The summer merry go round

AT the very time Jose Mourinho was telling poor put upon Joe Cole in the Chelsea Magazine that he would have to contest his place with the gifted international wingers Arjen Robben and Damien Duff, Chelsea were preparing to buy the effervescent right winger Shaun Wright Phillips from Manchester City. Make sense of that if you can.

Of course, we know that Roman Abromovich, Chelsea's Russian oligarch owner, has more money to burn than ever. Only the previous week he'd sold an oil field in Russia for countless millions. But the way things are going, Cole who of course isn't really a winger at all and does all his best work when he moves into the middle, isn't the only Chelsea international who may find himself kicking his heels on the bench.

So far as the attack is concerned, Chelsea seem certainly to have solved their problems by bringing back the Argentine goal scorer Hernan Crespo, albeit much against his will, from Milan. They also look likely to terminate the loan of big young Carlton Cole who has been at Charlton and Aston Villa. Which means that Eidur Gudjohnsen, the blond Icelander, and Didier Drogba, who cost a fortune a year ago, will have substantial competition. What you might call a formula for wasted talent.

Just how dominant Chelsea inevitably now are in the transfer market was shown by Arsenal Manager Arsene Wenger's resigned admission that if you want a player, as the Gunners would like Wright Phillips, you have to wait to see first what Chelsea will do. And once again we must wait with some alarm for the next television deal when thanks to the interference of the European Union, BSkyB will lose their monopoly of televised Premiership soccer, cut by 50%. A threat to their own economy and to that of the Greed Is Good — as I first nicknamed their competition — League. Whose clubs will have massively to curtain their huge payments to spoiled players.

Arsenal, by the way, look like a case now of the biter bit. Very recently they vented their wrath on Chelsea, guilty of so blatantly trying to suborn the England left back Ashley Cole, whom they met, with his agent, quite blatantly in a Lancaster Gate hotel. The ultimate upshot of which, as we know, was a Premiership tribunal, which heavily fined the player himself, Jose Mourinho and Chelsea. But now we learn that Arsenal's manager Arsene Wenger and his chief executive, David Dein, have actually been out to Sao Paolo to talk — though fruitlessly it seems — with the 22-year-old Brazilian striker, Julio Baptista of Seville; who have justifiably complained about it. Where pray is the moral and legal difference from what Chelsea so arrogantly did in the case of Ashley Cole?

Come summer, come Patrick Vieira and brinkmanship. Arsenal must by now be thoroughly sick of the way summer by summer Vieira announces that he is on his way. For the last couple of years, his destination has been provisionally Real Madrid; in the summer of 2004 in fact he had supposedly cleared out his locker at the Gunners' London Colney training ground before abruptly changing his mind. What followed in fact was his least effective season since he joined the club from Milan, making you wonder what makes Juve think they could revitalise him as they have now signed him on.

As for Real Madrid, they need urgently to bolster their soggy central defence. They paid Roma some �17 million for the Argentine centre back Walter Samuel who has been a sad failure. They continue to hope, though it seems like Waiting for Godot, that the eternally injured ex Leeds United centre back Jonathan Woodgate will at last be operative; but how long would it take him, having missed the whole of last season after his �13 million transfer from Newcastle, to become match fit?

Meanwhile the sorry saga of Real Madrid and Michael Owen continues. For my part I could never understand why he wanted to leave Liverpool and why their Spanish coach Rafael Benitez was so eager to sell him: for a mere �8 million and a Real reserve Nunez who is now apparently on his way back to Spain. For me, Owen, as he showed again a few weeks back with his hat trick in the USA against Colombia for England, remains one of the game's finest strikers. Yet the Brazilian manager of Real, Vanderlei Luxemburgo, has stated that he won't have a guaranteed first team place. Not least as Real have managed to sign the talented young Santos and Brazil striker Robinho.

At least Liverpool have clung on to Steven Gerrard, who has been fiercely accused in some quarters of greed, after weeks, Vieira like, of shilly shallying. But it is surely unfair to couple him with a player of undoubted greed like Rio Ferdinand — and here Real may be hovering in the wings, again. You will remember that when Ferdinand was very properly suspended for eight months and it could have been two years for dodging a drugs test, Manchester United paid his huge salary all that inactive time. Now he has insisted on an increase of �120,000 a week. Such is gratitude. Good for the manager Alex Ferguson who says he isn't bothered one way or the other.

Gerrard? Last summer and this, his behaviour has hardly been impeccable, but has Rafael Benitez always handled him with tact? Telling him to study a video of ageing Roy Keane, so as to learn to husband his exuberant energy was hardly tactful or frankly even apposite, so the merry go round spins on. With Chelsea dominant and loyalty, alas, forever at a premium.