Date: 15th June 2008 at 9:53am
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Since arriving at Chelsea last summer, French winger Florent Malouda has struggled to settle into the side. After grabbing Chelsea`s only goal in his first competitive match for his new club, Florent Malouda managed to score only three more times in thirty seven appearances for the Blues over the rest of the season. That`s less than half the strike rate he achieved for Lyon (31 goals in 170 appearances), with whom he collected French Player of the Year before moving to West London. Purchased ostensibly as a like-for-like replacement for the popular Arjen Robben who was sold to Real Madrid earlier in the summer, Malouda was always going to be up against it in seeking to win over the support of the Chelsea faithful. Malouda`s predecessor is, on his day, arguably the most dangerous left-sided winger currently in the game, but his Chelsea career was hampered by numerous extended injury layoffs.

Yet Florent Malouda is not a like-for-like successor to the Dutch flier. Although they occupy the same position on the pitch, they approach that position in two very different ways. Robben is a very pacey, very direct left-sided attacker who is always looking to beat his man and who is always keen to take the shot on. Malouda, in contrast, is a much more technical player. The Frenchman`s game is all about movement off the ball, sharp passing, and accurate crossing. Just the sort of attributes, it might be highlighted, that are more difficult to take advantage of when a player has yet to settle comfortably into a new team in a new league. It takes time to get on the same wavelength as one`s teammates and to adjust to the pace of the league, and this weighs in much more heavily for a player of Malouda`s ilk than it does for a player like Arjen Robben.

As such, Malouda did struggle somewhat to settle in to life in the English Premiership in his first season. His first Chelsea campaign was by no means, however, a catastrophe. The French winger managed thirty seven starts this term in spite of decent competition for places in the wide areas, and in the process, he did turn in a handful of good performances. No, he certainly did not reach the level of performance that earned him French Player of the Year in 2007, but Malouda is in rather illustrious company in struggling in his first season after moving to England from France. None other than Stamford Bridge success stories Didier Drogba and Michael Essien endured similar criticism and “flop” labels after making the same move. If Florent Malouda could achieve anything close to the success these players have for Chelsea over the next couple of seasons, he`ll have no trouble turning around the negative opinion of the Blue majority.

Next season will be Malouda`s true test. He`ll have adjusted to plying his trade in the Premier League, he`ll have gotten comfortable with his teammates, and ultimately he`ll come good. You don`t achieve all he has done without a modicum of quality. And he has shown us flashes of that quality at times during the season, and with increasing frequency as the season wore on. Even in our biggest match of the season, the Champions League final in Moscow, Malouda looked bright. And in France`s first match of Euro 2008 against Romania, Florent was one of the more positive players in a disappointing French performance.

Now one could very reasonably argue that this is all well and good, that while Malouda may indeed prove to be an excellent example of the sort of player I`ve described him to be, we need instead a more direct winger like the ones we had in Damien Duff and Arjen Robben. I won`t argue that we`d do well to bring in a more direct winger this close season?one with the pace and trickery to glide past defenders and take a shot on. But I do disagree with the sentiment that such a player should come at the expense of Florent Malouda. It`s good to have options, and having two different types of player to fill that left winger role is a boon. Moreover, Chelsea look like seeking to install a different brand of football for next year featuring a more free-flowing attacking style. Malouda is much better suited to this sort of quick short-passing game than he is to our current system. I`ll offer you Freddie Ljungberg during his Arsenal days for comparison. The Arsenal of a couple of seasons ago had that aforementioned quick short-passing game down so well that they really had no alternative, and Freddie Ljungberg was, in the eyes of the Arsenal supporters I know (and I`m inclined to agree), their most important player. Malouda is a similar sort of player to Ljungberg, and his success at Chelsea will increase as we move toward installing the sort of football all the signs point we`re aiming for.

Yes, Chelsea would do well to bring in a quality direct winger, be it Robinho (the ideal candidate for me), Quaresma, or someone as yet not linked with the club. This acquisition should come at the expense of Shawn Wright-Phillips, however, for whom it is time to seek pastures anew. Wright-Phillips is a more direct wide player, but his end product is unfortunately just not good enough for a club of Chelsea`s stature. It is time for the diminutive winger to find the first-team football he deserves with a second-tier club like Portsmouth. With Florent Malouda, Joe Cole, Soloman Kalou (also capable as a centre forward), and a new signing for options out wide, Chelsea would have excellent balance in the wide areas. The French left sided player has all the qualities to be a successful member of a Chelsea squad that could reach new heights next season. We, the Chelsea support, would do well to give him the chance to prove himself after having had time to settle. If historical precedent is any guide, he may well prove to be a real hit in the upcoming campaign.