Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

One Small Step Down Chelsea's Roman Road

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

One Small Step Down Chelsea's Roman Road

Article excerpt

Byline: KEN DYER

ROMAN ABRAMOVICH could be forgiven for thinking that this football lark is easy.

Just shell out a fraction of your personal fortune to take control of a notable, but financially vulnerable club, sign a few players for [pounds sterling]34million worth of loose change, earmark a couple more and bob's your uncle, along comes a trophy, albeit a garish one, even before the season starts.

Admittedly the Premier League's Asia Cup is not high on anyone's priority list, not even hosts Malaysia judging by the crowds at all the matches up to the final, but Claudio Ranieri's team have worked hard in difficult conditions and emerged victorious over Newcastle and that can only help confidence with the serious stuff just around the corner.

Admittedly it took a ridiculous penalty shootout miss from Jermaine Jenas to hand the Asia Cup to Chelsea but you gladly accept what comes your way in football and the Stamford Bridge club thoroughly deserved their victory.

There is nothing like competition to sharpen players' appetites for the battle and too often in the past there has been nothing like enough competition.

Now things are different. Almost anyone who is anyone in Europe has been linked to Chelsea and suddenly the pressure is on the current Blues stars to perform.

By the time Chelsea play their next friendly, against Crystal Palace on Saturday, Ranieri should have at least one more name to add to his burgeoning squad and that is guaranteed to keep everyone on their toes.

There are some players in the game, to be sure, who are not fussed about playing as long as they pick up their fat wage packets each week.

The vast majority however, want to play, need the buzz of performing in front of big crowds, want to achieve something more from their profession than a mock tudor house in Surrey with a Mercedes in the driveway.

Take Jesper Gronkjaer, for example, and there have been times when Chelsea fans wanted any other club to do just that. Gronkjaer in full flight is truly a sight to behold but the problem is that football is about more than sprinting.

Too often in the past the District Line trains trundling through Fulham Broadway station have been in more danger from the Dane's wayward crossing than opposition defences and with the summer signing of Geremi, Gronkjaer's future looked uncertain.

The Cameroon international will link up with his new club-mates later this week but Gronkjaer's determined display in last night's Final against Newcastle was tantamount to throwing down the gauntlet.

Players usually say that speculation about new signings has little or no effect on them but Gronkjaer was honest enough to admit the opposite is true for him.

"Yes, the speculation does affect me," said the Dane, who was named man-of-the-match. …

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