Considering it’s taken nearly a decade to get former Barcelona star Samuel Eto’o to Stamford Bridge after Jose Mourinho launched an ill-fated bid for the Cameroonian in 2006 during his first spell as Chelsea boss, his performance against Everton at the weekend was hardly what you’d describe as worth waiting seven years for.
Past his best, yes, and suffering from ring-rust too, but never the less, the 32 year-old scuppered every clear shot at goal amid the Blues 1-0 defeat to Roberto Martinez’s men in an uninspiring debut that must have Chelsea fans concerned that the ghosts of last season are beginning to re-appear.
As Eto’o and substitute Fernando Torres, who came on in the 69th minute to join the attack, failed to impact the score line despite the Blues creating a plethora of chances, recording 22 shots in total, Chelsea loanee Romelu Lukaku attended the match as an illegible Everton player, illustrating perfectly the juxtaposing fortunes of Chelsea’s strikers last season; whilst Demba Ba and Torres managed to conjure up just ten Premier League goals between them, the big Belgian finished his season-long loan spell at West Brom as the division’s sixth top scorer with 17 goals in 35 top flight appearances.
Considering we’re now four games into the new Premier League season and none of Chelsea’s three strikers have managed to get on the score sheet, it’s time to ask the question – was it a mistake on Jose Mourinho’s part to send Lukaku out on loan for another year?
At the end of last season it became evident that a guaranteed goal scorer was the final piece required to complete the Chelsea jigsaw of a title-winning side. Mourinho too seemed to uphold a similar opinion, signified by his summer-long pursuit of Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney.
But even whilst the Blues were on the hunt for the England international following reports of him being unsettled and unwanted at Old Trafford, many argued that Lukaku should be given a first team slot at his parent club after thoroughly impressing during his year at the Hawthorns. A 17-goal haul is no easy feat, and it’s the kind of goal scoring regularity the Chelsea roster has been desperately calling out for ever since Didier Drogba left in summer 2012.
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You could even argue that considering he trumped Torres and Ba’s collective goal efforts by seven, Lukaku deserved a shot under the new Mourinho regime over the other members of the Blues strike force. Many have pointed to the fact Lukaku is yet to score a competitive goal for his parent club, but considering the youngster’s talent, it’s clearly a case of when not if the he’ll begin finding the net at Stamford Bridge.
At the same time, the Belgian is very much a Jose Mourinho kind of player, measuring in at 6 foot 3 and already labelled as the next Didier Drogba for his aggressive and physical style. The Blues have shown an emphasis on technical play in and around the final third this season that many hadn’t previously associated the Portuguese or Chelsea with, but whether Lukaku was to be utilised on a regular basis or an impact substitute, he remains the only Blues forward with the pace, power and aerial prowess to play in the more traditional Mourinho style.
Similarly, although there is an obvious difference in netting 17 goals for a mid-table Premier League outfit and another who have their sights set on the title in terms of pressure, it’s not as if Lukaku generated his impressive goal tally by putting the top flight’s lesser clubs to the sword. Rather, he recorded a second-half hat-trick against Manchester United at the end of last season and netted vital goals home and away against Liverpool. For the heavyweight encounters, the Belgium international’s physical influence and goal-scoring prowess could have been a vital factor for the Blues as they chase down the Premier League title.
But the obvious concern on Mourinho’s part was that spending a year more often than not on the Chelsea subs bench, with one first team striking slot rotated between the Belgian and three other strikers, wouldn’t have done Lukaku’s development much good, in fact, it could have well nullified all of the momentum the 20 year-old generated for himself last season with his exceptional displays at the Hawthorns.
Whereas in West London, he’d be very much at the bottom of the pile and required to work his way up, Everton’s need for an established goalscorer and a physical presence in the final third guarantees the Belgian a regular and integral role in the first team, whilst also excusing him from the intense and often overwhelming pressure of the Premier League title race.
Perhaps I should not let a single incident affect my judgement of a player’s mentality, but for me at least, Lukaku’s penalty miss in Chelsea’s Super Cup final clash with Bayern Munich illustrated that the Belgium international is not ready to handle level of expectation placed on strikers at Stamford Bridge. Physically and technically, Lukaku has already shown all of the attributes required to be a leading Premier League target man and a 20-goal per season striker, but mentality, he still requires maturity, being still just 20 years of age, before he’s ready to handle the pressure of playing for a team at the highest level of the game.
Additionally, Everton provide a fantastic platform for Lukaku to continue showing off his abilities whilst also maintaining his progression as a footballer. The Toffees are one of the most stable and established clubs in the top flight, with a harmonious dressing room, a great team ethic and an emphasis on nurturing young talent.
The latter ideal’s importance has been even further escalated by the arrival of Roberto Martinez earlier in the summer, who brought through the likes of James McCarthy, Victor Moses, Mohamed Diame and Callum McManaman during his time at Wigan. The Spaniard insists upon a technical style of play that will improve the weakest part of Lukaku’s game, and there aren’t many players in the Premier League who can take better advantage of the Belgian’s aerial ability than Everton’s talisman full-back Leighton Baines.
Therefore, Mourinho’s decision to loan out the Chelsea starlet for another year is more than understandable, especially considering the Blues failed to offload Demba Ba on deadline day as planned, with divisional rivals Arsenal the only potential suitors for the Senegal forward. Everton is an ideal location for the striker’s development , whilst their aims of Champions League football provides a level of pressure that Lukaku is more capable of thriving under without being overwhelmed.
If Chelsea’s remaining front men can’t begin to find the net however, questions will be asked why their most prolific striker from last season is being farmed out to another Premier League club for the year when he could have contributed at Stamford Bridge.
Suggesting another 17-goal season, this time at his parent club, is a rather optimistic expectation for the 20 year-old, but if Torres, Ba and Eto’o can only conjure up eight or ten goals apiece, which is looking rather likely after their first four Premier League outings this season, it will become evident that Lukaku possesses the ability to offer a similar level of service, whilst spending as much time as possible at his parent club would have also been a great benefit in the early stages of his career.
Regardless however, whether the Blues win the title this year or falter, and whether or not that’s due to a lack of firepower in the final third, Lukaku will still remain a Chelsea player come next season and will still be one of the most talented youngsters the Premier League has to offer, all the better for his year away at a club that can significantly contribute to his development as a footballer. The Belgian will return a more capable and talented player, and he still has a career’s worth of title challenges to be involved in at Stamford Bridge, so perhaps in the long-run his loan move this season is for the best.
Was loaning out Romelu Lukaku a mistake?
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