Monday, August 13, 2007

Revolution at Stamford Bridge?

News that Dani Alves has been left out of the Sevilla squad named to face AEK this week is simply confirmation of what has been brewing for about two months: the Brazilian is heading to Chelsea some time in the next two weeks.

For most Sevilla fans - and pretty much every non-Chelsea fan - this first comes across as really bad news. Face it, Alves was pretty much the best player in La Liga last season and is possibly the most exciting, attacking right-back of all time. This is just another example of those nouveau-riche Chelsea bastards buying another Championship, right?

Well, maybe not. In fact, it might herald the beginning of something totally unexpected - a Chelsea we can all enjoy.

Hear me out: the first time I saw the Alves - Chelsea link I was stumped. Alves is first and foremost an attacking threat, and Mourinho has form as a man who is very conservative with his back four. Ashley Cole, for instance, was less effective in blue than he had been in red because he no longer has license as he did at Arsenal to make those long, forward overlapping runs. Bringing Alves into this system looks like madness because it's a waste of talent. Why bring a creative, all-action whirling dervish into a staid, boring side intent on grinding out results through sheer power?

But after the Birmingham match one has to think that maybe - just maybe - Chelsea have changed their game plan.

It's no secret while Chelsea have been successful over the past few years, not all has gone to plan. They haven't won Big Cup, and the not-at-all beautiful way in which they have got their results - which sometimes recall Lobanovsky-era Dynamo Kiev in their grim efficiency - hasn't won them many friends either.

After the Birmingham match, one has to suspect that perhaps there's a change in the air. Now let me stress that I did not see the match in question, as I was down in New York supporting TFC in the footballing sarcophagus that is Giants Stadium (which is to football as Nicolae Ceaucescu's Palace of the People is to architecture). But by all accounts it was a very open and fluid affair with lots of action at both ends. That made it a bit nervy for Chelsea fans, but quite good for neutrals.

Now, if one were actually to infuse Chelsea with a spirit of adventure, then Alves playing behind say, Sean Wright-Phillips might actually be interesting to watch. And with a Cole-Malouda partnership on the other wing (as an aside- how is it that no one has remarked on the fact that the arrival of Malouda means that yet another England regular is going to be condemned to long periods of time on the bench?), one could even imagine a buccaneering Chelsea that played attractive, attacking football with lots of wing play. Rather, in fact, like Arsenal of the Invincibles season.

Maybe Roman has decided that if his billions can't guarantee his team Big Cup success - which, given the nature of knock-out competitions, is probably true - they should at least aim to generate excitement, respect and maybe even love. Hell, ManU did it last year and they achieved the near-impossible feat of becoming the team neutrals wanted to win the league.

It will be a lot harder to hate Chelsea if they actually start playing attractive football. I am very sad that my beloved Sevilla is driven to be a selling team again, and it's nigh-on impossible to get excited about Chelsea signing yet another star. But if it makes Chelsea and the Premiership a more open and attacking affair, there are some definite upsides.

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