U.S. sports fans are well aware of the vagaries of free agency and trade acquisitions. For every big-money guy who delivers under the pressure of new expectations, there are countless others who aren't able to display the same skill with a different team.
There are two crucial lessons in this which often get lost on fans while they consume ranking lists and debate over which player is better: 1) player evaluation isn't linear; and 2) how a player fits on one team has little to do with his fit with another. Basically, defining a player as the "seventh" or "19th" best is silly because how he plays is heavily influenced by where he does, and his value to another team may be much higher or lower than his current one without any real change in skill.
Now, imagine that kind of imperfect market but expanded globally, with players coming from myriad countries and competitions and trying to assimilate into one league that has the most physical, highest-tempo style in the world. That's the world of soccer transfers, which explains why a lot of them don't work out.
Indeed, there are tons of reasons transfers go can awry. Here are some of the principal Premier League categories from the past few seasons as TV money has fueled bigger gambles:
- You spend a lot of money on a mediocre player (Shane Long to Southampton)
- You spend an insane amount of money on an OK one-note player (Andy Carroll to Liverpool)
- You spend a lot of money and the player isn't healthy (Kostas Mitroglou to Fulham)
- You spend a ton of money and the player doesn't settle, is misused, gets hurt, and then validates your evaluation in Year 2 with the sickest rabona goal ever (Erik Lamela to Spurs)
- You spend double the proper amount of money and get half the return because the player is English (dozens of violations)
- You spend a lot of money on old guys because you're desperate and your owner has no discipline (most QPR transfers)
Even the true bluebloods aren't immune. Everyone makes mistakes.
But every now and again, a club makes a transfer or two that end up being utterly perfect, an ethereal combination of fit, quality and immediate assimilation that leads to precisely the results the team imagines when they make the moves. This season, that would be Chelsea's acquisitions of Spain international teammates Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas. By absolutely nailing two major summer moves, the Blues very well may have bought themselves a championship.
By all accounts, the Blues should have won the league last season. They were easily the most prolific side against the other eventual Champions League teams, and they absolutely manhandled the teams in the top half of the table after New Year's Day.
Somewhat shockingly, though, Chelsea dumped 12 points to bottom-half teams, and consistently had trouble breaking down bunkered defenses. The height of the absurdity came in a 0-0 January draw with West Brom in which Chelsea attempted 39 shots, but 1-0 losses to Aston Villa and Crystal Palace were more damaging.
In the end, Chelsea's Mourinho-fueled counterattacking capability was perfect to abuse those teams with the hubris to think they could dictate the terms of engagement, but they lacked the playmaking and the poised finisher to kill off the lesser teams.
Fixing the second part of that equation was the more straightforward one. Mourinho was very well acquainted with Costa's ability, having lost to Atletico Madrid in last season's Champions League as well as during his time as manager at Real Madrid. Costa, when healthy, has been every bit of the predatory goal scorer he was heralded to be upon arrival, leading the league with 17 goals so far this campaign.
Those have come from just 33 shots on target. When he gets fair sight of goal, opponents are in massive trouble.
It only seems like every one of Costa's goals has been set up by Fabregas, who already has 15 helpers on the season and is only five away from Thierry Henry's league record. That's not quite the case, much like his arrival back in the Premier League after a stint at Barcelona was not really the perceived slam dunk that Costa's was considered. On a roster with a ton of very talented playmakers, it wasn't 100 percent certain who he would displace and what his role would be. Then he did this in the opening match at Burnley in August:
It hasn't really stopped since then, with Swansea the latest victim this past weekend in a 5-0 loss. First, Costa coolly finished a sublime buildup that started and ended with Fabregas:
Then Costa showed his lethal finishing capability after stealing a wayward backpass:
Finally, about 45 seconds later, it was Costa turning provider:
There's really not much teams can do to stop this version of Chelsea. The Blues still capable of destroying the opposition on the counter (as Everton found out in a 6-3 home loss early this season) but now can slice apart the most parked of buses, too. The Blues are top of the league (or darn close) in practically every notable underlying stat. What they're doing is not a fluke.
So, despite a couple of unexpected recent stumbles, Chelsea is back to five points (and seven goals) ahead of the holders, Manchester City, and can more or less end the suspense this coming weekend, when the two meet at Stamford Bridge. With the way Chelsea is playing and the remaining schedules for both teams, it's very difficult to see City clawing back eight (or nine) points the rest of the way should Chelsea win the match; the Blues have only dropped 14 points all season so far.
The enhanced depth in the squad also should allow Mourinho to manage the squad through the four competitions Chelsea is still juggling (Capital One Cup, FA Cup and Champions League in addition to the league). The best part? The transfers didn't even cost the club very much thanks to the absolutely absurd $80 million or so Chelsea got for center back David Luiz, along with the big fee for Romelu Lukaku from Everton.
Sometimes, you just get things right, and when you do, the results can be beautiful. On the west side of London, Chelsea has already have spent five months celebrating the exploits of its two most heralded additions, and unless something changes pretty significantly, Chelsea and its fans will be doing a lot more of that over the next four.
GALLERY: Tifos from around the world
Best soccer tifos from around the world
Galatasaray fans display a sensational "Rocky" tifo ahead of their clash against rival Fenerbahce. It didn't inspire a victory, though. The Turkish rivals played to a 0-0 draw.
Borussia Dortmund fans channel their 1963 cup triumph over Benfica ahead of the teams' second leg in the Champions League round of 16 at Signal Iduna Park.
Hapoel Be'er Sheva fans turn to Moses for tifo inspiration, with his splitting the Red Sea illustrating how "impossible is nothing" in their Europa League series against Besiktas.
Fans of Tunisia's Club Africain display this pointed tifo at a friendly against PSG, whose Qatari owners have pumped millions and millions into the club.
U.S. fans in Columbus, Ohio, make a "One Nation, One Team" statement ahead of the USMNT's World Cup qualifying match against Mexico on November 11, 2016.
Germany fans display their heart for the team colors ahead of a World Cup qualifier against Czech Republic in October 2016.
Italy fans spell out their support for the Azzurri ahead of a massive World Cup qualifier vs. Spain in October 2018.
Iceland fans keep up their world-famous passion for the national team during a World Cup qualifier against Turkey in October 2016.
Fans in the United Arab Emirates set their sights on reaching the 2018 World Cup in Russia during a qualifying match vs. Australia in September 2016.
Colombia fans send a massive jersey around the stadium during a World Cup qualifier vs. Venezuela in September 2016.
Seattle Sounders fans turn to Game Of Thrones for inspiration in a game against the Cascadia rival Vancouver Whitecaps in September 2016.
Djurgardens fans go all out in Sweden for a match against AIK in September 2016.
Zulte Waregem fans prepare Kortrijk for the absolute worst in this Belgian top-flight match in September 2016.
Seattle Sounders fans turn their pop culture reference to Poltergeist in March 2016 ahead of the season home opener against Sporting Kansas City.
The Timbers Army doubles down on their Eastbound and Down theme, adding another wrinkle during the club's MLS Western Conference final first leg vs. FC Dallas on November 22, 2015 at Providence Park.
Fans make a French flag tifo at Wembley Stadium during the singing of Le Marseillaise ahead of England's friendly vs. France, which took place days after the terrorist attacks in Paris.
The Timbers Army referenced Eastbound & Down's Kenny Powers with their "Cup Bound and Down" tifo for the Portland Timbers' MLS playoff elimination game against Sporting Kansas City on October 29, 2015.
Brondby IF fans display a gladiator holding up a lion's head during the team's Danish Alka Superliga match against FC Copenhagen, whose logo is a lion's head, on September 27, 2015.
New England Revolution fans equate Jermaine Jones to Indiana Jones on their quest to capture the 2015 MLS Cup on September 26, 2015.
New England Revolution fans display a Lion King theme in honor of Orlando City FC's first visit to Gillette Stadium on September 5, 2015.
Red Bulls fans take a shot at NYCFC's two summer arrivals, 37-year-old Frank Lampard and 36-year-old Andrea Pirlo, ahead of their third MLS meeting of 2015.
Germany fans in Cologne salute their World Cup champions ahead of a friendly against the United States in June, 2015.
Real Madrid fans went all out prior to the second leg of the 2014-15 Champions League semifinal vs. Juventus.
Lazio fans display a stunning eagle tifo ahead of the Rome derby against AS Roma in their penultimate Serie A match of the 2014-15 season.
Barcelona fans bid farewell to veteran midfielder Xavi with this banner at his last league game at Camp Nou before he departs for Qatari club Al Sadd.
Fans at Anfield pay tribute to Steven Gerrard in his final home match as a Liverpool player in May 2015.
Juventus fans state their case to beat Real Madrid in the 2014-15 Champions League semifinals and reach the final in Berlin.
Fans at Benfica's Estadio da Luz remind rival Porto who the Primeira Liga reigning champion is during an April 2015 match in Portugal.
New York Red Bulls fans send a pointed message to their NYCFC counterparts prior to the teams' first MLS meeting in May, 2015.
Inter Milan's Curva Nord announces its presence ahead of the April 2015 Derby della Madonnina–the annual clashes between city rivals Inter and AC Milan.
Bayern Munich fans implore their club to (translated) "Never give up" in the Champions League quarterfinal second leg vs. Porto. Bayern then turned a 3-1 first-leg deficit into a 7-4 aggregate win and a place in the semifinals.
Dortmund fans commemorate their 1997 Champions League trophy in the club's clash vs. Juventus–the opponent on the wrong side of that title bout.
Portland Timbers fans speak out against homophobia with this tifo in a 2013 match against Chivas USA
Atletico's supporters display a banner reading "Atleti crushes" before the Spanish league match between Atletico Madrid and FC Barcelona at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid,
Borussia Dortmund fans put on a remarkable display ahead of a UEFA Champions League quarterfinal second leg match.
Brondby IF fans unveil a tifo ahead of a match in Denmark against Randers FC.
FC Barcelona fans display a huge banner in memory of former head coach Tito Vilanova.
Galatasaray fans support their team during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Borussia Dortmund and Galatasaray at the Turk Telekom Arena in Istanbul.
The American Outlaws unveil a huge tifo ahead of a 2014 World Cup send-off match between the USA and Turkey at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.
Marseille's supporters use paper sheets to create an "OM" (Olympique de Marseille) tifo at the beginning of the French L1 football match between Marseille and Genoble.
Seattle Sounders fans display their tifo that shows coach Sigi Schmid playing cards and holding a Royal Flush before a match against the Portland Timbers.
Panathinaikos Athens fans display a banner during the UEFA Europa League match against Dynamo Moscow.
Fans of the Saudi Al-Hilal team celebrate after the scoring of a goal against Uzbekistan's Bunyodkor.
Seattle Sounders fans unveil a tifo inspired from the “Build a Bonfire” chant, featuring Sounder players holding torches on horseback ahead of a game against the Portland Timbers.
Fans of Hertha BSC before the Bundesliga match between Hertha BSC and Werder Bremen in Berlin.
Sporting Kansas City fans channel their inner Mario ahead of the 2013 MLS Cup final vs. Real Salt Lake.
Brondby IF fans.
Thousands of Barcelona fans hold up cards to spell out "Barca! Orgull," which translates to "Barcelona pride" ahead of a Champions League clash with Bayern Munich at Camp Nou.
Fans raise a tifo celebrating “Community, Club and Country” ahead of a CONCACAF Gold Cup match between the USA and Belize in Portland, Oregon.
Vitesse fans unfurl a massive Eagle banner at the Dutch Eredivisie match against Ajax at the GelreDome.
Valencia fans drape a banner featuring a king for a Copa del Rey ("The King's Cup) match against Atletico Madrid.
Juventus fans make a statement in Turin in a match vs. Inter Milan.
Dortmund fans put on another strong display at a Bundesliga match against Mainz 05.
German fans boast the newest star earned by the national team, symbolizing its 2014 World Cup triumph, at a Euro 2016 qualifying match in Dortmund.
Real Madrid fans make a point to display the club's 10 European championships ahead of the October 2014 clash against rival Barcelona at the Bernabeu.
San Jose Earthquakes fans unleash a massive tifo to mark the opening of Avaya Stadium, MLS's newest soccer-specific venue, in March 2015.
Barcelona fans show all who the real 12th man is ahead of the March 2015 Clásico vs. Real Madrid.
Ahead of a clash with Mexican foe Monterrey, Tigres players are treated by this message by its fervent supporters.
Standard Liege fans have a pointed message for Steven Defour, who departed the club for Belgian rival Anderlecht.
Orlando City fans mark their club's inaugural MLS game vs. fellow expansion side New York City FC with a statement that the Lions' "reign begins now."
Real Madrid fans salute Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo after he captured the most prestigious individual prize in world soccer again.
Vitesse fans pay homage to Operation Market Garden ahead of an Eredivisie match against SC Heerenveen.
Sevilla's fans deploy a giant banner in the stands before the UEFA Europa league final match between Benfica and Sevilla.
Fans in Liverpool’s Kop End at Anfield commemorate those lost in the Hillsborough disaster.
Lyon fans during a game against Saint Etienne.