Whatever happens with Chelsea in the transfer market this summer, whether the ‘big-name’ signings we anticipate come through or not, the look and feel and the potential of our squad and first XI for next season, hinges on three big decisions – each involving a young Belgian loanee. Three very different players all with different positions, but they all represent practically identical dilemmas for the club, in that they’re all far too talented to lose, all would (quite justifiably) demand regular playing time and all three might sadly struggle to get it.
The foresight and the shrewdness we showed in the summer window of 2011 has left us with, without question, the crème de la crème of Belgian youth, just as the country is beginning to establish itself as a major international force. (Personally, I would say only Spain, Germany and Italy have stronger starting XIs in all of Europe).
To pick up Thibaut Courtois and Kevin De Bruyne for a combined £14m before the rest of the world had even heard of them, I think was some of the best business Chelsea has ever done. TC has been the best goalkeeper in Spain this season, at one point he hadn’t conceded a home league goal for Atletico in 820 minutes! In 12 months he’s gone from a decent young shot-stopper to the best young goalkeeper in the world by a distance – nobody else under-25 really comes close. De Bruyne meanwhile has established himself as one of the most talented, hard-working and versatile players in the Bundesliga. I read yesterday he regularly covers 11-12km every game, which is beyond impressive. He’s also become a midfield pillar for his national team, practically un-droppable and chief set piece taker.
If either of these two belonged to the clubs they’ve played for this season then there’s no doubt they’d be snapped up by big clubs, for big money, within weeks after the summer window opens. In a few years they’ll be one the best goalkeepers and best box-to-box midfielders in the world respectively – I think only a fool would bet against that. For now they have to be regarded as importantly to Chelsea’s future as anybody else.
Romelu Lukaku obviously makes up this trio of loaned stars, excelling on loan at the moment. Norwegian journalist, Thore Haugstad said on Twitter recently that “If the Premier League was a stock exchange”, he’d put “every penny on Lukaku”. It’s a sentiment I find myself agreeing with. If you haven’t seen this interview on Belgian TV recently, then I definitely recommend it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QOwLafg4w3k If his evident talent and extreme athleticism weren’t assuring enough for Chelsea fans that Lukaku could become an elite striker in Europe, this insight into his character and approach to his profession makes his ultimate success virtually a guarantee.
In theory it really shouldn’t be hard should it? We’ve got three great young players, so let’s bring them back and play them. Alas, things can rarely be so simple with Chelsea. This is what I think we should do in each case:
Thibaut Courtois - It’s very close but I actually think Courtois is a better goalkeeper than Cech now. As you’d expect (being 20) he’s obviously the more athletic and whilst Cech is still relatively young for a keeper, past injuries to his knees, as well as this long standing problem with his elbow and permanently injured skull, probably will end up cutting his career shorter than he’d have liked. He is however, still world-class and a colossus of this Chelsea generation and I think Courtois should be loaned out to Atletico for one more season to continue developing before taking over as our #1 after the World Cup in Brazil. We can’t afford to be sentimental about moving on a player if it means potentially losing a talent like TC, although it would undoubtedly be a shame to drop Cech at this stage of his career.
Kevin De Bruyne – I don’t see a reason to believe Chelsea will buy any more creative or wide midfielders this summer which I think leaves a hole for De Bruyne to fill next season. Even though I think his best position is through the middle, he’ll offer a better solution than Marin or Moses have managed this year to the lack of ‘natural width’ we’ve struggled with at times. I’m sure he’d get games and be an instant hit at Chelsea. Of all our loanees I’d say KDB is the most ready to return. I think it’s 50/50 whether he will however, at present a loan move to a bigger German club like Bayer Leverkusen also remains feasible.
Romelu Lukaku – Right now it seems pretty certain Lukaku is coming back to Chelsea in the summer. The obvious issue is if Chelsea sign Falcao, which isn’t impossible by any means, the fact we can offer Courtois for another year and also former club legend Fernando Torres (who Coach Simeone has been talking about this week) make us probably favourites to get him for the time being. The money we’ll have to pay will make Falcao the undisputable first choice striker at the club and let’s be honest, if we got him for free he’d still be first choice – only Cavani, Van Persie and sometimes Ibrahimovic are in his class.
I think Lukaku should stay at West Brom for another year but only if we sign Falcao, to give the Colombian a year to make his mark at the club. At least then we’ll have a better sense of how we could use Lukaku the following season. To bring him back only to make him sit on the bench for a year would be the worst possible move, surely?
Three big decisions, that’ll mean three big stories to write about in the summer, even if nothing else happens. At the risk of turning this “transition” season into a multi-season transitional period, the decisions we make in this next window have to prioritise increasing the value of the sum of the parts; there’s time later to worry about the whole once we’ve made sure all of our young players have/will reach their full potential.
Not that I’m complaining with Juan Mata being rested after playing 50 games already this season, but I think what the Spanish demonstrated Friday night was that even with a squad as good as theirs, leaving your most in-form creative player of the season on the bench, just generally isn’t a clever idea – even at home to Finland, you’re chances of winning are evidently shortened.
Frank Lampard scored his 28th international goal against San Marino, as England won 8-0. The goal drew Lamps level with Vivian Woodward, a Chelsea legend of the 1910s, who scored his 28 in just 23 games!
Finally both Oscar and David Luiz played for Brazil in a friendly against Italy on Thursday where there were more than a few promising signs for Filipe Scolari’s team. Luiz unfortunately was constantly being pulled out position as Dani Alves did a particularly bad job defending his flank, but Oscar played well, scoring Brazil’s 2nd and linking well with Neymar – who had probably the best game for his country I’ve ever seen him play. Brazil play Russia at Stamford Bridge on Monday.