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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Aug 2, 2007

Malouda providing some Chelsea flair

It seems as if Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has used a chunk of a trimmed down summer transfer kitty to buy his demanding boss a peace offering.

Stamford Bridge Tzar Roman Abramovich was said to be bemused by the functional and uninspiring football produced by Mourinho's side last season and was keen to get a new manager in place as a result, so it is no coincidence that the apparent truce between the Russian billionaire and his equally egotistical coach was followed by the arrival of an exciting wide player who could alter Chelsea's dour image for good.

At a cost of £13.5million, Florent Malouda is certainly an expensive gift, but Mourinho seems to view the French winger as a vital cog in a new-look game plan that will see the fallen champions trying to match Manchester United's flair with some silky play of their own.

Abramovich was enchanted by the side that saw Damien Duff and Arjen Robben inspire Chelsea to their first title in 50 years with thrilling bursts down the flanks and with wide-boys Joe Cole, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Arjen Robben and Malouda now at his disposal, Mourinho has been making noises that he will attack opponents with more panache this time around.

His new arrival clearly believes he offers the perfect balance that the Blues were lacking last season. 'I listened to what the manager wanted from me and realised straight away that Chelsea was the club for me,' states 27-year-old Malouda, who has excelled with French champions Lyon for the past four seasons.

'Jose Mourinho knew how I could play and explained his vision to me, which sounded very exciting. He wants to use wide players more this season and sees me as crucial for this.

'I had other options this summer and I spoke with the Liverpool manager on the phone, but he didn't seem so keen to sign me. Real Madrid were also interested, but Chelsea was always my first choice and now I have to justify the faith they have put in me.'

Mourinho's smooth talking may have impressed Malouda, yet his close friendship with Chelsea striker Didier Drogba was a huge factor in his decision to move to West London. In fact, it seems that the Ivory Coast forward was actively working to promote Malouda's abilities when it became clear his time at Lyon was coming to an end.

'I owe Didier some thanks for telling Chelsea about me so much,' says Malouda with a smile. 'He is a good friend and I have been so impressed by the way his game has improved since he came to England. I'm sure that there's no better striker in the world today. He has the power, the pace, upper body strength, aerial, ability, touch, instinct for goals, charisma. Now he has put it all together and it is an incredible package.

'He's feared all over Europe and I'm hoping football in England will do me as much good. It's nice to be on the same side as Michael Essien as well. Like Drogba, he's a force of nature, an absolute world-class midfielder. It's great that the three of us who knew each other so well at Lyon can experience something different. I can hardly wait.'

Malouda's personal ambition burns brightly and while his first target is to win trophies with Chelsea, his international aspirations are equally lofty. 'The Premiership is a powerful magnet,' he continues. 'It attracts the best players in the world and I'm excited to test myself against them. Also, I know Chelsea really want to win the Champions League for the first time, so maybe I can help them achieve this next step in their history.

'I'm convinced this league will be well suited to my game, but I'm not the type to sit back and think I have made it because I have this big transfer. I'm ready to work hard and reproduce the form I showed for Lyon in the last couple of years. I love to play at a high tempo and that is what I see in the Premiership on television every week and I know what success in this country can do for me.

'Please don't compare me to Thierry Henry in any way, but he came to England with a small reputation and left as one of best players in the world, so maybe I can aim for something similar. If I produce for Chelsea, it will turn me into one of the leaders of the French side. Not just when Thierry and Patrick Vieira aren't there any more, but in the next year and beyond.

'First of all, I have to carve out a niche for myself in a team full of world class players. You can taste the hunger to win things here and the pressure to be successful is permanent, but this is not a worry. I find it stimulating, the sort of challenge I need.'

Malouda's ability to switch to a defensive role when required could be utilised by Chelsea if they suffer the sort of injury crisis that derailed their title push last season, but this exciting performer insists he is better employed in the attacking third of the field.

'I've always wanted to establish myself in an attack-orientated position and that's what has happened in the past 12 months,' he adds. 'I've nothing against doing my bit defensively but my instincts are mostly creative. For a long time I heard criticism of my finishing but that wasn't surprising when I had to come from so deep to get into a goal scoring position. It's no coincidence that now I'm playing further forward, I'm scoring more goals.'

Uniting what was exposed as a somewhat divided dressing room was clearly a priority for Mourinho once his clear-the-air talks with Abramovich ended in a declaration of uneasy harmony last month and the arrival of Malouda should help the healing process in that respect.

Whether retaining the services of so-called 'outsiders' Arjen Robben and Andriy Shevchenko is part of Mourinho's long-term plan remains to be seen, but he can concentrate on the present for now and after a year of frenzied speculation over his future, the rest bite will come as a blessed relief.

There won't be a single journalist in attendance at Sunday's Community Shield game against Manchester United who didn't write some kind of obituary to Mourinho's Chelsea reign last season, but this fascinating Portuguese maverick is not a man who should be written off easily.

Having apparently and somewhat surprisingly accepted Abramovich's contentious appointment of his friend Avram Grant as the club's Director of Football for now, the thin plaster holding Chelsea's complicated management structure together will hold so long as they continue to win games and trophies.

A return to the glory, glory football of two years ago would certainly improve Abramovich's mood and when the boss of any organisation is smiling, it generally sends a good vibe to his employees.

Maybe Florent Malouda can emerge as the ultimate cure for all of Chelsea's ailments.


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