Chelsea’s first signing of the season was nothing like the marquee name many had perhaps anticipated, as Liverpool’s Yossi Benayoun joined up at Stamford Bridge in a £5.5m three year deal.
Though the arrival of the 30 year old Israeli international ensured a rather more low-key beginning to acquisitions so far, the league champions- having already freed Juliano Belletti, Michael Ballack and Joe Cole, and with Deco, Ricardo Carvalho and Franco Di Santo looking likely to follow suit- may very well be clearing the decks for a big-name signing or two before the end of August, with a deal for Benfica’s defensive midfielder Ramires, according to rumours, imminent.
Rubber-stamping the Benayoun deal was one of the first actions of new Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson, with the player having already agreed to the move with Rafa Benitez before the Spaniard’s summer departure from Anfield. Upon completing the transfer, the Israel captain declared:
I am very excited to come to a club like Chelsea, it is a big club and I think it is a dream for every player. Hopefully we will be successful.
“If Yossi Benayoun can break into an already well-established Chelsea line-up, then he would be a bargain at 7.5m in the FPL game.
An underused talent at Liverpool in recent years, he’s looked well capable of hitting double figures given the chance.
However, the likelihood is that he will be deployed as an impact player and will therefore offer little to us fantasy managers in terms of consistent scoring.”
Despite a brief flirtation with the Ajax youth system, Benayoun’s senior career kicked off in 1997, where, in his homeland, he netted 15 goals in 25 games for Hapoel Be’er Sheva in an outstanding debut season. On he moved to Maccabi Haifa for four seasons, winning the league title twice, including one under the guidance of Avram Grant. There he played 130 games, scoring 55 times.
Along came Racing Santander, and a three year spell in La Liga where Benayoun made 101 appearances, grabbing 21 goals, before Alan Pardew paid £2.5m to take him to Upton Park. For two years he plied his trade at West Ham, racking up 63 league appearances, in which he returned 8 goals and 2 assists. He also played 3 FA Cup and 2 UEFA Cup games for the Hammers.
Liverpool were up next, paying £5m for his services. Spending three years at Anfield, Benayoun played 92 league games, scoring 18 goals and assisting 11 times. He also played 8 FA Cup games, scoring 4 times, and made 32 Champions League appearances, returning 7 goals and 7 assists.
Carlo Ancelotti certainly seemed to have found a balance and fluidity to his team’s formation during the second half of last season with a 4-1-2-3 variant, and if, as expected, the Italian sticks to such a shape, then Benayoun will be vying for a first-team place with the likes of Nicolas Anelka, Salomon Kalou, Florent Malouda and young prodigy Gael Kakuta for a wide place up top. To a degree, the transfer seems a strange one, as he’s no more guaranteed a first-team place than he was at Anfield.
During the World Cup, the club were continually linked with a wide variety of top-class attackers, from Fernando Torres to Mesut Ozil to Thomas Muller, though the passage of time indicates this was nothing more than the typical tabloid rumour-mongering that buzzes incessantly throughout pre-season.
Carlo Ancelotti did indicate towards the end of last season that the club are determined to give their own talent a fair crack of the whip, with five youngsters -including Kakuta- being promoted from the youth ranks into the upcoming season’s first-team squad, which suggests that quality, rather than quantity, will be Chelsea’s main priority when it comes to further signings.
Ancelotti certainly indicated that Benayoun’s versatility was key in his decision to bring him to the club, stating:
Yossi has a lot of quality in midfield and can play in lots of positions. I like his behaviour on the pitch. He will do a great job.
Fantasy-wise, a fully fit Chelsea squad will always mean the lack of any first-team certainty puts Benayoun on the backburner for the vast majority of managers, so pretty much little changes there. Fantasy Premier League (FPL) has him priced at £7.5m, and with far cheaper midfield options available who are both regular starters and set-piece takers, Benayoun -once again- will be something of a luxury many simply cannot afford to risk.
Looking at the start of the season, with Didier Drogba’s recent groin operation almost certain to rule him out of Chelsea’s first two or three league games, it’s pretty much a given that Chelsea will play Nicolas Anelka through the middle, as opposed to wide right, in the Ivorian’s absence.
It’s almost typical of Benayoun’s unpredictability as a starter that, just as he seemed favourite to fill that gap vacated by Anelka’s move inside, he, too, has picked up a groin injury. If he recovers in time for that Stamford Bridge opener against West Brom, Benayoun could well be worth a punt until Drogba is fit and ready, but until we hear any further news from the Chelsea camp, Salomon Kalou, rather than Benayoun, now appears to be the most-likely starter.