What is Nicolas Anelka’s role this season?

I think it is fair to say that Nicolas Anelka didn’t exactly blow away the Chelsea fans with his performances after joining from Bolton last season. The French striker only scored twice following his January move and capped the disappointing start to his Chelsea career with a penalty miss in the Champions League final against Manchester United. It can only get better, eh Nicolas?

Luckily for him though, that is exactly what I expect him to do – get better. There is no doubting his ability as a player and I would like to think his Chelsea career starts now. Yes, he was disappointing last season, but let’s give him another chance. At 29-years-old he knows that he is around the peak of his career, so must start to deliver for his new club.

Not that it means a huge amount, but Anelka is looking rather sharp in pre-season. His performances – which have received praise from his team mates – have included two goals in as many games as well as a couple of assists in the 4-0 victory over Guangzhou Pharmaceutical. It is his goals against Chengdu Blades and the Malaysia All-Stars that are encouraging though, he has now doubled his Chelsea goal tally – albeit against weaker opposition in pre-season.

Something the likes of Joe Cole and John Terry have mentioned about Anelka’s performances in pre-season is how he is using his pace to good effect while playing ‘off the shoulder of the main striker’. They say he can use his speed to pull away from opposition defenders, meaning he can get into positions where he can set up a goal or get on the score sheet himself.

It must be remembered of course, that Avram Grant did play Anelka out of position on a number of occasions. He would often find himself out on the wing to accommodate Didier Drogba’s lone striker role and because this wasn’t his preferred position, Anelka would then miss out on the team completely. It seems obvious to me that he is wasted on the wing, what good are his bursts of pace and excellently timed runs out there? It’s not as if he has a reputation for being able to whip the ball into the box after such exploits is it?

Anelka hasn’t scored the goals he has during his career by playing out wide. A central role allows him to use his best attributes more effectively and that’s where he should play for Chelsea this season if he is to help the club in their search for trophies. Judging by pre-season, it seems that Scolari has realised this.

I’d like to see the football odds on Anelka being Chelsea’s leading scorer this season, because I’d be tempted to stick some money on it. I think that he will excel under Scolari – playing in the hole behind the main striker. All the talk has been that Anelka and Drogba can’t play together, but I think that’s nonsense. Drogba holding the ball up as Anelka bursts from deep seems logical to me. I will be interested to see how this partnership develops – I certainly hope it is given a chance.

To end today’s piece, I just want to have a quick look at Premier League betting. Chelsea and Manchester United are obviously the favourites for the title, but I heard something yesterday about Liverpool being contenders now they have signed Robbie Keane. So, because Rafa Benitez has signed a player who guided Tottenham to 11th last season, Liverpool are going to win the league? Don’t make me laugh.

I’d rather have Nicolas Anelka any day. I just hope I am still saying this a few weeks into the season after the French striker has started to play to echo his undoubted ability in a Chelsea shirt.

Thomas Rooney – Freelance Sports Journalist

Chelsea: Scolari Keeping His Cool


Good to see the paper’s are still on form as far as stretching every conceivable word coming out of Chelsea, from statements of optimism to threats of worldwide domination, is concerned.

Scolari says “We have four competitions this season and I will try to win four competitions” and it suddenly becomes “We can do the quadruple.” I mean, I know he always pulls the old “I don’t speak very good English” chestnut, particularly when it suits him to do so, but you’d think the British press would have a slightly better command of the Queen’s own wouldn’t you?

You see, when Scolari suggests if the players can get themselves into finals then he knows how to win them, to me, that’s a direct challenge to his own players. He’s not only challenging them though, he’s letting them know he’s confident in their ability to do it – and in his own ability to finish the job off if they give him the opportunity. Sadly, the subtlety of his man management is lost on the boys from the press, who wet themselves in unison while telling the world he’s ‘signalling the start of hostilities’ by throwing down the gauntlet to the opposition.

I’ll be the first to admit Scolari’s CV, albeit pretty sound, hasn’t inspired me in terms of what we’ll actually win in the forthcoming season, but thanks to the blatant exaggeration from the media, it’s made me pay a lot more attention to what he actually says – and I’m pretty happy with what I’m seeing.

Not for him TSO’s full-on bragging of what he’ll achieve and bigging the players up so their confidence expands to the point of arrogance, more subtly letting them know he believes they’ve got the ability but he expects them to prove it.

Even where the press are concerned, he’s so far shown he’s nobody’s fool because his aren’t the only words to be taken out of context – a fact he was obviously well aware of when he refused to get drawn into it. And when it comes to the likes of Kenyon and co, whilst I’ve little doubt  Scolari’s style of play will be a vast improvement on last season’s (largely because he’d have to go some way to get us playing a lot worse), when it comes to being ‘told’ how he should be playing, I’ve even less doubt he could care less what Gollum has to say on the subject.

I’m warming to him.

Anelka Feeling The Pain?

Mention Chelsea’s Champions League defeat to anyone and the image the majority are likely to conjure up would usually be John Terry. Be it his penalty slip or the tears that followed, this is what most would remember. He certainly seemed to take it harder than anyone, shouldering the responsibility for eleven men with a public apology – although I never really saw the need for that.

I guess Drogba too, made an attempt at apologising for the part he played (or didn’t as the case may be, although he did this in his own good time and it felt about as sincere as Kenyon’s statement about Avram taking us “to the next level”.

For me though, when I think about that defeat, whilst I clearly remember JT’s miss, that memory in itself isn’t the one that still induces the empty, sick feeling in my stomach, or the one that makes me want to bury my head until someone comes to tell me it didn’t really happen. No, for me, the image guaranteed to remind me of how sickeningly crushed I felt that night – and every time I’ve been reminded of it since – is the moment Nicolas Anelka stepped up to take a penalty.

He had ‘miss’ written all over his face but worse still, he had ‘couldn’t care less’ inscribed in every sulking step he took towards the ball. And as if his penalty, which was more akin to a father’s gentle pass back to his toddler than the deciding kick of a Champions League final, wasn’t bad enough, then his attitude certainly was. Because whilst Terry was falling over himself (no pun intended) to shoulder the blame – and let’s not forget, Terry’s miss wasn’t the one that finished us altogether – Anelka was shrugging his shoulders and whining like a bitch to excuse himself.

Now whilst I’ve previously accepted he had a point about the position he was played in last season, what I couldn’t accept was that he picked the mother of all games to sulk in. After all, he certainly wasn’t the only player to be brought into the game late and not only did Belletti and Anderson both look up for the penalties they willingly stepped up for, but they both did enough to score them as well.

Anyway, having shrugged his shoulders the following day stating “I had to go seventh but Edwin Van Der Sar pushed away my shot. Good for him.”, what we’re now being told is that for him, the wounds still haven’t healed. Whilst still whingeing about how hard it was for him because he wasn’t “involved at the start of the competition” he suggests the penalty miss was harder for him than JT. Anelka now says “John is a big player for Chelsea, he has already done something for the club by helping them win so many trophies. I am new so it was more difficult for me. I try not to think about it, but it’s very hard. Even if I scored the penalty I still would feel I have something to prove.”

Well, I’m going to have to disagree with him over which player out of the two would feel that defeat the hardest, but what I do agree with is that Anelka still has a lot to prove. Certainly, he was played out of position way too much last season (although so was Essien and I don’t remember him sulking about it) and he’s looked better, if not that much happier in his spot up front this pre-season. So, with last season’s words from Anelka still fresh in my mind:

“Next season it will be different, I won’t be a new man anymore, I will be a Chelsea player.”

I can only suggest I hope he starts to act like one.

Lampard and Drogba Drag It Out As Ballack ‘Quits’

Surprise, surprise, as predicted on TheChelseaBlog recently, it’s starting to look increasingly likely that on return from Chelsea’s pre-season tour, Frank Lampard will be offered the contract he’s asked for. Or at least, he’ll be offered the staggeringly reduced rate of £140,000 for the five year period he demands. The question is will he sign it?

You see, just when I was starting to feel a little cynical in questioning whether Frank genuinely wanted this deal, it becomes apparent I’m not the only one with suspicions. According to yesterday’s press, even ‘senior executives’ inside Stamford Bridge are starting to wonder if the ‘negotiations’ are a bit of a smokescreen, with one Chelsea ‘source’ suggesting “It does seem a bit odd that Frank is holding out for another 12 months when a very favourable deal has been put to him. And by offering him the extra year at least we will know once and for all whether this has been the main obstacle preventing him from committing his future to the club.” Indeed we will.

Anyway, on to my next battle with cynicism, and by my calculations, the ten days Didier Drogba had given us to reach his decision are up. So what is his decision? Well, we’re still none the wiser. Or are we? The Ivorian didn’t travel with the rest of the squad on their gruelling pre-season tour, so that could be a clue? My natural suspicion initially suggested yes, although Didier points out: “I am currently injured, people who say I am not don’t know me at all because I always want to play. I have even missed the chance to play at the Olympics.” Ok, benefit of the doubt there then.

However, never one to quit while he’s ahead, Drogba then goes on to say “This next week will be key in terms of my future. As for my future I have a contract with the club that is clear. But my agents will have a meeting in London and then it will be known once and for all.” So, unless he expects his agents to suddenly discover he doesn’t have a contract with us after all, we can assume he’s staying then? Of course we can’t because he goes on to say “It is true that the big clubs in Europe want me but this does not depend on me but on the Chelsea directors. I want to know the definitive decision this week.” So he wants the club to let him go then?

Wait though, there’s more – didn’t you just know it with Didier? – because according to the press, in a late dramatic twist, not only has Drogba delayed writing the final chapter of his autobiography (presumably until he seeks the help of a clairvoyant?) his agent has also confirmed “Didier is a Chelsea player but there is a 50% chance that he will stay and 50% that he will leave.” So that’s as clear as mud then!

Finally, we get around to a player who makes no secret of the fact he actually wants to stay with the club – the newly married Michael Ballack. It would appear his recent nuptials aren’t the only vows he’s been making, with yesterday’s papers screaming headlines of his decision to quit. Fear not though because the German midfielder plans to stay at Chelsea until he retires from the game, albeit at the sooner than expected date of 2010.

Ballack, who enjoyed the applause he received from his team-mates on his delayed arrival for the pre-season tour, reiterated his intent to retire from football once he’s captained Germany in the 2010 World Cup but stated “I have said in the past that I would be happy to see out my career at Chelsea. I moved here to play in the best league in the world with one of the strongest sides.”

But it was his parting shot, dripping with the sort of sarcastic humour generally associated more with the English than Germans that’s made me even happier to know he’ll be taking up the option of extending his current one year contract to two. Because, in recognition of the sheer joke some of his fellow team-mates seem to make out of contract negotiations, Ballack stated “I’ve just been talking to Peter Kenyon and told him that I want to sign a new five year contract. So now I have a bit of a problem.”

Nice work Michael.

Chelsea’s Right-back Dilemma

With the announcement that our new £16.3million right-back, Jose Bosingwa, looks set to miss the start of the new campaign with a torn thigh muscle, it’s had me asking a question I seem to have asked way too many times: What is it about Chelsea and right-backs? Left-backs, no problem – we’ve got England’s finest but when it comes to the other side of the pitch, it just never seems to happen.

Have we even had a decent one consistently since the days of Steve Clarke?  Maybe we were spoilt with Clarkey having such a long period in his position but we’ve certainly not been afforded anywhere near the same luxury since. I mean, it’s not as if any of the players we’ve had since have come close to his 421 appearances and they definitely haven’t reached the club’s Player of the Year status he achieved in 1994. In fact, ever since our Cup Winner’s Cup final victory against Stuttgart in 1998, filling the right-back position has been pretty hit and miss.

Albert Ferrer, arriving in June 1998 definitely established himself in the position, for a while at least. This hard tackling, pacy right-back won a few friends and also helped us qualify for our first ever Champions League campaign in his first season. However, despite playing in 14 of our 16 games in the competition the following year, which saw us reach the quarter finals, he missed out on our FA Cup final victory through injury and his steady run in the side came to a halt. Injuries and rotation saw Chapi make a mere 14 appearances the following season and this reduced further still to 7 appearances in his final two years at the club. So, his 113 games for Chelsea was never going to rival Clarke.

In the summer of 1999 whilst Ferrer was still in favour, we brought in Mario Melchiot. Now here was a player you could really take to. Not only because it was great to see his athletic runs down the wing but also because he had a great character. I remember him saying before a game against Arsenal in 2003, we should “grab them by the throats and kill them”. Unfortunately, Mourinho’s arrival and subsequent clear-out saw Melchiot off to Birmingham City in July 2004 after a 5 year stay and 130 appearances.

2003 saw the arrival of both Geremi and Glenn Johnson. Johnson looked a pretty bright prospect during his first season and even though ruled out at the start of the following season through injury, still played a role within the squad. However, a combination of poor form and even poorer discipline at the start of the next season saw Johnson fall out of favour. Sent home from the England under-21 squad to nurse an attitude problem, Johnson was soon punching walls to rule himself out for Chelsea as well, seeing his place as right-back slipping further away until he sent out on loan and subsequently sold to Portsmouth. A mere 42 appearances in 4 years.

Geremi, was originally brought to Chelsea as a right-winger by Claudio Ranieri in 2003 although Mourinho’s arrival pushed him almost out of contention except as a back-up for the newly installed Paulo Ferreira. So, despite playing consistently under Ranieri, Geremi eventually left Chelsea for Newcastle after a four year period with 72 games to his credit.

Of course, it should also be mentioned that William Gallas thoroughly enjoyed the odd game filling in at right-back around this time as well, although since he’d tell us all he was employed as a centre-back at Chelsea, we’ll gloss over that one.

So, moving closer to the present day, and the beginning of the 2004-2005 season saw the £13.2million arrival of Paulo Ferreira. A very consistent performer initially, playing 29 games in the Premier League before being ruled out injured. The 2005-2006 season was pretty solid from Ferreira again but by 2006-2007 he was struggling for both confidence and form and dropped down the pecking order behind first Boulahrouz, then Geremi and even midfielder Lassana Diarra. Last season saw Ferreira again second or even third choice at times, behind Essien and Belletti, although that didn’t stop him signing a new 5-year deal keeping him at the club until 2013. 92 generally consistent although pretty unspectacular performances from him so far then.

Khalid Boulahrouz made a promising start for us in 2006, most notably having Ronaldinho in his pocket against Barca. However, dodgy performances and injuries saw him drop out of contention and he spent last season on loan at Sevilla before recently being sold to Stuttgart after a pretty pointless 13 appearances for us.

Juliano Belletti arrived shortly before Mourinho’s departure last summer, although at 32, we already knew he wasn’t going to notch up that many games for the club. Not a bad 23 in his first season for us with a couple of wicked goals to go with it, but his performances haven’t always been that consistent and at his age, he won’t be troubling Clarkey’s record either.

So, with Essien being totally wasted as right-back cover, the announcement of Jose Bosingwa’s signing came as a great relief. Here was a pretty decent right-back to kick our season with every position well and truly covered. Or not as the case may be?

Robinho: The Waiting Game

This summer has seen some of the biggest moves in football taking place, although so far these moves have all been on paper. Because while the press try to excite us every day with stories about how the top clubs plan to spend their millions, in reality, it’s all moving along about as swiftly as the World Chess Championships.

Take Chelsea and Robinho for example, we’ve been linked to a move for the Real Madrid winger all summer and publicly declared an interest following a series of meetings with the Spanish club. He’s even rumoured to have agreed personal terms with us although the amount we might be prepared to pay seems to vary from paper to paper. Initially, the papers started the bidding at £25million, increasing to £31.5million, before finally settling on the ‘British transfer record’ of £35million which would apparently be acceptable to Real if they get a decent replacement.

This is where the tactical manoeuvring comes in, because seemingly at the heart of any big move this summer is Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo. No-one could have failed to notice Real’s public courtship of the Portuguese winger, wholeheartedly backed by FIFA’s Sepp Blatter. The player himself has vaguely hinted he’d be open to the move although has never actually stated he wants to leave United, and with four years remaining on his current deal, the champions have quite rightly stated he is not for sale. However, this standoff between Real and United doesn’t do us any favours because despite being prepared to offload Robinho when it suits them, at the present time Real are refusing to let him go.

Real have even tried to use Robinho as part of a swap deal for Ronaldo but with the unreceptive outcome not favouring the Brazilian, his agent, Wagner Ribeiro expressed his displeasure by informing the Spanish Champions that his client wanted to leave.

Just days ago we heard how Robinho was so “desperate” to get away from real Madrid now, he was planning to publicly criticise the Spanish club should they carry out their threat to block his move to Stamford Bridge.  Yet Real coach, Bernd Schuster, is adamant he wants to keep Robinho, stating “I don’t see Robinho out of this team because it doesn’t make any sense. It’s normal that being in Brazil stories reach him from 10,000km away, but it’s rubbish. He has to be with us. He’s a player in our project. We’ve shown him his goals from last year and we all realised that he is one of the most important players in this squad and we need him for the next few years.”

Strange coincidence that Robinho’s been withdrawn from Brazil’s Olympic squad through injury while all this is going on, or maybe I’m just reading too much into it? I wouldn’t be the only one though, because the Brazilians are also said to believe the 24 year old is deliberately being withheld in case it jeopardises his move to Chelsea, and sources in the Real camp suggest he isn’t happy with the club. However, the source of his anger isn’t so much about missing the Olympics, as the thought of missing out on a deal at Chelsea which would see his current £1.7million a year earnings at Real rise to £6million a year at Stamford Bridge. On this subject though, Schuster says “The only problem is when a player can’t train with a group as he should, and more so in the case of Robinho, who needs to show his joy on the pitch and to be happy with his team-mates. He’s recovering from his injury and that is cheering him up. I’m very calm. The day he starts training with the team again he’ll soon pick up. It’s not a worry.”

Anyway, with the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo looking increasingly unlikely as the summer wears on, Real are under pressure to come up with someone else to appease the supporters and here’s another manoeuvre for us. Because while rumours of us offering ridiculous sums of money for Kaka have also been high on the agenda this summer, Real have also been doing a bit of sniffing around AC Milan expressing an interest – or so we’re told. But with Milan making it abundantly clear this is another young man not up for auction this summer that looks like another big money move dead in the water.

So what have we got left? Well, Real are now rumoured to be ready to push on with a £30million bid for David Villa, although Valencia – as hard up as they are – don’t fancy the idea of him playing for a rival club. And this is the most amusing part of the merry-go-round, because here’s where even Spurs come into the equation. With them losing Robbie Keane to Liverpool and Dimitar Berbatov almost certainly on his way to Manchester United, the North London club could go up against Real in a battle for David Villa themselves.

Wait for it though, because even amid all this tactical dancing around each other, Real Madrid continue to suggest ‘the sale of Robinho is not in any way linked to their attempts to sign Cristiano Ronaldo.’

Meanwhile, Robinho and Chelsea continue to sit and wait.

Player Unrest As Chelsea Get Tough!

Do the press ever give it a break? Not content with the stories around Drogba and Lampard, they go on to use Fergie’s recent comments to their own advantage. Sadly for them though, the verbal fisticuffs they’d hoped for didn’t materialise. But do they back off and find someone else to have a pop at? Of course not, they simply look for another stick to beat us with.

So, what have they come up with this time? Well, the latest little gem is ‘dressing-room unrest’ over the pre-season tour apparently. According to ‘a source’, before we’d even played the second game against Chengdu Blades, several senior players were complaining of jet-lag and exhaustion. They didn’t look too exhausted to me when they strode to a 7-0 win, but let’s go with the ‘source’ for a minute. The 15 day trip, designed to raise money for China’s earthquake victims, sees Chelsea travel to China, Malaysia and then on to Moscow for the four-team Railways Cup. This, according to the ‘source’ is said to be “the worst possible preparations for the season”, with the temperature adding to player’s displeasure. Well, it looked like they were enjoying it to me, but I suppose we could just humour the press and say what can you expect from a load of pensioners?

The press haven’t finished yet though, because just in case we did happen to take that little gem with a pinch of salt, they’ve got another one for us to worry about. You see, our old friends the ‘sources’ are keeping the media boys very busy this summer, particularly when it comes to the now predictable ‘unrest’ where Chelsea’s concerned. Because, not only have the club shown how cruel they are by making the players travel somewhere a little on the warm side for their pre-season games, they’ve gone one better than that. In an act that clearly cannot be regarded as anything but sheer callousness, Chelsea have ‘dumped’ their physio Dave Hancock.

Now, whereas some of us might think it’s not uncommon to see backroom staff depart once a new manager arrives at a club, not so says the ‘source’. Because the blame is laid squarely on the club’s shoulders, and a ‘clash of personalities’ with club doctor Bryan English is at it’s root. Well, of course, we should’ve guessed it couldn’t be anything as simple as a reshuffle within the medical department, as suggested by the club.

So, now we have news of a ‘delegation’, led by Chelsea captain John Terry – surprise, surprise – demanding Hancock’s reinstatement. So strong is the bond built up between the players and Hancock in his 18 long months at the club, that Terry allowed himself to be ‘persuaded’ to step in apparently.

Chelsea however, have said “There was absolutely no clash of personalities. There was a restructuring within the medical department and Dave was offered a role within that, which he initially declined. Therefore his contract was not renewed. The club wishes him all the best and thanks him for all his work with Chelsea.”

So, there you have it, not only have Chelsea ‘dumped’ their physio – incurring the wrath of John Terry in the process – but they’ve also forced the lads to go out and stroke the ball around a pitch when they are just too tired to put it in the back of the net seven times.

They’ll be capping wages next!

Mourinho Linked To Another Chelsea Move

Whether he’s after our players or just being used as a yardstick to compare the latest Chelsea manager, we just don’t seem to be able to shake our links with Jose Mourinho. At least this time though that link is slightly less direct and Mourinho’s latest bit of business looks set to quieten down any talk of Frank Lampard joining him – for this season at least.

In what appears to be a temporary surrender on Mourinho’s part as far as taking Lampard is concerned, the former Chelsea boss has signed Portsmouth’s Sulley Muntari for his Inter Milan side.  But the link doesn’t end there, because Muntari’s exit and the £12.75million gleaned could now see Shaun Wright-Phillip’s leaving Chelsea to fill the vacant position.

Shaun has been linked with Portsmouth amongst other clubs since the end of the last campaign and Harry Redknapp is almost certain to put in a bid now that the funds would seem to be available. And with Lampard now looking set to see out his contract if nothing else, it’s unlikely Scolari will raise any objections if the price is right.

Since his arrival in a £21million deal from Manchester City in 2005, Shaun’s failed to hold down a regular first team place and despite a decent spell under Mourinho, has largely been on the fringes. This has also seen him omitted from the England squad and as we’ve all heard, his dad is not amused.

So, with a possible offer in the region of around half what we paid for him, next season could see Shaun resurrecting his career at Portsmouth. This has surely got to be a better deal for Pompey than it is for us, especially if the 26 year old manages to recapture at Fratton Park the sort of form that brought him to Stamford Bridge in the first place.

Pizarro’s Agent On Those ‘Crazy’ Rumours

Claudio Pizarro is one of several players to find himself working under his third manager at Chelsea and just like several other players could very well be under someone else by the start of next season.

Having been brought in from the Bundesliga by Jose Mourinho, Pizarro clearly didn’t impress with his two goals in 22 starts last season and Avram Grant all but forgot he existed. Now under Luiz Felipe Scolari, Pizarro continues to fail to impress and his recent internal suspension for cluttering up his room at the team hotel with women and alcohol won’t have helped his cause much either. In fact, he’s probably got as much chance of reconciling with Chelsea now as Mills has with McCartney.

Anyway, rumour had it Pizarro could be on his way to River Plate, with the Argentinean club’s president suggesting words had been had. According to Jose Maria Aguilar, Pizarro’s agent had offered him up ahead of the Apertura which starts next month. The one cloud on the horizon however, seemed to be around the 29 year old’s wage demands in the region of £2.5million a year. I’m not sure how he thinks he can command that sort of salary after a year on his backside but that shouldn’t be Chelsea’s concern next season.

According to his agent however, Pizarro’s departure is far from cut-and-dried.  In something coming marginally close to a rant, Carlos Delgado hit back “Someone was bored and released that crazy news”, well, no more crazy than Pizarro demanding £2.5million a year for a two goal return surely? But Delgado has more to say on the subject, insisting “He has a contract with Chelsea and wants to play in Europe. This idea is as crazy as Universitario or Alianza signing Crespo.”

But if you think that’s crazy, wait for the next bit, because according to Delgado, Claudio Pizarro intends to fight for his place at Chelsea! In possibly one of the craziest statements I’ve heard this year, Delgado says “Seven European teams have asked for him and I told them all the truth: Claudio wants to stay at Chelsea and it is pointless to continue talking about a move that will not happen.”

Yeah right, and maybe there’s hope for Mills and McCartney as well?

Mikel Plans To Fill Makelele’s Boots

Following Claude Makelele’s departure to Paris St Germain, there has been much talk regarding the gaping hole the 35 year old has left behind. The main theme seems to be around whether Chelsea really have a natural successor to fill the Makelele role in their ranks or whether the club’s decision to allow the Frenchman to leave will leave the Chelsea defence a lot more vulnerable than it has been for the past five years. However, there’s one young midfielder inside Stamford Bridge with no such concerns –  21 year old John Obi Mikel.

Following his move to Chelsea in somewhat controversial circumstances in 2006, Mikel, although previously seen as an attack-minded player has been utilised in that defensive midfield role, albeit alternating between playing both alongside and in the absence of Makelele, although last season the Nigerian had more appearances to his credit than his more experienced counterpart. Little wonder then that the young understudy is now coveting the position in the wake of the master’s departure.

In looking at Mikel’s ability to fill his predecessor’s boots, it has to be acknowledged that last season’s exposure to the role will have taught him some valuable lessons. Because, whilst his strength and physical presence on the pitch often belied his age, as if to counteract this we continued to witness the occasional rush of blood to the head to serve as a reminder of his youth.  Subsequently, having already received 2 red cards in his first season for Chelsea, Mikel then went on to leave us with ten men against both Everton and Manchester United last season. But this is hopefully where the lesson comes in, because, having seen himself left out of the side following the fourth red card of his Chelsea career, Mikel vowed to clean up his act. Finding himself with a little more time on his hands to reflect, Mikel stated “It is going to stop. It is not good for the team to be down to 10 men and I am trying my best to make sure I don’t get red cards.”

However, in defence of Mikel for last season at least it has to be noted he was by far from being the only player with questionable discipline. Mourinho’s exit during the early part of the season followed by the much less wanted Avram Grant clearly unsettled the majority and it appears Mikel was no exception, with him saying “I think I did very well under Mourinho and was playing regularly. Of course, when a new manager comes in everyone has to start afresh and roll up their sleeves. In Avram Grant’s time I was in and out of the side, and that was a bit frustrating, but it’s what happens in football.”

With the aforementioned ‘fresh start’ on the horizon again, Mikel, who is reported to be ‘loving’ life under the new Chelsea boss, certainly appears full of optimism and is confident he can fulfil the void left by the outgoing Makelele. Of this task Mikel says “I was in and out of the team last season, but when I was given a chance under Mourinho before, I actually did ok in that holding role. It’s something I’ve wanted – a run in the team – and I suppose Claude’s departure has opened up that door for me. This time, under the new boss, I will try to make it my position in the team each week.”

And if he can manage to avoid his customary two red cards a season, he might just do it!