Mourinho puts further stamp on squad with Salah deal

Posted by Phil Lythell

Chelsea’s activity in the January transfer window has taken yet another twist with the announcement on the club’s official website that they have agreed on a fee with FC Basel for the signature of winger Mohamed Salah. The price being reported by the press is believed to be in the region of 11 million pounds with the completion of the deal resting on the player passing a medical examination and agreeing to personal terms with the Londoners.

It will be the fourth major piece of business in a busy month for the Blues following Nemanja Matic’s arrival, Kevin De Bruyne’s sale to Wolfsburg and the controversial decision to allow Juan Mata an imminent move to Manchester United. This latest deal has made waves largely because many are choosing to see it in the simplistic terms of the club opting to replace a double player of the year and a darling of the terraces with somebody whom they would struggle to pick out of a lineup.

If the situation was that black and white, then the decisions of the past couple of days would indeed appear to be barmy, though there are several factors that mitigate this latest development. Mata’s vaunted status is such that he surely deserves a regular place in the starting XI of just about any side in Europe, yet Jose Mourinho’s philosophy and the excellent form of the current incumbents in the team have thwarted that possibility. That he has been consigned to the bench has been an unfortunate necessity and while there were rumbles of discontent earlier in the season from their supporters over this issue, Chelsea’s continued challenge for the Premier League crown has muted many of those voices.

To receive the best part of 40 million pounds for a player who has made little impression this season -- albeit as a consequence of factors that are not entirely of his own making -- surely it makes sound financial sense even if it does tug at the heartstrings of the fans. Financial Fair Play has dictated that clubs must strive to balance their books and selling an underused asset who commands a premium price is an easy way to do that. Meanwhile Salah will move to Stamford Bridge for roughly a quarter of the fee that Chelsea will receive for Mata and no doubt on vastly inferior wages to the Spaniard.

Obviously the deal makes sense only if the club’s latest recruit proves to be a significant contributor on the pitch, though the signs are there that he will be able to make the step up from the Swiss Super League. Although some of those aghast at Mata’s departure have chosen to dismiss the Egyptian without even seeing him perform in a blue shirt by claiming to know nothing about him, Salah has already made a deep impression on those in West London who actually take note of the opposition.

The tricky wide-man has faced Chelsea four times in European competition over the past nine months and has scored in three of those games, twice at Stamford Bridge. He also gave Tottenham the run-around while netting once during his team’s victorious two-legged Europa League tie against the Lillywhite. The fact that he has shone against English opposition on multiple occasions bodes well for his future in the Premier League. And even if he doesn’t hit the ground running, at just 21 years of age he has plenty of time to get up to speed.

There has been much talk about those in the Chelsea squad either being or not being a Mourinho-type player, with Mata and David Luiz often being placed in the latter category. Salah, however, would appear to be in the former and not simply because the Special One has sanctioned his acquisition. The youngster retains lightning pace, which makes him perfect for exploiting teams on the counterattack. With Eden Hazard, Willian and Oscar the three first-choice attacking midfielders, Salah is likely to be used as an impact substitute late in the game to terrorise tiring defences and he should be tailor-made for that role.

Being a left-footed player who is often deployed on the right to cut inside onto his preferred foot, he further fulfills the Mourinho brief. In one of the Portuguese’s first contacts with the press after his return to Chelsea, he stressed that he did not see Mata as a No. 10 but rather as someone to play on the right flank with the ability to move infield onto his exquisite left foot. As all keen observers will know, the role of inverted winger was never likely to be a good fit for a player who covets a central berth and it now seems as if the manager has replaced him with somebody to whom the job comes naturally.

With Mata on the verge of exiting the club, De Bruyne already out of the door and Victor Moses and Marko Marin both farmed out on loan, there was the potential for the cupboard to start looking a little bare in the creative department. That looks to have been solved by Salah’s arrival, though it seems that Chelsea were also pressed into action due to his proposed switch to Liverpool. The Merseysiders appeared to have a deal all but done only for the Blues to swoop in at the 11th hour, much as they did when they took Willian from under the noses of Tottenham at the back end of the last transfer window. The Brazilian has gone on to command a regular first-team spot and fully justify the decision to bring him to the club. If Salah can have a similar impact as the former Shakhtar Donetsk man then perhaps some of the doubters can be won over.

He would still have to go an extremely long way to fully replace a man who was instrumental in Chelsea’s march to Champions League and Europa League glory and he will clearly pale in comparison in his early outings. Juan Mata will always be a legend for what he achieved at Chelsea Football Club, though if some patience and faith are afforded to Mohamed Salah then who is to say he cannot emulate his illustrious predecessor.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell

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