What, Jose Mourinho was asked on Wednesday night, was the difference between his Chelsea side and Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid after the latter's club advanced to the Champions League final?
"Three years to one year," he replied.
In a sense, it was a fair answer. Mourinho has consistently this season made clear that this is not a squad entirely in tune with his methods and, realistically, taking a side to the semifinal of the Champions League and finishing in the top three of the Premier League in his first season back is a reasonable achievement.
But it was also an answer that neglected certain key facts. It wasn't quite as spurious as the "little horse" analogies of earlier in the season, but the attempt to portray Chelsea as underdogs -- particularly against a side with such limited resources as Atletico -- is laughable.
This season, Chelsea's net spend is in the region of £45 million. Although £56 million was raised with the sales of Juan Mata and Kevin De Bruyne, the Blues have also bought Willian, Nemanja Matic, Andre Schurrle, Kurt Zouma, Mohamed Salah, Marco van Ginkel and Samuel Eto'o.
To place that in context, Liverpool's net spend in the same period was £21.5 million, Manchester City's £92 million and Real Madrid's £43 million, while Atletico, thanks largely to the sale of Radamel Falcao, made a profit of £38.5 million.
Chelsea's spending is significant, but not outrageous, while Mourinho can argue that it's not his fault if he has to take significant action to put right what has gone wrong before -- assuming, that is, that Mourinho is in charge of transfer activity, a question to which we'll return.
That rebuilding will take a little time is a logical position to take, and yet Mourinho must be aware that no previous manager at Chelsea in the Abramovich era has survived having failed to win the league after a full season in charge (of course, Chelsea may yet win the league but, as Mourinho himself acknowledged, third seems most likely).
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In fact, when Mourinho took charge, in 2004, he replaced Claudio Ranieri, who had just led Chelsea to the semifinal of the Champions League and second place in the Premier League. Given the increased competition now to 10 years ago, the comparison isn't entirely fair, but Abramovich could be forgiven for wondering how he's spent almost £700 million net on transfers, never mind wages or investment in the academy, to fall back a place in the league.
Chelsea is by some distance the hardest club in the Premier League to read, largely because most key decisions are taken by Abramovich himself, and he eschews all publicity and interviews. The executive board comprises chairman Bruce Buck, chief executive Ron Gourlay and his fellow directors Eugene Tenenbaum and Marina Granovskaia; finance and operations director Chris Alexander, club secretary David Barnard and company secretary Alan Shaw. Other key management figures are the football operations director Mike Forde and the technical director Michael Emenalo.
Since her elevation to the board last summer, Granovskaia has emerged as a key figure. The Russian-Canadian got to known Abramovich when working at Sibneft, the oil company the oligarch used to own, and is now regarded as his eyes and ears at Stamford Bridge. She is also known to be pro-Mourinho, which should guarantee, if there was any doubt, that his job is not under threat.
It would be no great surprise, though, if there was some change in structure of power, with Emenalo the figure under the most obvious threat, and Mourinho given a more direct say in transfer policy -- something that has been denied certain previous managers.
Mourinho's desire for a top-class center forward has been obvious for some time, his impatience with what he sees as limited options spilling over after the defeat away to Paris St.-Germain in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal. His frustration is understandable: Chelsea has won eight, drawn three and lost one of 12 games against the other teams in the top seven -- and has won seven in a row since drawing 0-0 at Arsenal on December 23 -- but has taken only 51 points form the other 24 games. Its form against the top sides has been title-winning, but against the rest has been only moderate.
It's not hard to draw a tactical conclusion: when the opposition takes the game to Chelsea, its counterattacking can exploit the space behind it. When a side sits deep, though, and is content to let Chelsea have the ball, it has lacked the guile or explosiveness to break it down, its attempts to force a breakthrough leaving it vulnerable at the back -- something that cost Chelsea against West Brom, Stoke, Aston Villa and Sunderland.
As well as a striker, Chelsea may seek an additional creator to ease the burden on Oscar, who has looked exhausted of late, while Frank Lampard's contract expires at the end of the season and John Terry, at 33, is probably nearing the end. There's also a decision to be made on whether to allow goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to continue on loan at Atletico or elsewhere, or whether he should be brought back to compete for the goalkeeper's slot with Petr Cech.
There will be changes at Stamford Bridge this summer, but the likelihood is that it will be Mourinho overseeing them. After 10 managers in 10 years, there is, at last, a sense of continuity at Chelsea.
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