Like many, maybe even most Chelsea supporters at the time, I found it very hard to muster up even trace amounts of interest or sadness when Daniel Sturridge was sold to Liverpool. After 18 months of being used in a reserve/utility capacity, at a club owned by a man still seemingly desperate to see Fernando Torres succeed, it eventually became clear that the player was estranged to the point of being beyond use to the team. Nonetheless, his sale raised a number of serious questions. For instance, was the player’s total lack of interest in competing with Torres or being played out wide enough to warrant the apathy he inspired from our fan base? And are we actually in a position where we can cut our losses on such an outstanding young home-grown talent so easily, and is it a good thing if we are?
Yesterday these questions were raised again even more potently as the club made the mind-numbingly stupid decision to sell Romelu Lukaku to Everton. Once again, as with Sturridge it’s difficult to find much sympathy or remorse on social media or fan forums, this time though, the arguments simply don’t hold up.
He had a big mouth! He should’ve shown respect to his parent club and kept quiet – To start with the most ridiculous of objections to retaining the player, anybody who thinks a professional sportsman publically answering questions on the topic of his own preferences with regards to his future, “talks too much” or “has a big mouth”, basically, needs to get a life. Never did he publically make ultimatums or criticise Chelsea. If you’re going to take issue with people truthfully answering questions about their own careers, then that’s your problem, not theirs.
He was a ‘coward’. He wasn’t willing to compete for his place – So? – I think would be the most appropriate answer here, I think. He made a long term commitment to the club, when even at a young age, he couldn’t have possibly been naïve enough to suppose he would ever be without serious competition for his place. Chelsea made the investment in him at a time when he was still extremely raw, we could’ve easily left him without a choice but to compete for his place this season. If he felt he deserved a spot in the starting XI he would’ve had ample opportunity to prove it, and if he thinks favouritism or status would’ve held him back, then there’s a fair sized list of big names who’ve lost their place under Jose Mourinho who would disagree with him.
He wasn’t good enough, as his terrible World Cup performances demonstrate – Answer – sometimes young players have bad games. Lukaku has frightening potential. There isn’t a single centre forward in Europe he doesn’t have the potential to become as good as. Not even Lionel Messi had scored as many goals as the Belgian before he turned 21. He has everything – speed, power, height, tactical intelligence. It reflects far worse on us for not being willing to work with and develop his potential, than it does on the player for not trusting it to get him into the first team.
£28m for a fringe player! – that’s way too good to turn down – It’s not bad but there’s only one way that value is going from now. Meanwhile our forward line now consists of one genuinely elite player, one ever declining symbol of our striking woes these past few years, and one 36 year old. Our squad also has two too many non-home grown, non U-21 players, that we need to loan or sell. An extra £28m to spend isn’t much good if there’s no room in the squad anyway.
The slight change in strategy we witnessed this summer with regards to recruitment, i.e. purchasing players entering, or well into the prime years of their careers, (as opposed to younger players with high resale value) hardly seemed like a troubling digression. The investments made in young talent these past three years have helped to form a squad with a perfect spread of ages to immediately compete for trophies, but also with great potential to be developed as a unit for the foreseeable future.
The replacement of Romelu Lukaku with Didier Drogba similarly doesn’t materially affect the average age or profile of the squad. It does however, feel like a powerful, symbolic step in the wrong direction, as well as a massive disregard for our own confidence in our capacity to nurture and promote young talent. The work done (presumably) by Michael Emenalo and his scouts in locating, procuring and helping to development young players (through strategic loan placements) to be sold at a profit, deserves high commendation and is an example to big clubs across the continent in raising spending limits in an ‘FFP’ world. When a player comes along however, who is patently good enough to instantly improve the squad and contribute to an outstanding level for years to come, surely we must be prepared to accommodate him?
This is a depressing and a sobering story, and confirmation that youth development at Chelsea is nothing but a ruthless business. As long as we’re equally as ruthless in chasing titles and able to spend the profit we make wisely, then it’ll be hard to argue with what works. Otherwise, this is a deal that could easily make us look exceedingly stupid, in the not too distant future. I think it’s an awful mistake.