It’s been a good month for Chelsea and Luiz Felipe Scolari.
The new manager of the Blues has overseen a successful preseason campaign including a morale-boosting 19 goals in 5 matches, while off the pitch Felipao has brought in Deco as the club’s second signing of the summer behind Jose Bosingwa, whilst also seemingly retaining the services of Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba for another season at least.
Many fans and pundits will now have the Blues down as the most likely challengers to end Manchester United’s domestic and European reigns in the coming season. All things told, it’s been a pretty perfect start to life in the dugout at the Bridge for ‘Big Phil’.
However, as ever in such apparently perfect conditions, there is an issue that will be giving Scolari some concern in the lead-up to Chelsea’s opener at home to Portsmouth in 10 days time. With the announcement on Monday that Didier Drogba will miss the beginning of the season, it leaves the manager with something of a striker crisis for the game against the FA Cup holders.
Salomon Kalou is also unavailable, as he will be in Beijing playing for the Ivory Coast, Ben Sahar will be on the opposite bench as an ineligible loanee, while Scott Sinclair appears to be the forgotten man at the club. Overall, it leaves Scolari with the options for the opening day of Nicolas Anelka, the mercurial Frenchman, Franco Di Santo, the young Argentinean, and Andriy Shevchenko, the £30 million flop.
Most interesting is Shevchenko’s situation however, as in the aftermath of the Blues’ defeat on penalties to Lokomotiv Moscow last weekend (Shevchenko missed a spot-kick), Scolari declared that the striker was not in his plans for the opening fixtures, a clear statement of intent regarding the player’s future under the new head coach.
While it’s hard to pick holes in the job Scolari’s done at Chelsea thus far, consigning Shevchenko to the bench may well be the Brazilian’s first real error of judgment, as a run of games may well be what the Ukrainian needs to find something approaching the form that had rival fans fearing his arrival when he joined the Blues two summers ago.
Objectivity in matters such as these is important, so a few key questions to consider:
Has Andriy Shevchenko failed to live up to his £30 million price tag? Yes.
Is Shevchenko still the player that bagged 187 goals in 325 club appearances before joining Chelsea? No.
Are there better options up front for Chelsea than Shevchenko? Yes, immediately Drogba and Anelka, the other alternatives can be debated.
However, with all that in mind, Scolari should at least consider the possibility of giving Shevchenko a few games until his other big names up front return. Until then, ‘Big Phil’ is relying upon a talented but tempestuous Anelka, alongside a raw Di Santo, whilst also pinning his hopes upon Robinho joining the club, spurning the supposed advances of other clubs in the process. With that in mind, it’s hard to see how Shevchenko can be ruled out of the picture altogether.
If Scolari does reverse his decision and decide to give Shevchenko a run of games and the gamble doesn’t pay off, then by all means that should spell the end for the 31-year old at the club. However, a few confidence-boosting starts along with a couple of early season strikes may set him up for a renaissance in his career akin to Alan Shearer and Ronaldo upon their return from long-tern injury, and Ruud Van Nistelrooy, who came back from a set of niggling problems along with many casting him off as ‘finished’ after the 2004-05 season. At one time Shevchenko was of the same, if not better quality than those three; now he needs to prove that he is still capable of performing to a similar standard.
I can already hear some readers scoffing at the idea, saying that Shevchenko isn’t up for the challenge of the Premier League, he’s now just an embarrassment and that your grandmother could do better up front for Chelsea. But considering that the only other definite alternatives available to Scolari for the first few games of the season will be Nicolas Anelka and Franco Di Santo, and remembering the quality that once made Shevchenko one of the world’s greatest, would you be willing to leave him out of your side permanently?
It’s been a good month for Chelsea and Luiz Felipe Scolari. Next month could be a brilliant one if ‘Big Phil’ gives Andriy Shevchenko a chance to prove he still has what it takes.