Kalou: Chelsea needed Mourinho
A lot has changed at Chelsea in the 12 months since Salomon Kalou's departure for Lille.
Eden Hazard, Oscar, Andre Schurrle and Marco van Ginkel have all arrived at great cost in an attempt to revamp the club's playing style and lower the average age of the first-team.
Fellow Champions League winners Florent Malouda, Jose Bosingwa and Didier Drogba have also gone, consigned to the past, while Frank Lampard and John Terry are slowly being marginalised.
Perhaps the most important change of all comes in the dugout, though, where a familiar face has returned to widespread acclaim.
Jose Mourinho, the man who brought Kalou to the Premier League in 2006, is back and brings with him optimism and expectation for the new campaign.
That is with good reason, according to Kalou, who labels the former Porto, Inter Milan and Real Madrid coach as the right man to return Chelsea to the top of the Premier League.
"We all know what Jose can do," Kalou tells ESPN. "Jose can bring team spirit into a club and I think Chelsea at this moment need that.
"The only one who can bring this to Chelsea is Jose. I am happy that he is back because Chelsea did amazingly well to win all of the trophies they have done but the only one who can bring [success to the club again] is Jose.
"He is honest. As a coach, being honest is not always easy but he is able to gain the respect of all of his players because he is always honest. It doesn't matter if you're a big name or a small name.
"He also has a tactical mind which means he can bring change around during a game. Those are his key skills. I only spent one season with him but I learnt as much from him in one season as throughout my whole Chelsea career.
"I enjoyed all of [my coaches at Chelsea], and every one of them was different but I have to say Jose [was the best] as he brought me to the club. I learnt the basics with him and that has helped me every season since."
Alongside Manchester City and Manchester United, Chelsea are part of a pack of three teams expected to battle it out for the Premier League title.
City have considerably strengthened the side which finished as runners-up last season, with the signings of Fernandinho, Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic while although United have failed to add to their squad, they will be contenders.
Mourinho has said that, because of their outlay on new faces, City are the favourites for Premier League success, but Kalou disagrees with his former mentor.
When asked if Chelsea can win the Premier League in the coming season Kalou answers unequivocally, "yes", before continuing: "They are always going to be among the favourites because they have the coach, they have the team, they have the ability and they know how to win. Those are the things that are going to count in the title race."
Much has been made of Chelsea's need for striking reinforcements with only Fernando Torres, Demba Ba and Romelu Lukaku available to Mourinho ahead of a campaign where success is expected domestically and on the European stage.
Lukaku is expected to be given a chance by Mourinho after scoring 17 Premier League goals during a season on-loan at West Brom in 2012-13, and Kalou is confident his former team-mate has the ability to make a big impression.
"He did well at West Brom and I think he can do the same at Chelsea," Kalou says. "He has the ability, he is powerful and he can score goals. I think he is going to be amazing this year."
Kalou had been linked as one of the men who could replace Lukaku at West Brom, under the management of former Chelsea coach Steve Clarke.
More recently West Ham had a bid accepted for his services, but the Ivory Coast international is keen not to be drawn into the speculation surrounding his future and insists he is concentrating on preparing Lille for a concerted push to qualify for the Champions League.
"I don't know," he says. "I am very honoured a team like West Ham is interested in me, but right now I am in a pre-season training camp so I am focused on that more than anything else."
The Ligue 1 side finished 2012-13 in sixth place, five points behind Lyon in third, denying them the opportunity to enter the Champions League in the third qualifying round.
But Kalou is confident that the appointment of a new coach, Rene Girard, who led Montpellier to an unexpected title win in 2012, can inspire Les Dogues to new heights.
"Our ambition is to qualify for the Champions League. We missed out last season in the last couple of games," Kalou says. "We have a young squad and a great coach so it will be a great challenge to try and finish among the top three.
"It has been a good experience [under Girard]. He won the league three years ago with a young team so it will be good to see if he can turn a young team into a great team. That is a good challenge for him and I believe that he has the ability to do it."
A return to the Premier League is something that is obviously an attraction to the 27-year-old who talks in glowing terms when asked about the main differences between football in England and France.
"In the Premier League it is more alive," he says. "Every team you play against wants to play but here it is more like [when a smaller team] plays a big club they don't want to lose and they don't want to concede goals so it is more tight.
"It is a tactical league but in England everybody wants to win and try to score."