By Jamie Dunn
With less than two weeks to go until the start of the new Premier League season, the top-flight’s title hopefuls have all been busy in the transfer market.
Manchester United have spent close to £60 million on two players as they begin life under Louis van Gaal, Arsenal have caught the eye with the signings of Alexis Sanchez, Mathieu Debuchy, Calum Chambers and David Ospina, champions Manchester City have supplemented their squad well, while Liverpool have lost Luis Suarez but made a number of signings to equip themselves for the Champions League.
But it is Chelsea, Jose Mourinho and Roman Abramovich who have arguably made the biggest statement of intent in the transfer window this summer.
Mourinho repeatedly dismissed suggestions his side were title contenders last season; his “little horse” needed to “learn how to jump” and was not yet ready to challenge for the Premier League crown, he said.
Mourinho was proven right – Chelsea finished third, behind Liverpool and champions City – and 'the Special One' has wasted little time in rebuilding what now has the potential to be a very special squad.
The Blues did most of the leg work in securing a £35 million deal to sign Diego Costa, the striker central to Atletico Madrid’s unprecedented La Liga title victory and run to the Champions League final, long before last season had drawn to a close.
Costa was soon followed to Stamford Bridge by Atleti team-mate Filipe Luis, the uncompromising £15.8m left-back signed to replace the outgoing Ashley Cole, whose contract was allowed to expire at the end of the season.
And in landing Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona in a £30m transfer, Chelsea have signed a player Mourinho has described as “the missing piece” to his squad, a midfielder supremely talented and capable of facilitating swift-moving counter-attacks with his vision and passing ability.
Didier Drogba, too, has returned to Chelsea, whose spending has now topped £80m. A summer of heavy investment has once again been bankrolled by the club’s billionaire owner Abramovich.
It was Mourinho whom Abramovich charged with fronting the blue revolution at Stamford Bridge following the sacking of Claudio Ranieri, a year after he had taken control of the club in 2003.
Mourinho brought with him instant success. With a side expensively constructed which featured Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira - who followed the former Porto coach to Stamford Bridge - Drogba and Arjen Robben, Chelsea won back-to-back Premier League titles, the FA Cup and two League Cups between 2005 and 2007.
But the relationship between the pair deteriorated and, after a below-par start to the 2007-08 season, Mourinho was gone. The Portuguese’s reluctance to select Andrei Shevchenko, a £30m Abramovich signing, was thought to have played a part, along with a disagreement over the club’s industrious if not entertaining playing style.
After seasons of managerial chopping and changing, however, Mourinho returned in 2013. Much has apparently changed between the pair.
Mourinho has been given the green light to deconstruct an expensively assembled squad. It was considered a baffling move by some, but Juan Mata was sold to Manchester United in January after failing to slot into the new Chelsea system, despite winning the club’s player of the year award the season before.
Cult figure David Luiz has also departed for Paris Saint-Germain having played a bit-part role in Mourinho’s first season back at Stamford Bridge. The less extravagant likes of Andre Schurrle, Willian, Nemanja Matic and Mohamed Salah, meanwhile, have been brought in, while Eden Hazard and Oscar have had to adapt their games. There has been no suggestion of internal disagreements regarding any decision to adopt a certain playing style.
While United have signed Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw, the higher-ups at Old Trafford have thus far been unable to deliver Louis van Gaal any of his own primary targets. Elsewhere, Manchester City’s spending has been curtailed by Financial Fair Play restrictions and there is a feeling that, despite the statement signing of Alexis, Arsenal may still be lacking a midfield general
Chelsea, meanwhile, have moved quickly and impressively. "We finished the market today," said Mourinho recently.
"The transfer market closes 31 August and we close on July 19.
"My club did a fantastic job, not just because of what we bought, but because we did it in almost record time."
Mourinho is happy with the business Chelsea have done, and the faith shown in his philosophy by Abramovich could now deliver the Premier League title back to Stamford Bridge for the first time since 2010.
This reassembled squad has been built very much in Mourinho’s image and enabled by Abramovich. If Chelsea fail to win the title this season, the Portuguese can have few excuses.
But the Blues are going to take some stopping.