Jose Mourinho has a lot to do this summer in terms of replenishing Chelsea’s squad, but perhaps the hardest of all the jobs on his “to-do” list must surely be filling the boots of Ashley Cole. After eight years at Stamford Bridge and more than 200 appearances for the Blues, Cole is moving on after being deemed surplus to requirements, too old or too expensive to offer another contract to.
It’s an understandable decision. Cole’s reliability and pace has noticeably lessened over the last two seasons, though his assured performances when called upon in the Champions League semi-final seemed to belie any idea that his talent had in any way diminished. However, replacing the greatest left-back in the club’s history – and arguably England’s too – is unlikely to prove easy.
Let’s take a look at Chelsea’s existing options. Cesar Azpilicueta filled the berth admirably for most of last season, but he is not a naturally left-sided player and most fans would prefer to see him on the other flank where he can deploy his attacking skills more fluently.
Ryan Bertrand was for some time considered Chelsea’s natural heir to Cole, but there are indications that the club are unconvinced that he is top quality. This may seem harsh on a Champions League winner, but the fact that he was sent out on loan to Aston Villa last season when he could have expected to be staking a claim to a first-team place bears that out. I expect him to be sold in the summer if an acceptable offer comes in.
Then there’s Patrick Van Aanholt. He’s spent most of his Chelsea career on loan – the last two years of it at Dutch club Vitesse. He’s become a first-team regular and impressed with his attacking play, but his defending remains suspect at times. He’s unlikely to be more than a back-up next season if he stays.
All of which leaves Chelsea needing to buy. Many would like to see the club pursue Luke Shaw – another to roll off Southampton’s seemingly endless production line of young talent, and now heading to Brazil with the England World Cup squad instead of Cole. Shaw is a gifted player – fast, comfortable on the ball, and adept at making quick decisions. He would also keep up Chelsea’s number of “homegrown” players, and as an added bonus, he is a Chelsea fan.
Set against that, however, is his asking price. Manchester United appear determined to secure his services and their interest appears to have raised a potential transfer fee to somewhere near £30 million –an extraordinary sum for any left-back, let alone an 18-year-old untested at the top level.
Which is why Chelsea may look no further than Atletico Madrid’s Filipe Luis. The Brazilian excelled last season as part of Europe’s most impressive defence, and was impressive in both games against Chelsea. Positionally and tactically aware and a tough tackler, he offers less going forward, but would reportedly cost just under £20 million.
Another alternative would be Sevilla’s young defender Albert Moreno. But his lack of experience may deter Mourinho, and he looks more likely to end up at Liverpool.
It may prove impossible to find an exact replacement for Ashley Cole, given the extraordinary range of the man’s talents. Chelsea may have to settle for a different sort of left-back instead. Given Mourinho’s inclination for defenders who can defend, the smart money would have to be on Filipe Luis.