitch. Utility defender Nacho has played just 393 minutes in the Primera Division so far this season, putting him 19th on the list of Madrid’s most-used players. Hard-working wideman Lucas sits 17th with 640 minutes, with coach Zinedine Zidane having generally preferred to use other options in his squad. Twenty-fifth on the list is centre-forward Mariano Diaz, whose 22 minutes in La Liga so far included coming off the bench to score the clincher in the 2-0 win over Barcelona in the last game played at the Bernabeu pre-lockdown. However, the very changed circumstances when La Liga returns for the last 11 gameweeks — most likely in mid-June — mean that Nacho, Lucas and quite possibly Mariano too will get a lot more time on the pitch and opportunity to make a vital contribution to the title race. That is because Madrid’s strength in depth contrasts with title rivals Barcelona, who may have a two-point advantage in the current Primera Division standings but are returning to action with a squad of just 19 fit senior first-team players. Barca’s thin resources are not due to any kind of injury crisis, although the loss of centre-back Samuel Umtiti to another muscle problem is a serious blow. Ousmane Dembele will not be available due to his serious hamstring problem but that absence is covered by February’s emergency signing Martin Braithwaite. Barca coach Quique Setien has so few options to work with because four younger and lesser-used squad players were taken off the wage bill during the winter window due to the club’s perilous financial situation. None of Jean-Clair Todibo, Moussa Wague, Carles Alena and Carles Perez had made a huge contribution over the first half of the season but they were extra bodies, who might have come in very useful now. La Liga president Javier Tebas is pushing ahead with his plan to bring Spain’s top two divisions back on Thursday, June 11, with Real Betis against Sevilla likely to be the first game played post lockdown. From the following weekend, there will be at least a couple of La Liga games every day, with teams playing every 72 or 96 hours. The aim is to run everything off as quickly as physically possible, and finish the 2019-20 season by the end of July. This means that coaches who can rotate their squads and play quite different starting line-ups in each game will have a huge advantage. Madrid and Barca fans, as well as pundits, could argue the toss over which of them currently have the most impressive starting XI. But Zidane has much greater depth to call on, with experienced cover for every position. The new five substitutes rule, if used intelligently, should also give Los Blancos a big advantage late in games. Even allowing for Luka Jovic’s broken foot during lockdown, Zidane has plenty of options across attack, midfield and defence once Madrid return at home to Eibar. The break has allowed injured attackers Eden Hazard and Marco Asensio to get back fully fit. Previously out-of-favour James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale, and expensive Brazilian teenagers Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo, are also in contention for starting places. Zidane regularly repeats at press conferences that he is “counting on everyone”, even in normal times. That should really be the case through this abnormal accelerated season-end. Although the extended break has allowed Luis Suarez to get close to recovery from a knee operation undergone in January, Setien has far fewer alternatives to call on. The Barca coach will have to use all of his available senior pros in his team’s first game back — a potentially tricky trip to relegation-threatened Mallorca, where Madrid lost 1-0 in October. Given Umtiti’s injury and Clement Lenglet’s suspension, 20-year-old Barca B defender Ronald Araujo will partner Gerard Pique in the centre of the defence. Some Barca B kids will also be needed to fill the bench. The sped-up schedule, which could see all teams play 11 games in around 50 days is also likely to punish older players, especially those who need to manage their minutes due to their injury record. Bale is an obvious one here, while Hazard and Asensio may be eased carefully back to competitive action. But generally, Barca have more to worry about in this, too. Seven of their 17 outfield squad members are now into their 30s (Suarez, Pique, Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, Jordi Alba and Arturo Vidal). Most had been carrying various wear and tear issues through the season, including Messi, who played while hampered by a left thigh muscle injury in February. Some new injuries seem inevitable for all teams over the coming weeks, as has already been seen in the Bundesliga. Madrid’s deeper squad has many more like-for-like replacements, while Barca are very reliant on their “gala XI” staying fit. The tricky financial situation at the Nou Camp also means that a large proportion of Barca’s players have returned to training with big doubts over their long-term futures. With the club needing to bring in money through player sales, whenever the next transfer window opens, all of Rakitic, Vidal, Nelson Semedo, Arthur Melo and Junior Firpo have been the subject of local media headlines claiming their club is desperate to offload them, which may not have been great for morale. Meanwhile, things have been relatively serene as Madrid returned to work over the last few weeks. The extra numbers meant they had to juggle things to fit the eight-man work groups mandated by La Liga’s protocols during the first week back, with Zidane himself helping make up the numbers in some of the exercises. Budgetary restraints caused by the coronavirus crisis may mean that Nacho and Lucas are nudged towards the Bernabeu exit ahead of 2020-21 but for the moment, both long-term club servants look incredibly useful to have around. Mariano has been injured, again, but has stepped up his comeback in recent days. Setien has this week been working with two distinct groups: one of 11 players and of 12. Youngsters Araujo, Riqui Puig and Alex Collado have just 41 La Liga minutes between them collectively this season but are all now full-time with the seniors. Barca B captain Monchu has also been training with Messi and Co these weeks. The accelerated run of games will provide welcome opportunities for La Masia’s latest emerging talents to gain top-flight experience but with the added pressure of being thrust straight into a title race in such unusual circumstances. Barca’s trump card may well be Messi, who, before the break, was head and shoulders above everyone in La Liga. The Argentine has also had a big personal role in Barca lifting 10 out of a possible 15 La Liga trophies awarded during his time in the blaugrana first team. However, the very changed circumstances and relative depth of the two challenging squads means that Madrid’s lesser-sung Nacho, Lucas and Mariano could be just as important in deciding this particular title race.
  12. The English Football Thread

    Is Harry Kane really in decline? https://theathletic.com/1839470/2020/05/28/harry-kane-tottenham-jose-mourinho-england/ Such was Harry Kane’s meteoric rise for the five years after his Tottenham breakthrough, there was always a lingering fear that, at some point, he might have to slow down. For some, that point has been reached already. The injuries, the slightly diminishing goal return and the apparent loss of a yard of pace have all been used as evidence to suggest Kane, still only 26, is not quite the force he once was. Jamie Carragher wrote in The Telegraph in April that Kane’s “physical statistics are dropping” and pointed to his recent injury record as cause for concern. In analytics circles, Kane’s dwindling shot output and reduced expected goals (xG) have been used as evidence of his decline. So, with the Premier League edging towards a restart and Jose Mourinho confirming on Wednesday that Kane has shaken off his hamstring injury, it’s worth taking a deeper look at the numbers and context to assess Kane’s role, output and future at Spurs. The data shows him playing in a more withdrawn position this season, for instance, and is one of many elements to consider. On the face of it, Kane’s reduced goalscoring numbers this season suggest that he is on the decline. Eleven Premier League goals is his lowest total since he became a regular for the club in 2014-15. That can, in large, be put down to the hamstring injury he suffered in January and the fact that there are nine matches of the season remaining. But even when we adjust the numbers to per 90 minutes played, this is still Kane’s worst campaign for Spurs when it comes to scoring non-penalty goals — contributing 0.46 per 90. It’s also the case, however, that Kane and Spurs’ recent histories are tightly intertwined, and so it’s hard to know which way the causality runs: are Spurs worse because Kane’s dropped off or has Kane dropped off because Tottenham aren’t as good as they once were? Certainly, the tumult of this season and the transitional nature of the current team are not the ideal platform for a striker to prosper — though he has still managed to score 17 goals in 25 club appearances, so it’s important to keep any supposed “decline” in perspective. There’s always a degree to which we take such consistency for granted and pounce on any slight deviation. To get a sense of how Kane’s output has changed over time, a look at his non-penalty goal and xG numbers in the last six years is revealing. A glance at the image below shows an obvious trend — he finds his rhythm and goes on a scoring tear in 2016-17 but the goals come down year-on-year after that, with a pretty precipitous drop after 2017-18. While his best season for getting into good goalscoring positions was 2017-18, we see what many already know — Kane’s an elite finisher and consistently “beats” xG. Whether that is something that is sustainable in his later years remains to be seen and although he is an excellent finisher, reducing the quality of chances he finds himself in naturally reduces the number of goals he can score. With Spurs as a team, we see a similar story. They consistently beat xG but the goals peaked in 2016-17 and their xG has been on the slide since, bottoming out this season. Tottenham’s xG per game for 2019-20 so far is 1.26, which sees them as the 12th-best in the Premier League — in other words, a mid-table quality attack. There’s been a similar downward trend in the volume of chances that both Spurs and Kane create. It’s notable that in Kane’s earlier seasons, Spurs were capable of creating plenty of shooting opportunities with Kane contributing a smaller amount — they were a better side overall and didn’t need to rely on an individual player to create chances for them. Football is a team sport, so it’s hard to completely pin the reason for such a large change in output onto a single player. If Spurs were to put even a historically elite striker in the team, say Cristiano Ronaldo, it’s likely his excellent shot numbers would drop off also. So if it’s hard to infer what’s happened to Kane through his own numbers, then let’s tackle this another way — how has the support he receives changed across the past few seasons? Below is a table of all of the assists that Kane has received from team-mates in the past few years. They are not adjusted for changing minutes or goals scored but they paint an instructive picture regardless. There’s been an evident drop-off in the number of assists but that’s to be expected given the goalscoring numbers have dropped off. Looking positionally across the pitch, we can see that the left-back position largely occupied by Danny Rose and Ben Davies has returned just a single assist for Kane in the last two seasons, and seven in the three seasons prior. At right-back, Kieran Trippier provided Kane with 10 assists in three seasons, with his replacement Serge Aurier posting just one in the three seasons he’s been at the club. And although Aurier has played fewer minutes, his per 90 rate of 0.02 also pales in comparison to Trippier’s 0.17. The primary sources of assists at the start of Kane’s Spurs career were Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli. Dele and Kane formed a great partnership in 2015-16 but Dele has provided just a single assist for Kane in the past couple of seasons. This is partly a consequence of Dele playing deeper during the latter period of Mauricio Pochettino’s reign. It is hoped that his return to the No 10 role under Mourinho will reignite his and Kane’s partnership. It should also be pointed out that there’s more to chance creation than just assists. Players can create a great chance for a team-mate, only to see them miss the target or fail to score. Looking at chances created in isolation can give a bit more insight into the volume of chances but some notion of quality is required to get an even fuller picture. Taking into account the quality of chances that are created, we can look at the expected assists — which in this instance, are the xG of key passes — that each player has created for Kane per 90 minutes. Below is how the chances are distributed across each season for Spurs. A handful of names stick out here but also the overall trend of fewer and fewer players able to provide Kane with decent service. That’s illustrated best when comparing the side of 2015-16 to this season. Dele, Nacer Chadli, Erik Lamela and Eriksen four seasons ago were all creating chances that, in a full season, would expect them to each bag at least two assists. Fast forward to 2019-20 and only the now-departed Eriksen has put up performances worth two or more assists over the course of a full season. When play resumes, Giovani Lo Celso will be expected to take on more of this Eriksen role. He has only posted one assist for the club but he registered five last season and only started playing regularly for Tottenham after Kane’s injury and once the side’s attacking options were drastically weakened. What’s more concerning is the complete dearth of chances being created for Kane consistently from the full-back positions this season. While Trippier was a regular supplier for Kane, Aurier’s chances created for Kane are of much lower quality — even though he has provided the third-highest quality of chances for Kane this season. So if Kane’s not being provided with as many chances, where is he spending his time? From the graphic below, which shows how Kane’s touches have been split across the thirds of the pitch, this season represents career-highs for the share of touches in the defensive and middle thirds, and a career-low in the share of touches in the attacking third. This graphic illustrates what many have felt the eye test has shown — that Kane is dropping deeper and playing less as a classic No 9. This graphic, meanwhile, shows how Kane has moved even deeper since Mourinho took over in November. On a couple of occasions in Mourinho’s early weeks in charge, he praised Kane for his all-round contribution, making it clear what he expected from his centre-forward. “Not just the goals; it’s the goals, the combination play, what he does between the lines, what he does in the defensive process, what he does at the leadership level,” Mourinho said after Kane’s two goals against Burnley in December’s 5-0 win. He was similarly effusive after Kane had scored to help Spurs beat Brighton 2-1 a few weeks later. “He’s the kind of striker who is always fantastic, even when he’s not scoring. There are so many top scorers in the world who score so many goals but the day they don’t score, their performance is always poor because they give nothing. “This (Kane) is the guy who if he doesn’t score, his performance is good. He presses, he recovers balls, he holds the ball, he assists, he drops back.” The expectation that Mourinho was reinforcing here is that Kane, as he approaches his 27th birthday, should be more than “just” a goalscorer. As well as analysing where Kane is touching the ball, a closer look at his passing adds texture as to the sort of striker he is becoming and the picture that emerges is of someone moving the ball forward himself rather than simply waiting around the penalty box to pounce. By grouping together similar passes based on their start and end locations, we can better understand the types of pass which Kane makes compared to other centre-forwards. This gives a bit more insight into the different types of passes that a player commonly makes and how different they are to others who play in the same position. For example, the most common pass types that Kane attempts are below. Pass group 4 shows some of the shorter combination passes that he plays around the box. One are passes into and just outside of the opposition’s third, 23 are passes that go horizontally across the field and 11 are interior passes when he has the ball on the wing. Most common pass types are one thing but looking at those made which are most different to other strikers is far more illuminating. Below are a sample of passes in each of the groups that Kane makes far more than the average striker. This shows both his long passing range but also how he links the play in midfield far more than most other strikers. Pass groups 37 and 2 are those sweeping, cross-field switches that Kane has become well known for in recent seasons. Notably, though, he might not be as good at these passes as we think he is — passes in this group are completed at a rate of 73 per cent on average, whereas Kane completes his at just 41 per cent of the time. Pass group 23 — those being played just outside the area — pops up again, showing that these are odd passes for a striker to be making so often. Kane is essentially attempting passes that are typically those made by a midfielder. Doing so creates an issue in that it’s harder for him to sprint upfield and join in with the play he’s been stitching together. Potentially, with a more consistent progressive midfield structure, as Mourinho is trying to build, Kane can focus more on being on the end of attacks and not in the middle of them. That’s certainly where some connected to Tottenham would like to see him. “He’s best leading the line as a focal point, right from the front,” Clive Allen, one of Spurs’ most clinical strikers ever, who once scored 49 goals in a season and a former coach of Kane, tells The Athletic. “But we’ve seen him dropping a little deeper and not being as effective. I’ve been through that myself and you restrict yourself by moving around the pitch. You see that with a lot of strikers. “He’s shown great attitude towards the game and wanting to be involved but sometimes, it’s to the detriment of the team.” From a purely selfish point of view, it’s been to Kane’s detriment too, given he has posted his lowest-ever non-penalty goals per 90 minutes this season. Lifting those numbers back towards that 2016-17 peak is one of Mourinho’s priorities. Because as well as appreciating his all-round contributions, Mourinho’s main focus with Kane, The Athletic understands, is to maximise his goalscoring qualities and ensure he’s as efficient as possible in the box. There is also an appreciation that Kane’s presence in the box creates additional danger for opposition teams in the way it occupies opposition defenders and creates space for Spurs’ other attackers. So it will be interesting to see whether Kane operates a bit further forward when the Premier League resumes. The signing of Steven Bergwijn since he last played may also mean he is afforded better service and doesn’t need to drop deep as frequently. Lo Celso’s emergence since January, meanwhile, should also reduce Kane’s need to operate in central midfield areas. Another factor in Kane’s evolution has been the improvement of Son Heung-min, whose pace means the South Korea international can operate further up the pitch and stretch defences like a centre-forward would be expected to — allowing Kane to play between the lines at times. Generally though, the temptation has been to point to Kane’s injury record as a reason for why he now plays less on the shoulder of the last defender. He’s never relied on searing pace — coming through the ranks at Tottenham, it was his hard, relentless running that made him stand out — but it would stand to reason that the clutch of injuries he’s suffered in the last few years have slowed him down. Measuring that definitively is not easy but what we can do is offer a bit of context on the injuries he’s suffered and interrogate the idea that he misses enough games for it to be a cause for concern and influence the way he plays. Looking at the bigger picture, Kane was available for 90 per cent of Tottenham’s Premier League matches from the start of the 2014-15 season until January 1 this year, when he suffered that hamstring injury against Southampton. In his five completed seasons in that period, he averaged 33 Premier League matches per season or 45 in all competitions. Throw in the England matches he has played in that period and it’s an average of 53 games a season, taking in two major tournaments and last year’s Nations League (the week after he had just returned from almost two months out to play in the Champions League final). These are pretty healthy numbers and the pattern continues if we drill down to just the two most recent completed seasons. Kane played 59 matches in 2017-18 and 49 in 2018-19 for club and country. This season, he has made a total of 31 appearances already and, albeit with the help of the break, will likely end up with more than 40. The other way of framing it is that Kane has missed 19 Premier League matches — effectively half a season — over the course of this season and last. Overall though, the picture appears to be one of an overworked player suffering injuries and needing a break rather than necessarily anything more alarming. His Spurs and England team-mate Dele experienced something similar in the aftermath of the 2018 World Cup. Hopefully, the current off-season will be to Kane’s benefit and in the longer term, if he is to stay at Spurs, then having a second striker who can allow him to get more of a rest will also make a big difference. A return to full fitness will also be instructive in telling us whether his newer, deeper role is down to a desire to become a more complete centre-forward or a consequence of no longer being able to as consistently sprint past defenders. The state of Kane’s fitness will also have a bearing on his future. He said in March that: “I’ve always said if I don’t feel we are progressing as a team or going in the right direction, I’m not one to stay there for the sake of it.” It was consistent with previous statements of his about the need for Tottenham to start winning trophies. At the moment, the view among some in recruitment circles is that Kane needs to remain injury-free for an extended period after the restart to show that he has not lost any of the deadliness that has marked him out as one of Europe’s best strikers. Others believe that there is no market for Kane anyway given the perilous state of most European super-clubs’ finances. Then there is the issue for a club like Manchester United of being wary of trying to negotiate with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy. The bottom line though is that Kane is contracted until 2024 and Spurs have no intention of selling him — even if some at the club were irritated by the timing of his interview in March, just as the devastating financial effects of the lockdown were becoming clear. “We are not going to discuss this or any player position whilst we focus on protecting the club and jobs and work with the council to support those affected by COVID-19,” a club spokesperson said at the time. With Kane expected to stay at Spurs for a while yet, it may simply be that we have to get used to a slightly modified version of him. But with the right system in place, he doesn’t have to be less effective. What’s clear though is that he cannot do it alone. Pep Guardiola once called Tottenham the “Harry Kane team” but evidently, he can only fully thrive with a functioning side behind him. His team-mates and Mourinho must prove that this still exists at Spurs.
  13. General Transfer Talk

    To be fairly honest I would much rather have my full backs small, quick and technical vs broad and strong. Give me a Dani Alves type over an Ivanovic/Azpilicueta type any day. Especially with the way football is evolving.
  14. General Transfer Talk

    Either doesn't really bode well. The first is yet another small/lightweight player to go into a squad that is really too small and lightweight and the second is bang average and will be over priced no matter what as he is English.
  15. Aston Villa v Chelsea

    The cricket seasons in UK are delayed until August but the Premier League is gonna restart in June... $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
  16. Timo Werner

    I do not know where you are getting this winger talk from because I have not seen any. If he is going to play out wide, it would be an inside forward like he has been doing at RB Leipzig. Furthermore, given Lampard likes to be flexible and change the system/formation around, Werner's ability to play in different attacking positions or roles would come in very handy. Also you said he is not as good as this player or that player but the way I look at it is, if we were to get him (HA!), we would not only be buying him for the immediate period but also long term. He is only 24 years old and there is still plenty of room for him to grow and improve. I do not understand why people seem fixated with the notion a player cannot become better, adapt, improve etc especially when they are still young in their career. All those players you alluded to were not perfect when they were younger. They got better as they continued their development year in year out and someone like Mane was not as good 4-5 years ago as he is now. I am sure even you would have taken note how much Werner has improved since his Stuttgart days and he certainly does seem like someone with the ambition to get better.
  17. Politics & Stuff

    They themselves have come out and said that if a patient dies of lets say heart attack, but also had corona, then it will go down as a corona death. Which is mighty BS and fishy.
  18. Aston Villa v Chelsea

    FA Cup back as well.
  19. Timo Werner

    Puli is better for me as a winger, but if we do get him ( fat chance ) then he will game as a striker for sure.
  20. Roman Abramovich

    Thanks for that Vesper
  21. Politics & Stuff

    The love of money, yes. But in general a good stock market would help offset the loses the company are taking. The big company should in theory continue to support their staffs and what not. And not only that, but it also breads confidence. Economy is built a lot in confidence. If confidence goes everything goes. Not to mention the confidence of all those people with 401k and what not. Even if many 401k people dump their shares at record highs, they will in turn use that money in the economy. So for me good job done as far as stock market goes in a sea of red.
  22. The Americans (and Canadian) to watch for as the Bundesliga returns https://theathletic.com/1813506/2020/05/14/bundesliga-return-alphonso-davies-tyler-adams-bayern-leipzig/ There is a strong contingent of American players who will be in action when the Bundesliga resumes this weekend. What makes this group so interesting is how varied they are in age, experience and skills. There are veteran defenders, two-way midfielders and promising attackers. Each of the 12 American players (and one Canadian) listed below have different objectives that they will be working towards over the remainder of the season. Of course, the complicating factor is that football returning without fans amid a global pandemic will result in a never-before-seen match-day dynamic. Every player’s mentality and preparation will be tested. How coaches manage players’ fitness and the extra substitutions that they’ll be allocated will be scrutinized, as well. In short, games will not look the same and the circumstances could affect starters and fringe players in unique ways. The veterans Fabian Johnson — Borussia Monchengladbach 57 U.S. caps | 210 Bundesliga appearances When Gladbach began this season, key injuries in their back line and midfield forced manager Marco Rose to turn to the 32-year-old Munich-born American. Johnson is normally utilized as an attacking wing-back on either flank, but Rose moved the versatile defender to the midfield and employed him in a box-to-box role. At the time, Rose referred to Johnson as an “all-purpose weapon”. He started the first two matches, but his playing time became sporadic when Gladbach captain Lars Stindl and midfielders Tobias Strobl and Jonas Hofmann returned from injury. Gladbach currently occupies the fourth and final Champions League spot with little margin for error. Johnson’s role will depend on how often Rose decides to rotate his starting XI. Next fixture: Saturday vs. Eintracht Frankfurt (a) John Brooks — Wolfsburg 38 U.S. caps | 146 Bundesliga appearances Brooks has 16 starts this season for Wolfsburg, including the last five matches before the league’s suspension. Born in Berlin, Brooks, 27, is a tall central defender who is tidy on the ball and dangerous in the air. He has had regular call-ups to the national team since featuring for the U.S. at the 2014 World Cup, and he remains one of Gregg Berhalter’s top defenders. Brooks is a physical force and a technically adept center-back. But injuries and a lack of consistent, quality minutes have hampered him throughout his career. As it stands, Brooks is in line to feature prominently for the remainder of Wolfsburg’s Bundesliga season. Next fixture: Saturday vs. FC Augsburg (a) Timothy Chandler — Eintracht Frankfurt 29 U.S. caps | 209 Bundesliga appearances Chandler is another German dual-national defender who is enjoying a solid spell of first-team minutes. The 30-year-old has made 14 appearances this season, starting 10 matches. What’s most surprising about Chandler’s 2019-20 campaign are the four goals and one assist he has contributed from his nominally defensive position. In manager Adi Hutter’s high-tempo pressing system, Chandler has been pushed higher up the field. He responded earlier this season with two goals in an 11-minute span against FC Augsburg. Chandler’s ability to aggressively defend in the opponent’s half and get to goal has been an interesting revelation for someone who has not played for the U.S. since 2016. Next fixture: Saturday vs. Borussia Monchengladbach (h) The established internationals Weston McKennie — Schalke 19 U.S. caps | 67 Bundesliga appearances McKennie’s undeniable talent and positional versatility have helped him quickly become a valuable Bundesliga midfielder. At 21 years old, the Texas-born FC Dallas academy product is a prototypical two-way player who has grown tactically since arriving in Gelsenkirchen three years ago. McKennie has more freedom to get forward when he plays for the U.S., but under the tutelage of Schalke’s manager, former U.S. international David Wagner, McKennie has played all over the pitch, including at center-back when the club struggled with injuries. McKennie is an aggressive ball-winner and a capable distributor in Schalke’s midfield. His presence alone enhances Schalke’s ability to press and counter. Next fixture: Saturday vs. Borussia Dortmund in the Revierderby (a) Alfredo Morales — Fortuna Dusseldorf 16 U.S. caps | 101 Bundesliga appearances At the beginning of this season, the question for Morales was whether or not he could play himself into Berhalter’s national team midfield. The answer proved to be that he could. After playing sparingly for the U.S. following his first cap in 2013, Morales won more call-ups in 2019, offering a physical and tough-tackling dimension to the U.S. midfield. Morales has 15 starts for Fortuna Dusseldorf and will continue to feature as they prepare for a relegation battle in the coming weeks. Next fixture: Saturday vs. SC Paderborn 07 (h) Josh Sargent — Werder Bremen 12 U.S. caps | 28 Bundesliga appearances Sargent’s 2019-20 has been a bit of a mixed bag. The 20-year-old center-forward has struggled to consistently maintain a place in Werder Bremen’s starting XI. However, in 2019, he made six appearances for his national team and scored three goals. Despite his solid frame, Sargent is still growing mentally. The native of St. Louis is an agile No 9 who is comfortable playing with his back to goal. Sargent is good on the ball, which allows him to drop into midfield and play possession football. Bremen are 17th in the Bundesliga table and trying to escape relegation. Sargent started their last match and scored his third goal of the season in a 2-2 draw against Hertha Berlin. If he continues to show he can help the club improve its fortunes, more starts should come his way down the stretch. Next fixture: Monday vs. Bayer Leverkusen (h) Zack Steffen — Fortuna Dusseldorf 17 U.S. caps | 17 Bundesliga appearances Steffen suffered a knee injury in April when Dusseldorf resumed limited training sessions. The No 1 goalkeeper for the U.S. will not play this weekend, and his return is unknown. It’s a shame, because Steffen had established himself as the club’s starting keeper. On loan from Manchester City, Steffen is an acrobatic goalkeeper with quick instincts who was expected to make a big jump in his development this season. Next fixture: Saturday vs. SC Paderborn 07 (h) Tyler Adams — RB Leipzig 10 U.S. caps | 15 Bundesliga appearances One could argue that Adams is the most talented American in the Bundesliga. He was tactically, technically and mentally ready for Germany’s top flight upon arriving in Leipzig from the New York Red Bulls in 2019. Unfortunately for Adams, lingering injuries have forced him off the pitch, robbing U.S. and Leipzig fans of an emerging talent. What’s most impressive about Adams, 21, is his ability to play with composure anywhere on the pitch. He can play as a ball-hawking defensive midfielder, a pressing full-back or as a No 8. He came on as a late substitute during Leipzig’s 3-0 Champions League win over Tottenham on March 10, and will likely continue to battle for minutes in the final nine Bundesliga fixtures. Next fixture: Saturday vs. SC Freiburg (h) Alphonso Davies — Bayern Munich 17 Canada caps | 27 Bundesliga appearances Davies isn’t American, but the 19-year-old Canadian is now one of North America’s most highly rated talents, following his $22 million transfer from Major League Soccer to Bayern Munich in 2018. During his two MLS seasons, Davies’ best position was a topic for a debate. Was he a full-back or a winger? While he can excel in both roles, Davies has been molded into an elite modern full-back in Germany. Davies has claimed the starting left wing-back role by outplaying Lucas Hernandez, who was part of France’s World Cup-winning squad in 2018. Next fixture: Sunday vs. FC Union Berlin (a) The next generation Giovanni Reyna — Borussia Dortmund 0 U.S. caps | 8 Bundesliga appearances The comparisons to Christian Pulisic have already begun, but Reyna is a much different type of player. Still, Reyna seems destined to follow Pulisic’s path. Both debuted as young Americans in Europe wearing Dortmund’s famed black and yellow. And both are expected to star for the U.S. for the next decade. While Pulisic uses tight touches and speed to beat defenders, Reyna’s more controlled approach and physical strength on the ball have allowed him to reduce his learning curve in Germany. At just 17, Reyna is an attacker who’s comfortable playing behind a striker as a No 10, or as a second forward. Reyna, who was born in Durham, England, became the youngest American in Bundesliga history and has been making consistent appearances off the bench this season. That’s quite an accomplishment considering Dortmund’s talented squad, with England’s Jadon Sancho, Germany’s Julian Brandt and Norway’s Erling Haaland for company. Next fixture: Saturday vs. Schalke 04 in the Revierderby (h) Chris Richards — Bayern Munich II 0 U.S. caps / 0 Bundesliga appearances (22 third-tier appearances) Richards is developing into a formidable central defender for Bayern Munich’s reserves. Another product of the FC Dallas academy, the 20-year-old Richards was a regular starter for the U.S. team that advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2019 U-20 World Cup. Richards is a confident backline distributor with a mature confidence on the ball. His style of play resembles that of Everton’s Yerry Mina. Although Richards has not yet broken into Bayern’s 18-man squad, he has reportedly been targeted by Premier League clubs Arsenal and Chelsea. Taylor Booth — Bayern Munich Under-19s 0 U.S. caps (4 U.S. Under-19 caps) | 0 Bundesliga appearances The 18-year-old attacking midfielder has taken full advantage of his elite surroundings at Bayern. Booth is a skilled and versatile player with excellent vision and a high work rate. He’s comfortable starting possession as a deep-lying midfielder or pushing the ball upfield as a modern No 10. Booth was signed by Bayern from Real Salt Lake’s academy and played regularly in the UEFA Youth League. His recent performances have garnered reported interest from Tottenham Hotspur. Ulysses Llanez — Wolfsburg Under-19s 1 U.S. cap | 0 Bundesliga appearances When Wolfsburg resumed training in April, manager Oliver Glasner promoted Llanez to the first team. It was a well-earned opportunity for the 19-year-old striker from California, and though the quick, two-footed attacker’s development continues to trend upward, Llanez will not make this weekend’s 18-man squad. Llanez, who scored in his first appearance for the U.S., was praised by Glasner for his ability to take on defenders and finish confidently. While he is most effective as an inverted winger, Llanez can also drop into central midfield to recover possession and initiate an attack.
  23. Timo Werner

    He ain't better than Pulisic as a winger...
  24. Roman Abramovich

    Abramovich’s Chelsea takeover: ‘We’d never heard of Roman but he seemed viable’ https://theathletic.com/1839077/2020/05/28/chelsea-roman-abramovich-takeover/ Chelsea have claimed 16 major trophies during Roman Abramovich’s 17-year ownership. This spectacular run of success has helped to define English football in the 21st century. Only Manchester United can match the tally of five Premier League titles celebrated at Stamford Bridge since 2003 while the Miracle of Munich made Chelsea the first — and only — London club to lift the Champions League or European Cup. A string of historic triumphs made legends of John Terry, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and others. All of it came at vast expense — just under £1.5 billion of Abramovich’s wealth, according to the most recent accounts, with £247 million pumped in during the 12 months from June 2018 to June 2019. More than £100 million of the total investment has been spent sacking some of the 12 different managers who have worked under Abramovich. There has been plenty of ignominy to accompany the glory, of course, and the success has been punctuated, at times, with scandal. Chelsea’s golden era has often been chaotic but rarely dull. None of it would have been possible but for a chain of remarkable events in a wild summer 17 years ago that resulted in a mysterious Russian billionaire transforming one aspirational Premier League club — and the landscape of English football — forever. This, told in the words of those who were there, is the story of how Abramovich took over Chelsea. The story begins the night before the final day of the 2002-03 Premier League season. Chelsea, level on points with Liverpool for the fourth and final Champions League qualification spot, were due to host their rivals at Stamford Bridge. A superior goal difference meant they only needed a draw to emerge on top but years of ambitious transfer spending in an attempt to compete with Manchester United and Arsenal meant the consequences of losing would be serious. Graeme Le Saux: “The night before the game we stayed at the Royal Lancaster hotel rather than doing our normal routine. We went down for dinner and Trevor Birch had arranged for this American Vietnam War veteran to do a talk for us. He did this speech about his little group capturing this point and setting up some sort of weapon, and the people who died trying to get there. “It was incredible, proper action-hero-type stuff, and he was a fantastic speaker, but the problem was it was the night before the game. I went to my room to go to bed and felt like I’d had 83 expressos. I wanted to go straight into battle there and then, and we were joking that we’d end up in Hyde Park across the road doing military manoeuvres. No one could sleep. We ended up going for a walk (around the park) the next morning and talking about it all, but we were all exhausted.” Birch also took the opportunity to hammer home to the players the consequences of losing against Liverpool. Chelsea, he claimed, would be in danger of going out of business if they did not qualify for the Champions League – and at the very least, there would be player sales and significant cutbacks. But was the scenario, so bleak when outlined to the players, really that desperate? Mark Taylor (Chelsea director from 1996 to 2003): “It wasn’t as dramatic as people were saying. We weren’t on the verge of bankruptcy, as everyone seemed to think we were. “The Champions League money meant we’d be debt-free by the following April, other than our secured bond issue, which was a long-term security. It was very important that we won that game against Liverpool, or drew it, to get into the Champions League because of the additional revenue. If we hadn’t got into the Champions League, we wouldn’t have gone to the wall but we probably would have had to sell some players. It wouldn’t have been Leeds-esque.” Le Saux: “When we were in the tunnel about to go out onto the pitch, Birch came up to me and said, ‘You’re the leader of this team. If you play well, the team plays well. Go and have an amazing performance’. I was thinking, ‘Oh great. We’re just about to go into administration if we lose this game and you’ve just put it on me’. Because I played so well he probably thought it was down to him, but it wasn’t. “Gianfranco (Zola) didn’t start the game and he was really upset. It was his last match for Chelsea and mine too, though I didn’t know it at the time.” Taylor: “Ken Bates, the owner, and I were OK but Trevor was a bit stressed. He was a Liverpool fan, funnily enough, and played for the club. We joked with him that if we’d already qualified for the Champions League before the final day, we were going to register him as a player so he could come on against them at Stamford Bridge.” Anxiety rippled around Stamford Bridge when Sami Hyypia headed Liverpool in front on 11 minutes but Marcel Desailly equalised less than two minutes later and Jesper Gronkjaer curled a left-footed shot into the far corner before half-time to give Chelsea a cushion they never relinquished. Steven Gerrard was sent off for a rash lunge on Le Saux, who was named man of the match, and a 36-year-old Zola wowed Stamford Bridge with a scintillating 18-minute cameo. Gronkjaer (speaking to Dominic Fifield in 2011): “It was a massive game for Chelsea at the time. It had been three years since we’d been in the Champions League. I remember the goal very well. I was on the right wing when we got a throw-in but instead of passing, I cut in from the right and beat a defender before sticking it in the other corner. It was a nice feeling and a good reward for a great season. There were lots of stories going around about the financial situation. We all knew what we were playing for.” Le Saux: “It was billed as the most high-stakes game in the history of English football. It was estimated that £20 million was on offer for the winners because of the prize money and the attendance benefits the Champions League brought. In fact, we know now that the stakes were a whole lot higher even than that for Chelsea.” Despite the relief of that supposedly pivotal win, Chelsea still found themselves in a troubled summer. Revenue from Champions League participation would be a welcome boost to the coffers but the club’s transfer plans were heavily hampered by financial constraints. Six weeks after the win over Liverpool, the only two signings were two back-up goalkeepers, Jurgen Macho and Marco Ambrosio, on free transfers. Winston Bogarde was languishing on an expensive contract in the reserves and Birch was locked in increasingly tense negotiations with Zola, who had become a free agent, and Le Saux. Ranieri’s squad did not look capable of mounting challenges in the Premier League and Champions League campaigns ahead. But everything was about to change. Birch fielded two calls that alerted him to the potential interest of a wealthy individual in buying Chelsea, though he was not told his name. Within a few days he met Abramovich along with several of his closest advisors – Eugene Tenenbaum, Richard Creitzman and German Tkachenko – in one of the Millennium Boxes at Stamford Bridge. It quickly became clear that the Russian was very serious about buying the club. Taylor: “Pini Zahavi (an influential football agent and associate of Abramovich) rang Trevor on a Tuesday afternoon. Trevor had a meeting with Zahavi the following day, the Wednesday, and then Ken met Roman and Eugene Tenenbaum at the Dorchester hotel on the Thursday. He rang me Thursday evening and told me what was happening. I met him the next morning and discussed whether he definitely wanted to proceed with this. And he said ‘yes’, so we did. “It was very, very swift. Chelsea had been looking for investors for probably about 18 months and we’d had a lot of time-wasters, as you can imagine. Roman seemed viable. Of course, nobody knew who he was. We’d never heard of him. So actually, on the Friday morning, his lawyers brought in Forbes magazine from America and he was No 15 on the list, with billions of dollars, which seemed to be quite a good starting point.” Chelsea’s hierarchy knew nothing about Abramovich but he knew plenty about Chelsea. His passion for football had been sparked only two months earlier by a visit to Old Trafford to watch Real Madrid eliminate United from the Champions League in a seven-goal thriller that featured a hat-trick from Brazilian superstar Ronaldo. Blackburn Rovers manager Graeme Souness had apparently acted as his chauffeur that night, picking up Abramovich from Manchester airport at the bequest of a friend. The oligarch quickly decided he wanted to own a club. Investment bank UBS and Bruce Buck, a London-based senior lawyer with American firm Skadden Arps, were enlisted to help make it happen. Creitzman and others in his circle prepared detailed information on a number of potential clubs, and Abramovich narrowed them to a shortlist that also included Manchester United and Tottenham. They flew from Moscow to England in late June with meetings already arranged – the first of which was with Chelsea. Taylor: “The key point was when Ken met Roman and Eugene Tenenbaum, they made it very clear that they wanted to buy control. They wanted control. “I think Ken has said on record since that he felt he had done all he could for Chelsea. He’d saved the club from being evicted from Stamford Bridge. By this time, we’d redeveloped the whole stadium — the West Stand was finished, the hotels were there, the sports club was there. That was one of the big reasons that Roman liked Chelsea. Although there’s been talk since about redeveloping the stadium, it was in good condition — fairly new with nice facilities — and I think that was important to him. Ken thought that he had taken it as far as he could. That’s why he decided to sell it. “After we did the deal, Eugene Tenenbaum said he was flying up with Roman in a helicopter from Farnborough, where he’d landed on arrival in England, and they flew over Craven Cottage. Roman thought it was Stamford Bridge. It was in July and the pitch was dug up. ‘What? You want me to buy that?’ and Eugene went, ‘No, no, no, it’s this one over here’ as they got into Chelsea. A slightly different stadium.” The takeover was formally completed around 8:30pm on Tuesday, July 1, with Buck and Taylor finalising the mechanics of the transaction. Bates had already left. Taylor: “My bank went into all sorts of worry when £60 million hit my client account, because they weren’t expecting it. But then I rang Ken – he was in his penthouse at Chelsea at the time. I said: ‘Hi Ken, I’m just ringing to say goodbye’. He said: ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘I’ve just got £60 million in my client account and I’m in a taxi going to the airport’, which initially he didn’t find very funny, but then he did. It was an interesting time for us all.” By the time the transaction was finalised, Abramovich had agreed to pay around £140 million — £60 million to buy the club and a further £80 million to cover its debts. That figure would be dwarfed by the scale of his investment in the months and years to come but his first attempt to wield his financial might as Chelsea owner failed; Zola, having failed to agree to a new contract, had agreed to return to Italy and join hometown club Cagliari on a free transfer. Zola: “One day, I spoke to Cagliari and I agreed to go there. After I agreed, I got a call from Ken Bates and he said, ‘Franco, tomorrow, the club is going to be bought by an important person’. I said, ‘Sorry chairman, I have already agreed to go there’. The day after, I saw Roman had bought the club. I don’t think he knew I was leaving. “It was a painful decision for me to leave. When Chelsea came back in, it was a very difficult couple of hours for me. He tried to somehow convince Cagliari to sell me back — that’s what they told me — but the decision was already made.” Abramovich’s sudden takeover also left Zola’s former Chelsea team-mates feeling uncertain. Many were on holiday when they heard the news, which prompted a wide range of emotions. Gronkjaer: “I was on holiday in Denmark in my summer house when I heard about the takeover. I thought it was just a normal takeover, and didn’t imagine he would have so much money and everything would change. No one did.” Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink: “I was very excited by it. Roman Abramovich comes in, saying that he wants to become champions and saying good players — the best players — were going to come but you just think, ‘OK, let’s see first. Is he telling the truth?’” Before that, Abramovich had a decision to make about his manager. Ranieri had been in the post since September 2000, guiding Chelsea to the FA Cup final in 2002 and securing a fourth-place finish the following season, despite being granted only one new signing — Spanish midfielder Enrique de Lucas — on a free transfer. Yet the widespread expectation was that he would be immediately replaced by the ambitious new owner. Ranieri: “On July 8, I was called into the office. I was to meet Mr Abramovich for the first time and I did not know what to expect. We met in the boardroom at Stamford Bridge. Those present were Mr Abramovich, three of his close associates, me, and Trevor Birch. “Instinctively, I spoke up first because I felt I had to make a clear statement concerning my situation. I said that I had been around long enough in the world of football to realise that a change of ownership might mean a change in approach or new objectives, and the direct consequence can be the decision to replace the coach. ‘Tell me straight away’, I insisted, ‘or else you risk wasting your time and money, and I could be wasting time as well’. “I was happy where I was and I wanted to finish the job. But in these situations, things needed to be made clear. ‘No,’ he said firmly, ‘I want you to go on managing the team’. For me, that simple declaration was enough.” At their meeting, Abramovich and Ranieri had agreed that Chelsea’s squad needed two quality players for every position to mount an immediate charge for domestic and European honours. Working to that brief, the recruitment drive quickly gathered pace: Glen Johnson, Geremi, Wayne Bridge and Damien Duff arrived in the space of six days at a combined cost of £37 million, and by the middle of August, the same amount had been spent again to acquire Joe Cole, Juan Sebastian Veron and Adrian Mutu. The first four joined up with the squad in Malaysia for the inaugural FA Premier League Asia Cup, which they claimed after beating Newcastle on penalties. English football was stunned by the mind-boggling expenditure, with Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein famously claiming that Abramovich had “parked his Russian tanks on the lawn and is firing £50 notes at us”. Barry Silkman (the agent who represented Geremi): “Chelsea had been looking at Geremi for a while but didn’t have the funds to back it up. They’d been speaking with his solicitor in Spain for a long time. The minute Roman Abramovich took over, I spoke to Pini Zahavi and said, ‘How about a deal for Geremi?’ He came back and it was done.” Gronkjaer: “New players were arriving all the time, which was funny. We were in Malaysia and one day, Wayne Bridge would arrive and someone would leave. The next day, Damien Duff turned up, then Geremi, Joe Cole, Veron. He bought a whole new team in the space of a few weeks.” Duff: “I spoke to Manchester United a few times. I wanted it to happen but the fee back then was for £17 million. I don’t know what the equivalent fee is now but in 2003, that was a massive deal. What happened was this: Roman Abramovich had bought Chelsea that summer. They had the money. The deal was done. I remember lying in bed in the summer, dying with a hangover, when I got the call that they wanted me. I thought about it for a week and when I saw the squad they were building, I just knew I had to go there to further my career.” Dan Johnson (former communications director of the Premier League): “Malaysia was the first time the Premier League had done an international tour. The press pack sent everyone, crawling all over Chelsea. We had a daily press briefing twice a day with manager and captain written into the contract, so Ranieri and Terry fronted up the press every day. “Chelsea didn’t send a press officer, so I ended up being a de facto press officer. I’d talk to the guys beforehand about what they wanted to ask and at the time, any big player in Europe was being linked with Chelsea. The one that sticks in my mind was Raul from Real Madrid for €100 million. I remember putting this to Ranieri and Terry — the two of them just looked at each other and burst out laughing. Ranieri put his head in his hands and was kind of saying, ‘Oh my god, what next?’” Before the transfer window closed in August, two more marquee names arrived in the form of Hernan Crespo and Claude Makelele. By that time, Chelsea had booked their place in the Champions League group stage with a 5-0 aggregate win over Slovakian side Zilina and taken seven points from their first three Premier League matches of the new season, including a 2-1 opening day victory against Liverpool at Anfield in which Veron scored the opening goal. The initial signs suggested they were capable of living up to the expectations swollen by the unprecedented spending spree. Hasselbaink: “We all know about Juan Seba Veron: one of the best players, technically, in world football. Suddenly, you realise Chelsea mean business. When you saw that, you thought it was a great signing for the club. And, as a footballer, you want to play with the best players. He was going to supply me. “You see all these players coming through the door and then one of the most expensive ones, and one of the best ones, scores and we win away at Liverpool. All of a sudden, everyone sees you as contenders in the blink of an eye, and it’s a whole different ball game playing with that pressure on your shoulders every week. That’s different to being underdogs and under the radar.” The raft of illustrious new faces drastically changed the dynamic of the Chelsea squad. Abramovich’s investment was bad news for some of the younger players in the reserves and academy, who were previously hopeful on the fringes of Ranieri’s first-team plans. But for the likes of Terry and Lampard, it also presented a unique challenge: to step up and make themselves indispensable in the club’s new era of ruthless ambition. Robert Huth, the centre-back, had joined from Union Berlin two years previously but was still only 18 years old when Abramovich completed his takeover. Huth: “I’d lived through Chelsea undertaking major cutbacks in terms of travel, players having to share rooms on trips, just to keep the club going one day to the next. To go from that to the other extreme, signing players for ridiculous money and on ridiculous contracts… from a young player’s point of view, I was scared. “You know enough about football that, the more money that’s involved, the youth tend to get left behind. That was the case. It was what we were all fearing. I’d played a lot more games under Claudio Ranieri and I had been hoping to play more still but then Chelsea signed something like 10 players — all elite players, too — and you feel yourself being pushed further and further out of contention.” Phil Younghusband (Chelsea academy player at the time): “We went through the whole transition when Roman came in. You’d see new faces all the time, in different departments of the club. It educated us because we were able to see how the club was run before and how it was moving forward in all different areas. It was a really interesting time, and it all happened so fast. “As a footballer, you have the attitude that you’re not going to let challenges affect you. Maybe in hindsight I think it affected our chances of making the first team, but at the time you just think, ‘I’m going to be the best player I can be’. I remember watching Veron in his first training session just popping the ball everywhere. You’re exposed to that constantly and just learning from that. At the time you’re thinking you’re going to train with those players and they’re going to make you better.” James Younghusband (Chelsea academy player at the time): “I remember Veron was trying to get his fitness back and I was chosen to do a one-on-one session with him. I was so young and those things are so valuable. He was a really nice guy. I remember one time he nutmegged me. I tried to get him back and he saw it coming and laughed. I beat him in the one-on-one game with one goalkeeper, but in his mind he was only trying to get his fitness back. I had something to prove. “We talked afterwards about his time in Manchester. He was a really nice guy. You don’t realise until afterwards how lucky you are to be in those situations.” Terry: “That first pre-season, we were all texting each other about what players were going to come in and stuff like that. That was probably the first thing the fans thought of. However, from our point of view, it was a case of, ‘Who are they going to bring in and is your place in jeopardy?’ Then, we came back to training, with all the new signings there, and we realised how good they were. The standard of training went from good to very good.” Lampard: “I remember (Abramovich) landing at Harlington, coming and speaking to us and for me the landscape of the club changed in an instant because of the desire for excellence. A desire for excellence in training facilities at the time, standards on the pitch at the time, and I don’t think the levels have dropped since.” Chelsea finished the 2003-04 season second in the Premier League, 11 points adrift of Arsenal’s Invincibles, and bowed out of the Champions League to Monaco in the semi-finals after beating Arsene Wenger’s greatest side in the previous round. Ranieri did not survive the trophyless campaign, establishing a trend of managerial change at Stamford Bridge that has largely endured since. The club’s new trajectory was well and truly set. The subsequent Champions League final between Porto and Monaco became a de facto audition for Ranieri’s replacement, which Jose Mourinho convincingly won over Didier Deschamps. Another wave of Abramovich spending followed in the summer of 2004 but the core of the squad that would win Chelsea’s first league title for 50 years the following season was already largely in place: Lampard and Terry both made huge strides in Ranieri’s final season while, of the headline-grabbing 2003 signings, only Veron and Mutu played no role in the successes to come. Abramovich’s takeover of Chelsea in 2003 always felt seismic and the passage of time has only underlined its significance. In one frantic summer, one man changed English football forever.
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