Jose Mourinho did nothing to hide his disdain for Fernando Torres when the striker missed an opportunity to put his name and Chelsea’s on the score sheet against Stoke on the weekend.
The Chelsea boss has done little to mask his frustrations with his striking options all season, reserving most of his fury for Torres and, indirectly, the individual who brought him to the club, owner Roman Abramovich.
Samuel Eto’o is out injured. Had he not have been, he’d more than likely have started against PSG in Paris last week. Instead it was Andre Schurrle, not entirely ineffective, but offering absolutely nothing as an attacking threat. Demba Ba might as well pack his bags and head out on his holidays.
Elsewhere, Romelu Lukaku is spearheading Everton’s attack on the top four, an attack which was promised by new manager Roberto Martinez. The Belgian forward has 13 league goals this season. Between all three of them, Chelsea’s forwards have 15.
It’s a nice idea to think that Lukaku would have been this impactful and decisive had he remained at Chelsea this season. Lots of things could have played against him. Chelsea are known for not giving youngsters an opportunity, though in fairness that reputation is dwindling. Maybe Mourinho knew something about the player’s temperament. Maybe Lukaku isn’t yet ready to be a striker for a team competing at the level Chelsea are.
Lukaku has built his own reputation in English football – a glowing one – yet it is founded on a good season with a mid-table team in West Brom, and enhanced with Everton, a good team who are trying to break into the Champions League for next season. Whether they do that or not remains to be seen.
This part of Lukaku’s development may have been absolutely necessary. There’s nothing to say he’d have been the same player if he had remained at Stamford Bridge this season. For one, opportunities may have been limited, but let’s also not forget the wasteland that west London has become for strikers over the last decade. Chelsea discriminate against no one when it comes to denting the careers of forwards.
But Lukaku could be a very useful addition next season. One way or another, this is a powerful centre-forward – exactly the kind Mourinho likes to have in his teams – with experience of the Premier League. All of the rest – battling for titles, competing in the Champions League etc – will come in time.
But the relationship looks to be broken and the bridge burned. The message coming out of Chelsea is that all of the team’s forwards will be shipped out. And that includes Lukaku. The club have been uncharacteristically clever when dealing with transfer business of late. Getting £37 million for an unused and unwanted Juan Mata is brilliant, and adding to it by extracting £20 million from Wolfsburg for another unwanted, though also gifted, midfielder in Kevin de Bruyne was impressive. Chelsea will look to carry out the same exercise with Lukaku during the upcoming window.
The problem is consistency and the need to hit the ground running next season. The problem is exposing yourself to clubs who know you’re without forwards and desperately in need of additions. The problem is not seeing a good thing that has your name written all over it.
Whatever Lukaku said, both publicly and behind closed doors, shouldn’t warrant Chelsea and Mourinho wiping their hands with the striker.
Mourinho has bemoaned his lack of options all summer. With Wayne Rooney off the table, Chelsea will have to shop abroad. However good a player may be in his current league on the continent, you’d assume that he’d need time to adapt to a new league, new environments, including players, and the manager’s instructions. In Lukaku, Chelsea have a Premier League-ready striker who is capable of backing up Diego Costa, Radamel Falcao, or whoever it may be.
The starting point for a strong group of options is under Mourinho’s nose. He should be ruing the apparent broken relationship between him and Lukaku and now working to repair whatever has been damaged over the course of this season.