Chelsea will suffer if transfer ban stands
Gael Kakuta was a name that barely registered on Chelsea's radar - let alone world football's - until he became the central figure in a landmark Fifa decision that could shape the short-term future at Stamford Bridge.
The 18-year-old winger, who the world governing body has adjudged was induced to breach a contract with Lens to join Chelsea in 2007, is regarded as a promising but hardly indispensable part of coach Carlo Ancelotti's plans.
Swift and with natural goalscoring flair, Kakuta was the Chelsea Academy scholar of the year in 2008, but his recent story has been a series of injuries that have stalled his progress.
He will now be sidelined for another four months as part of Fifa's wide-ranging punishment for his alleged poaching from Lens - most notably a ban on Chelsea signing any new players until January 2011.
Chelsea's rivals will see this as a chink in what has been impregnable armour so far this season, and this stranglehold on Ancelotti's transfer plans will provide a most unwelcome handicap as he fashions a new era at Stamford Bridge.
Even if Chelsea get the ban reduced with what they say will be "the strongest appeal possible" to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland, a distinct possibilty, at the very least they are likely to spend the rest of this season with everything crossed in the hope that injuries and suspensions can be avoided.
Kakuta has yet to feature for Chelsea's first team
The January transfer window is traditionally a less than hectic time at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea have suggested in the past that, unless circumstances are exceptional, the calibre of players they require are not on the market in the shorter window because they are usually ineligible for the Champions League or clubs are unwilling sellers.
This January might be different if they fail to win an appeal, because of a twist of timing in football's packed calendar that leaves Chelsea, to some extent, at the mercy of the gods.
Chelsea are likely to lose Michael Essien, Salomon Kalou, Jon Mikel Obi and, arguably most crucially of all, Didier Drogba to the African Cup of Nations when it gets under way in Angola in early January.
This a blow big enough in itself. Now Ancelotti must hope further strain is not put on his resources when the season enters this crucial phase. The power of owner Roman Abramovich's chequebook has always been an important safety net in emergencies, now it is on the point of being pulled away from under Chelsea's coach by forces beyond his control.
Ancelotti's further concern, after a relatively low-key summer of activity in the transfer market, is that Chelsea's squad may be experienced but it will undoubtedly need freshening up during the period when the ban on transfers is scheduled to be imposed.
Chelsea are hardly a "Dad's Army" outfit, but they are not exactly youthful and light on their feet either. Young bloods are in short supply. Captain John Terry has a history of injuries in recent times and plenty of the squad are nearer the end of their careers than the start.
There is security in the long-term contracts signed by Terry and Ashley Cole, but Ancelotti will want to marshal everything at his disposal, including a transfer fund, throughout the course of a taxing season.
Of course what Chelsea have, and what Fifa can never take away, is an in-built resilience from the days of Jose Mourinho
And a punishment of this sort is only likely to stiffen a siege mentality as they go in search of their first Champions League, the Holy Grail, and also try to reclaim the Premier League title that has resided at Old Trafford for the past three seasons.
If Chelsea, as Fifa has ruled, induced Kakuta to leave the club that nurtured him, then it must be regarded as a laudible, landmark move to punish them.
Chelsea will now plead their case vehemently, but as a general principle any move to protect clubs from having young talent they have invested time, money and resources in spirited away without at least fitting financial compensation is to be applauded.
It may also mean in future that smaller clubs will feel on a firmer footing when standing up to the richer rivals ready to prey on their production line of talent.
Sympathy for Chelsea (of course the very words are likely to induce roars of laughter from around the community of Premier League supporters) may come with the hope that Fifa's net will claim more than just them.
If Fifa actually believes Chelsea are the only club guilty of this particular offence in world football, then naivety is being stretched to its furthest point. Are we to seriously believe that? I do not. This is a can of worms that has yet to be fully opened.
For now, however, Fifa has embarrassed Chelsea by putting them in the dock. And even if they are successful in wiping out a portion of the punishment, it still stands a blow to their chances of success this season.
Fifa's ruling might save Abramovich a few roubles on transfers - it might even get Kakuta a few games in the first team - but what will it cost when it comes to counting silverware? Chelsea must hope an investment in a promising, but unproven, youngster does not prove too expensive.
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