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Aug 14, 2006

Money can't buy happiness

It's easy to find bad things to say about Chelsea. When you've whitewashed the rest of the Premiership for the past two seasons and can buy any player you set your sights on, that is something that is taken for granted. And is a sign of being the best.

Arsenal's 'Invincibles' have been through it, and so have Sir Alex's United side of the past decade. Jose Mourinho won't mind at all.

What the self appointed 'Special One' will mind, however, is the disastrous warm-up to the forthcoming season his Champions have endured. Losing 1-0 to the American MLS All-Stars would not have impressed the Portuguese tactician, nor will the exodus of players that have declared themselves unhappy with life at the Bridge.

The debate surrounding William Gallas' future has frustrated the Chelsea 'family' in the past few weeks. Unsettled by constantly being played out of position, Gallas has not helped his cause by going public about his desire to leave.

Failing to report for pre-season training and then losing his beloved number 13 shirt to Ballack seems to be the last straw for a player Chelsea would have great difficulty in replacing. It's hard to find a better player who fits in across the entire back line than Gallas, although he has made it clear that he is happiest playing at centre back. There are some things that money just can't buy.

Somehow a potentially serious knee injury to Joe Cole and the departure of Damien Duff look to have landed the Blues short of numbers. Something that nobody would have expected, given the financial strength of their bankrolling billionaire Roman Abramovich.

However, Chelsea now have only Robben and Wright-Phillips as their recognised wingers. Still a pretty formidable pair, but susceptible to injuries all the same.

Defensively too, with Robert Huth declaring himself unhappy at a lack of first team opportunities and the departure of the versatile Gallas, Chelsea have become victims of their own success.

Mourinho's philosophy of maintaining two players for every position has long been the envy of many Premiership managers and tantamount to the strength in depth of the Chelsea squad. Yet it is not without problems as there are only ever 16 places to fill on a match day, and the resulting exodus of players is a symptom of this squad rotation system.

This season Mourinho looks likely to bin this way of thinking, and resort to keeping his versatile fringe players happy. The current list of evacuees makes painful reading thus far:

Gudjohnsen, given an escape route by European Champions Barcelona, Crespo, farmed out on loan to Inter for the remainder of his contract, Jiri Jarosik and Carlton Cole settling on pastures new after becoming bored with life on loan and Damien Duff, sold for a cut price fee to Newcastle, all moved because of a lack of first team action.

Asier Del Horno, despite being given a good chance to prove himself, has decided to jump ship to Valencia before being pushed and probably with one eye on the impending transfer of Ashley Cole. Wayne Bridge will also be watching the situation carefully, as he will not want to warm the bench for club as well as country behind England's first choice left-back.

If Gallas also departs, Mourinho could find himself required to purchase a few new players in the mould of Geremi or Cudicini; happy to warm the bench for most of the season.

That said, nobody can argue with the quality of the new faces already arriving at the Bridge.

Already complementing a team consisting of the talents of Cech, Terry and Makelele, German captain Michael Ballack should prove to be an excellent attacking force alongside the already formidable Frank Lampard, who has a few points to prove after struggling in England's World Cup campaign.

Andrei Shevchenko may have needed a fee of £30 million to prise him away from AC Milan, but Mourinho will see it as money well spent if the Ukrainian hitman bags 20 goals. The world class striker carries a huge reputation with him, and certainly has the ability to set the Premiership alight with his power, pace and finishing.

Mikel John Obi will be itching to start the season after a messy and drawn out transfer from Lyn Oslo, via Manchester.

Chelsea have eventually paid around £16 million for the 19-year-old Nigerian midfielder, who Mourinho thinks has the chance to become 'one of the best players in the world' in the next few years.

With impending arrival of Ashley Cole for a reported £25 million, Chelsea's transfer list reads like a Who's Who of footballing superstars. If Mourinho is able to keep a lid on their egos and have them playing as a team, it is hard to see how a third consecutive title is not a formality.

Having cleared away the chaff from the squad, the Chelsea boss shouldn't change much else in the way the team approaches the season. His unique style will still see the formation change drastically if the team go a goal down, only this time he has the added bonus of knowing that he has some genuine world class players to call upon.

The real task is keeping them happy.