The January transfer window will be flung open once more in about six weeks, and Chelsea supporters nonplussed by the latest unwanted break in Premier League action have been contemplating whom Blues manager Jose Mourinho might be considering bringing to Stamford Bridge -- and to whom he might show the door. The London club has never shied away from the New Year sales, and with the vanes on the rumour mill starting to spin a little faster with every passing day, a short analysis of business done in past Januarys -- coupled with the latest suppositions, conjecture and speculation -- is warranted.
- Lythell: Improvement needed on pitch and in stands
Chelsea -- Roman Abramovich era
Key January transfer deals
2004: Claudio Ranieri: IN: Scott Parker (Charlton, 10 million pounds)
2005: Jose Mourinho: IN: Jiri Jarosik (CSKA Moscow, 3 million) OUT: Adrian Mutu (Juventus free) Celestine Babayaro (Newcastle, 1 million)
2006: Jose Mourinho: OUT: Alexei Smertin (Dynamo Moscow, 1 million)
2007: Jose Mourinho: no transfer dealings
2008: Avram Grant: IN: Nicolas Anelka (Bolton, 15 million) Branislav Ivanovic (Lokomotiv Moscow, 9 million) Franco Di Santo (Audax, 3 million)
2009: Felipe Scolari: OUT: Khalid Boulahrouz (Stuttgart, 3.55 million) Wayne Bridge (Manchester City, 10 million)
2010: Carlo Ancelotti: no transfer dealings
2011: Carlo Ancelotti: IN: Fernando Torres (Liverpool, 50 million) David Luiz (Benfica, 24 million included Nemanja Matic) OUT: Nemanja Matic
2012: Andre Villas-Boas: IN: Gary Cahill (Bolton, 7 million) Kevin De Bruyne (Genk, 6.7 million) Lucas Piazon (Sao Paulo, 5 million) Patrick Bamford (Notts Forest, 1.5 million) OUT: Alex (PSG, 4.18 million) Nicolas Anelka (Shanghai Shenua, free)
2013: Rafael Benitez: IN: Demba Ba (Newcastle, 7 million) OUT: Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool, 12 million)
In a decade of ownership, Roman Abramovich has allowed his managers to wheel and deal as they see fit during the midseason transfer window, though it is interesting to note that in Mourinho's first tenure as Chelsea manager, a period when he won back-to-back Premier League titles, he did next to no winter business and certainly none of any significance. Similarly, in January 2010, the season in which the Blues won the double with Carlo Ancelotti at the helm, there were no comings or goings at Stamford Bridge.
Of course, Ancelotti would make up for this inactivity a year later when, having already spent big that month securing the services of David Luiz, Chelsea smashed the British transfer record to sign long-term target Fernando Torres. In January 2012, Andre Villas-Boas ended the Chelsea careers of Alex and Nicolas Anelka, bringing in Gary Cahill to plug the defensive gap left by the departure of Alex. The following year, Rafael Benitez dispensed with the services of problem-child striker Daniel Sturridge, opting to bring in the more experienced Demba Ba as a stalking horse for the regularly lame Torres.
What is significant to note is that the two managers who racked up the highest expenditure in Abramovich-era January transfer windows -- Avram Grant (27 million pounds in 2008) and Carlo Ancelotti (74 million pounds in 2011) -- were both sacked at the end of those respective trophy-less campaigns.
Of all the New Year signings of the past decade, only one -- Branislav Ivanovic, signed by Avram Grant for 9 million pounds in 2008 -- has stayed the course and gone on to become a first-team regular for the seven managers (eight if you include Ray Wilkins) he has worked under since Grant was fired. Of the players sold, Sturridge may have hit a rich vein of form this season with Liverpool that has seen him play his way into Roy Hodgson's World Cup plans for England, but the truth is few at Chelsea mourned his departure from Stamford Bridge, where his surly attitude won him few admirers.
Is Sturridge the one that got away? Time will tell. Currently, that honour goes to Serbian midfield dynamo Nemanja Matic, a makeweight in the deal that brought David Luiz to SW6. Matic has been a stellar hit at Benfica, who have subsequently written a staggering 42.4 million pound release clause into his contract. Not bad for a player valued at about 3 million pounds by Chelsea when he was allowed to go to the Estadio da Luz less than three years ago. Ironically, the Blues are among a host of top clubs looking to prise Matic away from Portugal, and it would be no surprise if Mourinho won the race for the 25-year-old's signature, though that is unlikely to happen in January 2014.
So who is being linked with a winter move to or from the Bridge, and what are the chances of any deals happening?
Eliaquim Mangala, FC Porto's highly rated 22-year-old France international central defender, is definitely on Chelsea's radar. Mangala has won back-to-back Primeira Liga titles with Porto, and Mourinho made enquiries about the player's availability over the summer. Valued at about 18 million pounds, Mangala is viewed as a possible long-term successor to Blues captain John Terry and a short-term replacement for David Luiz, whose erratic displays have incensed his manager and frustrated supporters who have taken the likable Brazilian to their hearts. European heavyweights Barcelona and Bayern Munich are known to covet the services of Luiz, who could command a transfer fee as high as 30 million pounds. Mourinho will part with Luiz midseason only if there is a ready-made replacement, and Mangala could be the solution to the current central defensive problems. If Mangala is a buy, then for Luiz it would spell goodbye.
Giannelli Imbula, Marseille's tigerish 21-year-old defensive midfielder, has been at the Stade Velodrome only since July, having been a summer signing from Guingamp. But Imbula has already been heavily scouted by Chelsea, with comparisons being made to Claude Makalele, who was a hugely influential part of Mourinho's original Blue titans. Imbula is valued at 25 million pounds and his arrival could pave the way for the departure of John Obi Mikel. While there is no question about the France U21 international's pedigree, the fact that he has yet to put a full season of top-flight football under his belt may go against him, and on this occasion Mr. Abramovich could keep his chequebook in his pocket.
Jackson Martinez also was linked to Chelsea over the summer, and the prolific FC Porto striker (who has a 32 million pound release clause in his contract) has made no secret of his wish to play in the Premier League. A move for the Colombian international would make any decision to allow Demba Ba to move on in the New Year transfer window an easy one. A bevy of clubs -- including Arsenal, West Ham and Turkish outfit Besiktas -- are reportedly keen on signing the Senegalese forward who has mustered only two league goals for Chelsea since arriving at Stamford Bridge in January of this year. With Samuel Eto'o and Torres both starting to show some form, Mourinho may ultimately decide to wait until the summer before deciding whether or not to spend big on improving the Blues' attacking options.
A spectator at Thursday night's international friendly between Belgium and Columbia in Brussels -- in which Martinez was a playing substitute -- Mourinho might have been more impressed with the performance of Martinez's equally prolific countryman Radamel Falcao, who scored in a 2-0 win for the South Americans. Falcao, another former Blues target, is plying his trade in France with Monaco, and the Special One could make an audacious bid after next summer's World Cup finals to bring him to London.
Along with Ba and Luiz, two other high-profile Chelsea players continue to be linked with moves away from Stamford Bridge: Midfielders Kevin De Bruyne and, more significantly, Juan Mata have been peripheral to Mourinho's game plans so far this season. Belgium international De Bruyne has failed to break into the Blues first team, while Spanish ace and fan favourite Mata cannot usurp Oscar from the coveted No. 10 role and looks disheartened when playing on the flanks. Both men, keen to impress their respective international coaches in this World Cup season, are desperate for first-team action. Loan moves are a distinct possibility, with Schalke 04 keen on De Bruyne and Paris Saint-Germain enamoured with Mata.
January transfer deals always have a hint of desperation about them, and Chelsea's history tells us that the quiet windows typically augur well for the club. Mourinho will know this, but he also knows he has certain issues to address if the Blues are to iron out the inconsistencies that are costing them Premier League points.
Stick or twist? The stakes are high, and with Abramovich as banker, Mourinho knows the debt can be called in at any time. Welcome once again to the biggest poker game in town.