LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 25: Hatem Ben Arfa of Newcastle United holds off Raul Meireles of Chelsea during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Newcastle United at Stamford Bridge on August 25, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Over the last couple of days Chelsea fans have had to become acquainted with the idea that despite some performances which may have suggested otherwise, the club simply wasn't interested in the idea of upgrading the centre of the park. That may have been acceptable to some considering the impressive outlay on attacking midfielders over the summer, but you'd struggle to find a man who would have been happy with a downgrade of the current Chelsea midfielders. Unfortunately, that's exactly what's happened with the loan of Michael Essien to Real Madrid and the proposed transfer of Raul Meireles to Fenerbahce.
Steven already gave some pretty salient points on the Essien transfer yesterday, but this Meireles move is a fair bit more difficult to work out. Polarising he may be, Raul undeniably offers options, and in a weak midfield, that's exactly what Chelsea need. More to the point, Meireles showed against Newcastle he's certainly capable of pushing for the starting role in the double pivot of Di Matteo's favoured 4-2-3-1. With Frank Lampard still adapting to a deeper position, having a player somewhat capable of transitioning the ball from defence to attack is crucial. Meireles isn't ideal, but he is a better option than Ramires or Oriol Romeu for the position.
You could certainly make a case that Oscar could play there, and I'd agree with you. Unfortunately, we just haven't seen enough of Oscar to justify putting so much faith in him, especially when he has played very little time in the position many fans have earmarked him for.
There's also the possibility that Ramires could move from the wing into the centre of the park, and while I'd be in full support of that move if it involved a switch to 4-3-3, and I'd be a lot less receptive if it meant giving the Brazilian a spot in a midfield two. Ramires is a fine midfielder, but a list of his weaknesses would unfortunately be the items you'd have under ideal strengths of a pivot midfielder. Indeed, Ramires himself has admitted such flaws in a revealing interview with FourFourTwo.
So if Meireles was such a vital piece of the jigsaw, why is heading to Turkey? Without wanting to jump to too many sweeping generalisations, I'd suspect there are some internal issues at play here. It's certainly curious that Chelsea didn't sell Meireles before the transfer deadline (remembering that the Turkish window doesn't shut until the 5th of September) and give them time to get a replacement, which suggests to me that there is some sort of plan in place to cover for his departure. What that plan is not exactly clear, but I'd guess it's to do with how Di Matteo will deploy his troops in the coming weeks. We've been rolling with a 4-2-3-1 in every game so far, but one would suspect a return to 4-3-3 would be on the cards. It wouldn't limit the wonderful interchange we're seeing from Juan Mata and Eden Hazard, and as a bonus it would see Frank Lampard and Ramires restored to their nominal (and best) positions. Furthermore, it'd give us the chance to integrate Oscar into a slightly deeper role whilst not placing too much defensive onus upon his young shoulders.
That aside, it shouldn't mask the fact that Chelsea are doing themselves a real disservice here. They are ridding themselves of some useful depth, whilst restricting their own tactical flexibility. Unless there's some hidden gem waiting to be snapped up on a free transfer that we all seem to have missed, then this transfer just doesn't make sense, at least in the short term. Even from a Financial Fair Play perspective, although Chelsea are currently paying Meireles wages as a post-2010 contract, I'd like to think he's not on anything so exorbitant that we simply can't keep him around. In a world in which Yossi Benayoun can be on wages £92k a week, I suppose, anything is possible.
In fact, if we consider the actual transfer fee itself, then we may find ourselves some justification. Several media outlets are quoting Fenerbahce's price at €10 million. In British pounds that's around £7.9 million. Considering that Meireles cost a reported £12 million on August 31 last year, Chelsea haven't managed a profit here, but they have probably recouped as much of the fee as was possible. At 29, Meireles is entering the twilight of his career, and his value was going to depreciate from here.