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Sunday, July 25, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Steve Kelley / Times staff columnist
On a griddle-hot pitch in the middle of summer, about 6,000 miles from home, Chelsea began a Quixotic quest for hardware.
With an owner, oil tycoon Roman Abramovich, spending money like a Russian George Steinbrenner, Chelsea, which has often played the Mets to Arsenal's Yankees, is a favorite to win the English Premiership.
Chelsea is expected to challenge in the European League. And it is good enough to win everything this season. In England it's called "the treble," winning the Premiership, the European League and the F.A. Cup. This is what can happen to a franchise when an owner is committed to winning. Think of Chelsea as the Anaheim Angels, a team with fresh ownership that isn't content with contending.
"An owner comes in and you see what he can do for the club, it's exciting, really," said defender Glen Johnson. "It nice for the players. Last year we came close in the Champions League and the Premiership, now this year could be the year."
In yesterday's 4-2 ChampionsWorld victory over Celtic, Chelsea looked quick and dangerous and surprisingly together, considering the time of year and all of the new faces.
Serb Mateja Kezman, purchased from PSV Einhoven of Holland, did what he is supposed to do. He scored goals a breakaway blast in the 59th minute and a chip-shot goal off a lovely touch pass from Johnson in the 87th minute.
It's only July, the Premiership doesn't begin for three weeks, but for Kezman it is important to show his new team just how lethal he is.
"It is good for my self confidence," Kezman said. "Especially, when you come to a new club. They expect me to score goals and I do it well for sure. It's my job.
"Sure we have pressure on us because we are a fantastic team, so we just have to make some trophies. And by chance, if we don't take any trophies, it would be a disaster, I think. We want to make Chelsea a champion this season."
It was almost as if he were sending a message to the players that even finishing runners-up in a league as tough as the English Premiership isn't good enough.
"We don't need to be sent a message," said midfielder Frank Lampard, who entered the game at the start of the second half. "I think now Chelsea knows that finishing second isn't good enough in a way. We have to win things. And I think if you haven't got plans to win things, you shouldn't be at Chelsea."
Abramovich is buying the world.
Besides Kezman, he spent $45 million for French star forward Didier Drogba, signed defender Paul Ferriera and midfielder Tiago from Portugal. On Friday, he re-signed Lampard, who scored three goals for England in Euro 2004.
Imagine if the ownership of a certain Seattle baseball team had Abramovich's ambition.
"We've decided we're going to do anything we can to win," said Lampard, who has played in 159 matches for Chelsea. "I think any fan now would be excited to be a fan of Chelsea's. Our fan base keeps growing with every season.
"Now, after last season, we're used to expectations. I think the team is ready for a new challenge and when you bring in the good players that we have it doesn't really take you that long to jell. We're attracting big players. We're challenging for all the big tournaments. That's what fans want."
How good is Chelsea? It dominated Celtic even though Drogba and Tiago didn't play.
In an entertaining, up-and-down game that felt like a tease for the 30,504 Seattle soccer fans who want something more than one afternoon of world-class soccer a year, Chelsea hammered 13 shots, including six on goal.
"This level of play just shows the ambition of the club," said Icelandic national Eidur Gudjohnsen, who broke a 1-1 tie with a goal in the 50th minute. "It started last year and it happens again this year that we have added a lot of quality to the club. When you spend all the money that we've spent on new players, there's always going to be pressure to win things.
"This year we really have to have the confidence to go out and win silverware. Hopefully during the preseason we can get to know each other well and get to jell as a club."
Still new manager Mourinho believes Chelsea needs another strong player on defense. Both of Celtic forward Craig Beattie's goals came as a result of mistakes in the back of Chelsea's defense.
So far Mourinho has gotten almost everything he's wanted. Why not another defender?
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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