The signing of Cesc Fabregas has, by and large, gone down well with Chelsea fans. Partly, it’s true, because of the discomfort it’s caused to Arsenal fans, but in general most Blues supporters are happy that he’ll be a great asset to the team.
There is one disquieting factor about the deal, however. And that is the suggestion that the Spanish midfielder wasn’t Jose Mourinho’s first choice – that the board, and more pertinently Roman Abramovich, was keener on Fabregas than the manager was.
This wouldn’t be the first time that Chelsea have signed someone that the owner wanted more than the manager did. In Mourinho’s first spell in charge, it was widely rumoured that Andrei Shevchenko was not top of his wish list for a frontline striker, and that the Ukrainian was a vanity purchase on behalf of Abramovich, who was well known to be both an admirer and an acquaintance of the player.
Then there were the deals to sign Russian players Alexey Smertin and Yuri Zhirkov. The club needed neither – we were well served by midfielders before Smertin arrived, and Zhirkov was never going to usurp Ashley Cole from the left-back position. Both were clearly brought in at the owner’s behest.
The Torres saga, too, has the hallmarks of an Abramovich acquisition. We paid over the odds for a player who was struggling for form and to overcome an injury (echoes of Shevchenko, anyone?) and we have persevered with him for several years when it has become abundantly clear that he will never reach the heights he was once at. Managers have apparently been asked to persist with him, rather than being allowed to bring in a replacement.
One school of thought is that Roman should be allowed to spend money on his own pet projects – it is his money after all. Which is fine up to a point. Bringing in an extra Russian to bolster the squad is reasonably harmless. But when the owner’s whims are an actual obstruction to the reconstruction of the squad, it is very damaging indeed.
How much this is now true of the way Chelsea operates is debatable. Abramovich no longer seems to be selecting players only he is keen on. Decisions on personnel are now taken by a group of senior people at the club – including Roman, Mourinho, and director of football Michael Emenalo.
So while Mourinho may not always get the player he wants, he does have input into the decision. And the reasons for which players are bought or sold are at least footballing ones, more or less, rather than personal ones.
The signing of Diego Costa – Mourinho’s personal choice, apparently – does indicate that the balance has swung back to where it belongs. Fabregas may not have been his first choice, true – Koke and Pogba were, it’s been suggested – but I doubt he was very far from the top of the manager’s list.
The first Mourinho reign ended in disharmony between the manager and the owner, exacerbated by this very issue. It will be interesting to see if the club can avoid a repeat performance.