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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 March, 2004, 12:14 GMT
What the Robben deal means
By Tom Fordyce

Arjen Robben's 12m move from PSV Eindhoven to Chelsea has now been confirmed.

But what are the consequences for Chelsea and the battle for supremacy in English football?

WHAT IT MEANS FOR CHELSEA

Robben's signing is, on the face of it, a significant coup for Chelsea. Here is a player coveted by Manchester United, rated as one of the brightest young talents in European football and tipped to be one of the breakthrough stars of Euro 2004.

To snatch such a player from the clutches of a club who have historically dominated the British game is testament to the growing strength of Chelsea as a global force.

Arjen Robben lines up for PSV

In simple footballing terms, Claudio Ranieri's side have been at their best this season when Damien Duff has been raiding down the flanks, giving them a width and source of creativity they have failed to match in his absence.

Robben, as a similar player and at an age when he is expected to improve, is therefore an exciting addition to the Stamford Bridge ranks.

But the deal is not quite as peachy as it might appear at first glance. Roman Abramovich's hoarding of the world's football treasures raises serious questions about how the club is run, and therefore how much material success his cash might bring.

Chelsea's first-team squad is now almost 40 players strong. Even taking into account the demands of challenging for three domestic honours and the Champions League, that is still a lot of players to both keep happy and gainfully employed.

Where does Ranieri expect to play Robben? Duff can rightly expect to be first choice for the left wing role when fit. So has Robben been bought as cover, to be converted into a striker la Thierry Henry and Jose Reyes, as competition for Duff or to be tried on the right as an alternative to the underwhelming Jesper Gronkjaer?

And how much say did Ranieri have in the whole deal? The Italian looked happier when having to work with a settled group of players pre-Abramovich than he has in building a trophy-winning team from his new glamourpuss army.

Ranieri is not in a strong enough position at Chelsea to refuse any player his billionaire owner might deem to purchase. But the disappointing contributions of Juan Veron, Claude Makelele and Joe Cole illustrate that big names and big fees are no guarantee of success.

If Robben (the eighth Dutchman to play for Chelsea) becomes a first-team regular like Frank Lampard, a player who genuinely improves Ranieri's team rather than simply replicating talents already on the books, then the 12m will be money well spent.

If he ends up like Cole, acknowledged as a great talent but reduced by sheer weight of playing numbers to stand-in roles and cameo appearances, the deal will begin to look rather more questionable.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR THEIR TITLE RIVALS

A bad month for Man United has just got worse.

On the pitch, Sir Alex Ferguson's new breed are failing to produce the results he expected.

His new batch of signings - in particular Kleberson, Cristiano Ronaldo, Eric Djemba-Djemba and David Bellion - have not so far proved themselves up to the standards of the players they were bought to replace.

And now the man Ferguson identified as the possible long-term successor to Ryan Giggs has decided against a move to Old Trafford.

You could argue that this is simply a case of money talking. Chelsea offered both PSV and the player more cash than United.

But Ferguson and United are not used to being snubbed, particularly when the player in question comes from PSV (witness Ruud van Nistelrooy and Jaap Stam) and has been given the VIP tour of the ground.

It doesn't happen very often. Ronaldinho did it this summer, and Alan Shearer in both 1993 and 1996. But those two apart, few players have been able to resist a summons to Old Trafford.

Arsenal won't mind so much that Robben is on his way to Stamford Bridge. Arsene Wenger has already signed his own hot young winger, and Jose Reyes began to repay some of that investment with the goals that beat the very club Robben is joining.

But for United, already smarting from being overtaken by Chelsea in the Premiership table, now have to face the possibility that they are being overtaken off the pitch as well.






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