It’s been a dilemma facing the last few managers of Chelsea – how to usher out the veterans of the first Mourinho era while integrating the new blood, preferably while maintaining the quality of the side. Andreas Villas Boas failed spectacularly, Roberto di Matteo hardly had time to get started, while Rafa Benitez didn’t really care. It’s largely been left to Jose Mourinho to carry out the necessary surgery – and boy, how he has wielded the knife.
It’s been a brutal and rapid transformation, though we’ve hardly noticed it happen. This is how brutal. Of the 18 players who either started, or were on the bench for, the Champions League final just 2 years ago, just 6 remain at the club – Cech, Cahill, Bertrand, Mikel, Romeu and Torres. Of those, two spent most of last year out on loan and are more than likely to be sold this summer.
Another two – Mikel and Torres – are expected to depart, and could be joined by Cech if Courtois is brought to the Bridge. It’s quite conceivable that of the 18 heroes of Munich, only Cahill will still be playing in Chelsea colours come August.
That’s a hell of a turnaround. Admittedly it was underway before Mourinho’s arrival, but he has escalated it dramatically. Seven of the 18 departed under his tenure, and that could rise to 12 if we get rid of Bertrand, Mikel, Romeu, Torres and Cech.
Is that a good thing? It’s hard to deny that a clean-out of the old guard was overdue and that the Champions League victory was probably the last hurrah of a team that was still recognisable as Mourinho Mark One.
But Mourinho has also swept away players who were brought in as replacements for the old guard – Mata, Luiz – which has exacerbated the scale of the turnaround. In a way, his hand was force. In order to reinvigorate the squad in a time of Financial Fair Play stringency, money was needed – and to raise more than £90million with the sale of two players whose qualities he had doubts about anyway was a stroke of genius.
The weird thing is that until this summer, Chelsea fans have hardly noticed that the Munich 18 was being dismantled wholesale. The departures of Cole and Lampard have brought it more into focus, but there still seems little awareness of the scale and speed with which a European Cup winning team has been taken apart and disposed of.
Perhaps it is all for the best. There are many examples of successful teams kept together too long out of a sense of respect and nostalgia. One example would be the England World Cup winning team of 1966 – it is arguable that too many of that team were still first-choices four years later in Mexico. More change might have seen England do a better job of defending their title.
Chelsea fans must hope that refreshing the squad in such an all-embracing way will take the club back to the Champions League final soon. At which, if Cahill is perhaps injured by any chance, we the only players in a Chelsea shirt with any experience of such an occasion are likely to be those who played in May’s final for Atletico Madrid.