By Liam Twomey
As Chelsea fans ponder the significance of their team’s capitulation at the devastating feet of Radamel Falcao in last Friday’s European Super Cup, the departure of Raul Meireles to Turkish giants Fenerbahce will likely be greeted with the same indifference as met his arrival from Liverpool almost exactly a year ago.
Back then, the Blues faithful were, along with owner Roman Abramovich, still smitten with the effortless class of Luka Modric, having spent an entire summer wooing the Croatian. But Daniel Levy’s sheer force of will prevailed to keep his star man at White Hart Lane for another year. A budget Plan B had to be found quickly and, to Chelsea fans, that is all that Meireles ever was.
Yet the dismay of many Liverpool fans at their club’s willingness to hand the Portuguese midfielder over to a top-four rival on deadline day hinted at his pedigree. Meireles’ curse has long been that he is invariably judged by his employers to be expendable, even when he is not.
|LIKE A RAULING STONE
|MEIRELES’ CAREER RECORD
Over the course of six highly successful seasons with Porto he established himself as a highly capable midfield orchestrator. An unfussy player, he did not draw the eye as much as his more powerful and spectacular regular partner Lucho Gonzalez but nevertheless proved adept at controlling the tempo of matches with an impressive variety of short and long-range passes.
His efforts brought much domestic success – four league titles and three cups – but, suffering the misfortune to arrive at Estadio do Dragao the summer after Jose Mourinho had conquered the Champions League, his exploits further afield were limited to a regular presence in the group stages of Europe’s premier club competition.
Nevertheless, Meireles would have been entitled to think that he had become a key cog in Porto’s midfield machine. Yet when the club hired a fresh-faced former opposition scout by the name of Andre Villas-Boas as manager in the summer of 2010, he had to think again. Swiftly offloaded to Liverpool, he found himself having to adjust to a new club, a new city and a new league.
But adjust he did. Having struggled to find his rhythm during Roy Hodgson’s brief and ill-fated Anfield tenure, Meireles hit his stride under Kenny Dalglish, scoring five goals and knitting together a previously disjointed midfield as the Reds rescued a lost season to finish a creditable sixth.
He won the prestigious PFA Fans’ Player of the Year award, but not the full faith of Dalglish, who saw new signing and fellow Scot Charlie Adam as his ideal midfield playmaker alongside the rampaging Steven Gerrard. Consequently, when Villas-Boas came calling with an offer from new club Chelsea, he was never likely to hesitate, just as Liverpool were never likely to put up a fight.
At Stamford Bridge Meireles was plunged into the politics of the new boss’ attempted revolution of the Blues’ entrenched playing style. Often chosen ahead of Frank Lampard, the Portuguese was one of the main beneficiaries and, unsurprisingly, became one of his manager’s closest allies.
When Abramovich finally pulled the plug on a dejected Villas-Boas in March, it was Meireles, more than anyone else, whose future appeared to be in doubt. But despite making his anger known at the decision, the former Porto man soon set aside his emotions and put his mind to helping Chelsea salvage from a miserable campaign the single greatest night in the club’s history.
Relegated to squad status by Lampard’s return, Meireles still made himself more than useful, scoring important goals and running himself into the ground during the Blues’ epic resistance against Barcelona at the Nou Camp. Often criticised for being lightweight or too careless in possession, he still provided enough moments of inspiration to play his part.
Even as Chelsea remodelled their aging squad at great expense this summer, it appeared Meireles might have a role to play. He is not, and has never been, world-class, but his technical ability, tireless work-rate and professionalism are qualities which should never be discarded lightly.
With Michael Essien looking to rouse his inner beast at Real Madrid and Josh McEachran continuing his footballing education with Middlesbrough, Chelsea already looked short-staffed in the centre of midfield. Now, with Meireles gone, that particular cupboard looks worryingly bare.
Blues fans must now hope the likes of Lampard, John Obi Mikel and youngster Oriol Romeu stay fit and healthy until the New Year. If they do not, thoughts may drift back to that seemingly trivial day in early September when they bade farewell to Meireles, top-level football’s ‘Mr Expendable’.
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