Ever since Claude Makelele left Chelsea in 2008, the blues have struggled to find a holding midfielder that has been able to live up to the reputation of the Frenchman.
Several players have done well in the ‘Makelele’ position for Chelsea but nobody has been able to make that role their own and put their own name on it.
Michael Essien, Jon Obi Mikel and Raul Meireles have all had a go at being the anchorman of the Chelsea midfield but have never been a permanent fixture. However Di Matteo may have found the man that can fill Makelele’s legendary Chelsea boots (link).
Brazilian Paulinho, 24, could be set to join his fellow countrymen, Ramires, David Luiz and Oscar, in West London as Di Matteo is eyeing up the Corinthians anchorman for a possible January swoop.
Paulinho helped his team claim the Copa Libertadores earlier this year and has a great reputation for tough tackling as well as being as comfortable on the ball as almost any Brazililian.
The Corinthians man is already in the national team picture as he currently shares the holding position with Chelsea’s Ramires, but if Di Matteo was to bring Paulinho into the squad then who is going to make way?
Chelsea already have a decent selection of anchor men with Ramires, Mikel, Romeu and more recently Frank Lampard playing in those two defensive midfield roles, not to mention the return of Michael Essien from his loan spell at Real Madrid next season.
All of these players have valid reasons to stay or go but who would Paulinho replace?
Ramires is probably the most unlikely to exit the club after putting in some star performances in the Champions League run last year and he gives the Chelsea midfield some real energy. Also the Brazilian could form a formidable partnership with Paulinho in the two sitting roles for both club and country.
As for Oriol Romeu, he is still a young player that perhaps needs a little more time to develop before he can be seen as a full time option in the midfield for Chelsea. Coming through the Barcelona ranks suggests that he has a lot of natural ability and Di Matteo will be hoping he can emulate some of the other Spanish superstar midfielders.
Frank Lampard could be making way for Paulinho in the summer as the rumours persist in linking the Chelsea legend with a move away from Stamford Bridge to the glitz and glamour of LA Galaxy in the MLS. With Lamps’ role in the squad not as pivotal as it has been it could be the perfect time to leave the club and make way for new blood.
Jon Obi Mikel’s position at Chelsea is also interesting as he is a player that has never hit the headlines but has been an ever present in the side in the blues recent trophy-laden history. His overall quality and contribution on the pitch appears to have little effect on the game, however Di Matteo has recently described him as Chelsea’s ‘unsung hero’. Much like Sergio Busquets at Barcelona, Mikel keeps Chelsea ticking over in the game, he keeps the ball moving and breaks up play, it goes almost unnoticed but it seems that the Nigerians efforts are crucial to Di Matteo’s side.
Finally there is still Michael Essien to look over as the possible foil for Paulinho’s arrival. Essien’s loan move to Madrid this season seems to have signalled the end of the Ghanaian’s injury-plagued Chelsea career as he probably does not feature in Di Matteo’s plans. He was brilliant when he was fit and looked like the perfect replacement for Makelele after he left in 2008, but injuries have kept Essien from being one of Chelsea’s indispensable stars and instead it now looks like his time at Stamford Bridge is over.
If Paulinho is to join Chelsea in the near future then Di Matteo certainly has a few options to choose from if he needs to get rid of one of his holding midfielders. At the moment it’s looking like the departure of veterans Essien and Lampard could is the price Chelsea will be paying to bring in Paulinho and they will be hoping he will be the next Makelele.