GILES SMITH'S THURSDAY THOUGHTS
Columnist and Chelsea fan Giles Smith this week measures up the club's latest acquisition and runs the rule over some of the build-up this weekend's high-profile fixture…
With this club's typically robust contempt for shilly-shallying around, we have used the January transfer window as it was intended to be used, and gone out and signed a player.
Slap bang in the middle of the month, too, note. No tiresomely teasing out the process and waiting until the dying seconds of deadline day, just to please Jim White on Sky Sports News, the way almost everybody else does. We've cut to the chase, cracked on with it and bought a player that we wanted, using money.
Let's hope a few other people take notice of our shining example in this area. Because you can almost guarantee that, between now and the end of the month, the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United will be spuriously linked with practically every big name on earth, from Robert Lewandowski to Sir Bruce Forsyth, and probably end up signing nobody - or nobody you've ever heard of or would particularly want in your squad.
Not us. Done deal.
Welcome, then, Nemanja Matic. Or rather, welcome back. It has not gone unremarked that Matic has already been a Chelsea player - that he was with us as long ago as 2009 but was handed over to Benfica in January 2011 in part-exchange for David Luiz. Accordingly, some observers of the game, who fancy themselves economists and business strategists on the side, are now pointing out that the club could have saved itself a reported £20.7 million by the supposedly simple expedient of hanging on to Matic three years ago.
But this is clearly flawed logic. If Matic hadn't gone to Benfica back then, the chances are we wouldn't have been able to sign David Luiz. Whereas what happened, you'll probably remember, was that we signed David Luiz and went on, 16 months or so later, to win the Champions League. And now, after a hiatus in which Matic has developed into a world-class midfielder, we have returned to reclaim him, with the result that we find ourselves in possession of David Luiz AND Nemanja Matic.
In other words, by being prepared to wait patiently, like anglers beside a lake, and then make the necessary investment, we have turned an either/or situation into a both/and situation. This is not, as some have characterised it, 'short-termism'. In fact, it's the very opposite of that. It's playing the long game.
Let's remind ourselves, too, that the Matic who left in 2011, though indisputably promising, was not the player whom we have just bought, with all that handy further experience under his belt. The Guardian described it as 'an awful lot to pay for three years at finishing school.' I'm not sure it is, though, is it? If you do the maths, it works out at slightly less than £7 million per year. In today's Britain, that's not much more than it costs to put a child through university, especially if they need to go to the dentist at any point during their three years of study.
And what are the chances that, at the end of those three years, that child will come out equipped to dominate in central midfield and help your team win titles and cups? Vanishingly slim, you would have to say.
I don't think what we're looking at here is an error in any way. I think what we're looking at here is a very nice piece of business.
Who didn't enjoy the big splash story on the back of the Daily Mail yesterday, tactically positioned to spice up this Sunday's Premier League match with Manchester United? Headline: 'Jose's Dig At Moyes'.
Well, there's nothing like a dig between managers, is there, in the run-up to a big home game? Here's what our manager had to say:
'Manchester United are not happy, but they are calm. They trust David. David trusts them.'
Ah. I don't mean to be picky, but where's the dig? I suppose there's the bit about Manchester United not being happy - but then they wouldn't be happy, would they, finding themselves in seventh place and 11 points off the top of the league? If you had wanted to make a dig, surely, you would have suggested that United are perfectly happy with that- that, in the circumstances, with that loveable old rogue Ferguson gone, and still having to rely on the likes of super-annuated players like Rio Ferdinand, no one at the club would have been expecting any better. That would be a dig.
But our manager doesn't say that. He doesn't say anything about Rio Ferdinand, nor even about Tom Cleverly, and he doesn't say anything about United being happy. The rest of those words - the stuff about United trusting David, and David trusting United - don't sound like a dig, either. They sound like the opposite of a dig.
So where is this promised dig? Does it come later? Here's the next part of the manager's comment:
'I don't think David is under pressure. The pressure is something virtual. It is something that comes from the media as a consequence of not having the best results. The most important thing in all of this is not the pressure that comes from the outside, it's the reality of the inside.'
Thoughtful stuff. But still no dig, surely. Still no mention of Ferdinand, Cleverly, Shinji Kagawa, etc. No saying 'David Moyes must be under so much pressure right now that he must feel permanently as though his kidneys are about to explode. Indeed, in the circumstances, it's amazing that he can make his facial muscles move at all.' Again, what the manager actually said reads like the opposite of a dig - like someone generously and warm-spiritedly finding something positive to say on an embattled fellow-manager's behalf.
Obviously, the big dig guaranteed in the headline must come even further on, then. Let's have a look:
'The manager is calm and they are thinking this is our manager for the next two, three, four, five years. So they're all together and are going to rebuild again a big team. The bad results will finish. They will get back on track.'
Hmm. It's less than withering, isn't it? In fact, it's extremely supportive. A dig would have been to say, 'They are thinking this is our manager for the next two, three, four, five weeks. I can't see them putting a decent run together this side of 2016 - not with Ferdinand, Cleverly, Kagawa…' But the manager doesn't say 'weeks'. He says 'years'. And, again, he doesn't mention Ferdinand, Cleverly, Kagawa, or anyone else. In fact, he only has kind things to say.
Yet, for the Mail, these words indicate that our manager has 'started the mind games'. Which means that what he says, no matter how innocent it sounds, must be assumed to have a cunningly subtle undercurrent, designed to undermine and derange his adversaries - in this case, Moyes, Manchester United and all who sail in her.
But what if there isn't an undercurrent? What if the manager means exactly what he says, and exactly as he says it? And what if 'mind games' didn't really exist, but were just invented by newspapers to help make entirely uncontroversial comments by managers a bit more interesting?
Then there's no dig. And no headline. And Sunday's game has to take place - where the managers sit, at least - in a spirit of companionable and ultimately sympathetic rivalry.
Which would never do, would it?