Money isn't everything

Liverpool are not remotely as rich as Chelsea, though they may be stepping soon into the same league when they are taken over by Sheik Makhtoum, the Dubai millionaire.

When, recently, a weakened Liverpool team was thrashed 6-3 at Anfield in the League Cup by an equally below strength Arsenal; when, a day later in the same competition, Chelsea were held 1-1 by little Wycombe, there was surely cause to rejoice. To exult in the old saying, money isn't everything.

So far as Chelsea were concerned, it certainly seemed that money was indeed the be all and end all, ever since the Russian so-called oligarch, the billionaire Roman Abramovich, had succeeded the abrasive previous owner Ken Bates for a fortune.

Not having won the Championship since 1955, their first and only time, Chelsea, buoyed up by Russian money, proceeded to take the title for two consecutive seasons. Who could possibly challenge them in England, even if, in Europe, things tended to fell apart? Other clubs, even famous and wealthy ones such as Manchester United and Arsenal, must have begun to feel that it was hardly worth turning up. It was tempting to paraphrase an old American saying, "What's good for General Motors is Good for America" by substituting, what's bad for Chelsea is good for English football. The German word `schadenfreude', delight in the misfortunes of others, has seemed this season to be highly appropriate.

A situation exacerbated by the character and attitudes of the Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho, alias The Special One, who arrived at Stamford Bridge already trailing clouds of glory, having won the European Cup with the infinitely less wealthy Porto.

A string of poor results this year, notably home draws with the unfashionable likes of Reading and Fulham, a draw in the League Cup on the ground of humble little Wycombe, have prompted Mourinho into making a number of embarrassing statements, accusing certain players of not giving their all, somewhat unconvincingly taking blame himself, yet initially defending the two vastly expensive summer arrivals, Andrei Shevchenko and Michael Ballack.

These two, certainly among the most famous players in the world, have been a bitter disappointment, playing as though the virtue had suddenly gone out of them. Shevchenko, who cost over �30 million from Milan, has looked a blunt instrument in attack. Ballack, reportedly criticised even by his own team-mates such as the highly effective Didier Drogba, wanders about the field looking scarcely interested.

In these circumstances, and when serious money was spent on the likes of the precocious teenaged Nigerian attacker Jon Obi Mikel, and another gifted African attacker in Kalou, when an English international winger like Shaun Wright Phillips, who cost over �20 million, cannot get regular games, it seems farcical for Mourinho to claim that he hasn't been given the money to strengthen his squad. Just as it is bizarre that, at the start of the season he announced he was telling us how pleased he was to have a smaller squad since players would thus be in a position to play rather than wait to do so, he has now declared that his squad is too small! It was no fault of his that he lost as important a defender as France's William Gallas, who had even threatened to give away goals so unhappy was he, but he should probably — given the persisting injury to skipper and central pivot John Terry — have hung on to Germany's Robert Huth. While the bruising Boulahrouz of Holland, alias "The Cannibal", proved as unwise a buy as those of us who'd watched his World Cup antics in Germany had suspected.

The word is that Abramovich wants to build up his teams from youth schemes, and to cut down the monstrously huge debts which the club has incurred. So far, the emphasis on youthful talent seems to mean the acquisition of youngsters nurtured by other clubs. A tendency which has recently cost Chelsea �10 million in compensation to Leeds United for grabbing two players who had been at Leeds since boyhood. No different, really from the machinations in the immediate post-war years of Chelsea's notorious Scots Scout Jimmy Thompson who, with cash at hand, seduced promising young players from their original clubs. But then, to be fair, Arsenal have made a profitable corner in singing, free of all charge, young European stars such as Cesc Fabregas and before him Nicolas Anelka from Continental clubs.

Liverpool are not remotely as rich as Chelsea, though they may be stepping soon into the same league when they are taken over by Sheik Makhtoum, the Dubai millionaire. Meanwhile, it seems as idiotic for their Spanish manager, Rafa Benitez, who complains about a supposed lack of money and transfer activity when in fact vast sums have been poured out on players in recent months.

The Dutch international striker Dirk Kuyt, a successful scorer, cost a cool �9 million. Peter Crouch, the lanky England striker, �7 million, Jose Reina, that erratic 'keeper, �6 million, Jermaine Pennant a talented but unpredictable right-winger, �6.7 million, which make Wales' dynamic Craig Bellamy seem almost a bargain at a mere �6 million. Not to mention, for the list goes on and on, another �6 million for Luis Garcia, �5.6 million for midfielder Momo Sissoko, and �5.8 million for the Danish defender, Daniel Agger.

Things recently came to a head when within a matter of days, at Anfield, Liverpool lost 3-1 to Arsenal in the FA Cup and 6-3 to a virtual Arsenal reserve team in the League Cup, when Liverpool themselves put on a weakened team. But I've never believed in Benitez since his inept first half tactics found his team three down at half time in the 2005 European Cup Final in Istanbul versus Milan, only for an amazing second half recovery, when he came to his tactical senses. And when Liverpool lost at Arsenal this season, he deployed the Dutch winger Zenden in central mid-field keeping the dynamic Steven Gerrard on the flank. No, money isn't everything.