Jose rebuilding Chelsea in his image
While Monday's official announcement of the departure of Chelsea legend and record goal scorer Frank Lampard from Stamford Bridge came as no surprise to Blues supporters, the chasm created by the London club following its decision to release its greatest-ever player will ache for months to come.
"Super Frank" was simply the best -- irreplaceable. His haul of 211 goals for Chelsea is unlikely to be beaten and there have been calls from fans that the No. 8 shirt that Lampard wore with such distinction for 13 years should be retired as a mark of respect for his achievements.
It's done now. Frank has gone. Blues boss Jose Mourinho's high-profile changing of the guard continues at pace. Lampard's fellow England centurion, highly decorated veteran Ashley Cole, is another player for whom the bell has tolled, and Cole won't be the last fan favourite leaving the Bridge this summer.
No other manager would get away with shuffling the Chelsea pack the way Mourinho is doing it. For now, the maverick Portuguese continues to retain the trust and respect of supporters, and presumably owner Roman Abramovich, with few questions asked about his decisions given notable past achievements. This was the key failing of predecessors like Andre Villas-Boas and the reviled Rafael Benitez, who lacked any kind of pedigree with the club.
A year ago Mourinho returned to SW6 amid much fanfare. The folk hero of the people was back, and this time he was going to do it his way -- complete control. But was that just idle paper talk? Of course not. Mourinho had his template, and the writing was on the wall for any player who didn't fit his exacting bill.
Step forward Juan Mata. In January, amid much gnashing of supporters' teeth, Chelsea's two-time player of the year was deemed surplus to requirements by Mourinho and sold to Manchester United for an eye-watering 37.1 million pounds. A desperate bid perhaps by then-Red Devils manager David Moyes to save United's season and his job, and while Blues fans chuckled as Moyes failed on both counts, Mata was nevertheless gone.
In a way that was less dignified than Mata's easing out, Belgium international Kevin De Bruyne protested his lack of game time, and duly was sent to Wolfsburg in a 17.1 million-pound move for his troubles. This, though, was simply a good piece of business. Turning a 10 million-pound profit on a player who featured only nine times for Chelsea could not be scoffed at.
Also leaving Stamford Bridge in January was former Mourinho untouchable Michael Essien. The popular Ghanaian had been a peripheral figure since his return from loan at Real Madrid and his departure was not unexpected.
If ever there was a footballer to polarize opinion, it's David Luiz. Maddening as mercury, the gifted Brazil international is likely to be one of the stars of the forthcoming World Cup, but occasional lapses of concentration from a player billed as a central defender proved costly for Chelsea and incurred the wrath of Mourinho.
In the increasingly strict UEFA world of financial fair play, the reputed 40 million-pound fee Paris Saint-Germain have agreed to pay for Luiz will afford Mourinho the opportunity to strengthen his squad elsewhere. With news emerging Monday that the Blues were considering bidding on Barcelona's 27-year-old midfielder and former Arsenal favourite Cesc Fabregas -- and reports in Spain on Tuesday suggesting personal terms have been agreed to and a 29.9 million-pound deal is nearly wrapped up -- it seems he is wasting no time in doing so. Fabregas is a class player who proved his capabilities in the Premier League with the Gunners and, while he will never fill the boots of Lampard, his acquisition would be more than useful when Chelsea renew their bid for silverware next season.
Chelsea being Chelsea, there are always as many questions as there are answers. The goalkeeping dilemma of Petr Cech or Thibaut Courtois. Could free-scoring, forever-on-loan Romelu Lukaku play up front with soon-to-be-Blue Diego Costa? Would Mourinho really dispense with the services of Eden Hazard -- and what would he do with the 70 million pounds PSG are rumoured to be prepared to pay for the Belgian?
While 2013-14 was billed as a "season of transition," there is no doubt that it was also a season of missed opportunities. The Premier League was there for the taking but the Blues' shoddy form against the division's also-rans cost Mourinho dearly. Winning the title in his first campaign back in office at the Bridge would have taken the pressure off. Now, however, the spotlight will be squarely focused on the Portuguese to deliver, hence the increasingly apparent sense of urgency to completely rebuild Chelsea in time for next season.