Chelsea’s £26.1m move for Juan Cuadrado was perhaps a highlight in what was ultimately a fairly mediocre transfer deadline day.
The drama and hysteria that surrounded that move was still fairly meagre though – several media outlets reported the deal was to be completed long before it was confirmed officially.
Even so, Cuadrado has plenty to prove if he’s to last more than a couple of seasons at Chelsea, and his presence in west London poses some interesting questions about the club’s ongoing strategies.
As Rory Smith of the Times excellently analysed at the start of the season, Chelsea football club have evolved to become a ‘trader’, a team geared towards capitalising on the terms of Financial Fair Play.
He outlines that Chelsea have ultimately become two businesses. The first is the one that we see aesthetically – Jose Mourinho’s arena, where the primary concern is to win football matches. The other is a corporate trading arm, fixated on ‘hoovering up’ young talent from around the world, bringing it to Cobham, and then sending it out on loan.
Smith goes as far to argue that the corporate trading arm doesn’t actually serve to provide Mourinho with players anymore (bar the anomaly of Thibaut Courtois) but to nurture and mature players (or assets) to the peak of their market value before cashing in for lucrative profits. It’s an extensive system that allowed Mourinho to bring Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas and Felipe Luis to London this summer and still break even. It’s legal, and it’s effective.
The question that this raises then is whether the Cuadrado outlay was for the purpose of the football team, or the business…
Naturally, the immediate rebuttal is to ignore the cynicisms of footballing finance and just see it as a genuine transfer for on-pitch matters. We know that Mourinho favours a tactically assured game of dynamic pressing and counter-attacking, and in many respects Cuadrado’s abilities fit that bracket more than Andre Schurrle or Mohamed Salah.
Tim Vickery, the BBC’s South American football correspondent, provided an analysis of the players attributes which supports this notion, explaining that Cuardado possesses ‘sustained pace and effervescent dribbling’, a motor-engine driving force who can play at right back. That profile falls in line quite nicely with a genuine Mourinho signing – a defensively conscious attacking player.
The flipside of this though is to question where his value to Chelsea lies – is it on the pitch, or off it? Mourinho has hardly strayed away from his preferred starting XI this season – is Cuadrado a genuine upgrade on Chelsea’s squad capable of getting in the first team, or is he a trophy who’ll be put in the shop window and used as a bargaining ship in future transfer windows? How different is he to a Romelu Lukaku, or a Juan Mata, or a Kevin De Bruyne? Was he merely bought to allow the profitable sale of Andre Schurrle (£22m) and to grant cover for the departing Salah whose value will rise faster in the shop window of Serie A?
While his playing characteristics may be more attuned to the Mourinho school of thought than those aforementioned players, it’s worth pondering whether the Colombian is a genuine improvement in this Chelsea squad, or just a new pawn (or perhaps, a highly polished knight) on the corporate wing’s chessboard.
Or, alternatively, he may fit somewhere in between. Hit the right buttons on Mourinho’s radar and he’ll get his chance; falter and he’ll be cast away like those before him. It may sound overly-cynical, but in an era of unheralded financial pressures, there’s little room for sentiment. Chelsea have shown that more crudely than any other team, and ultimately Cuadrado may well be a part of that wider, fiscal, movement.