The one that got away (and the ones we simply have to keep)
As a football fan there is few things that are more painful than watching a player your club discarded becoming a real top player for someone else and unfortunately, as a result of the pretty ruthless setup at Stamford Bridge this is a worryingly common theme at the club. The thought that Chelsea are a club who let far too many talents slip through their fingers whilst wasting incredible amounts of money on ‘big name’ flops is a common one, and it’s not entirely unreasonable.
I’ll start with a player who in my opinion is probably the biggest loss of them all – Arjen Robben.
The Dutch winger, known for his exceptional pace, dribbling and an absolutely wonderful left foot, had a pretty torrid time at Stamford Bridge (if such can be said of three years in which he got his hands on the Barclays Premier League trophy twice, along with one each of the FA cup and League cup) as the famously injury prone Dutchman only managed to start 74 games on top of his 32 substitute appearances, scoring 19 goals. He made some very good contributions in both title runs and set up the winning goal in the Carling cup final against Arsenal, but his short lived Chelsea career was pretty much summed up in the 2007 FA cup final against Manchester United, despite not being fully recovered from his last injury he was subbed on at half time but still wasn’t in good enough condition make it to the end of extra time and was subsequently subbed back off again. Chelsea won the final 1-0 and I think this summarised his role at the club pretty well, he was a nice player to have in the squad and without a doubt an exceptionally talented one, but we could play an injured Arjen Robben for more than half of the final and still win, he was a luxury and not a necessity and it is well known that Jose Mourinho is not a man known for his patience.
He was sold off the Real Madrid at the end of the 06/7 season for 35 million euros which is a price which seemed fantastic at the time but fast forward to present day where he plays for Bayern Munich and Chelsea fans have had many opportunities to admire quite what they’ve missed out on. Forget the missed penalty and the poor performance at the Allianz in May (after all what Chelsea fan would complain about that) and Robben has come on leaps and bounds and is now widely recognized as one of the best players in the world. He still has a wide array of doubters that will say he is too greedy or criticize his ability to seemingly only do anything of any value with his left foot, but you simply cannot argue with the statistics – 60 goals in just 109 games including a wide array of absolutely stunning goals as he led FC Hollywood to 1 DFB cup, 1 German Championship title (with another surely wrapped up this season) and two Champions League finals as well as a World Cup finalists medal, albeit runners up.
The amount of goals that he has managed to score from a wide position is simply phenomenal and if you look back at the Chelsea squads since Robben was sold, they’ve all had one thing in common, can you guess it?
Incase you didn’t, it was the lack of a true out an out winger, in particular one who could score goals – Florent Malouda aside Chelsea had nothing in the Arjen Robben mould until this season and it really does make you wonder with a little more patience on behalf of both Jose and the club, how much more could we have won with him in the squad?
So Robbens one player that slipped through the Chelsea net and blossomed elsewhere, here’s a few other names that spring to mind when thinking of similar cases: Glen Johnson, Scott Parker, Scott Sinclair (albeit hasn’t blossomed but had real potential as a wide man), Miroslav Stoch (scored goal of the year last year, if you haven’t seen I seriously recommend you youtube it), Daniel Sturridge, Fabio Borini and Nemanja Matic – Particularly in the case of Matic it is incredible to see quite how good a player can be when given the game time they need to grow as a player and I hope to write a few articles at a later date, keeping track of the young players Chelsea have released that are really making progress but are doing so out of the spotlight of a club like Chelsea.
The main reason I chose to highlight such a negative issue at Chelsea is the terrible fear that it will happen again, Chelsea had over 20 players out on loan this season nearly all of whom have the potential to become quality international footballers, but as always there a few who stand head and shoulders (quite literally in the case of the first two) above the rest and this is of course our Belgian trio of loanees – Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois and Kevin De Bruyne, although for this article I will be focussing on just Lukaku and Courtois.
Lukaku joined the club a Chelsea supporter and an admirer of the player he has so often been compared to, Didier Drogba. Didiers boots are about as hard to fill as they come, as shown by the huge amounts of pressure put on any Chelsea centre forward (in particular poor Torres) and frankly neither of our first team strikers this team have stepped up to the challenge. Fernando Torres has scored 15 goals this season in 39 games and Demba Ba has started 10 and scored 4 – Goal ratios of 0.38 and 0.4 goals per game respectively don’t look horrific but when you consider two centre forwards at a club challenging on most fronts have only managed 19 goals between them by the end of March, perhaps it does.
Lukaku on the other hand has 13 goals in 27 starts – A superior ratio of 0.48 goals per game and all of this without the help of probably the best attacking midfield on the planet at the moment, He has pace, power, technique, vision and hasn’t even turned 20 yet. It quite frankly beggars belief that he wasn’t given a chance at Stamford Bridge this season but he was farmed out to West Brom where he has shown absolutely everything that’s so desperately needed at Chelsea right now.
Because of Lukakus prolific scoring in the Premier League he has slipped under the radar this year to most followers of English football, but those who watching are certainly very impressed with the 20 year old Belgium number 1. For starters being first team for both Atletico Madrid and the Belgium national squad (which isn’t exactly short on keepers, with Mignolet and Gillet both fighting for that number 1 shirt) at only 20 years old is absolutely incredible. He has a better clean sheet and save ratio than Petr Cech this season and is pretty widely regarded as the the second best goalkeeper in the Liga BBVA behind Iker Casillas, which is hardly a surprise considering the spain stopper is almost certainly the best keeper in the world at the moment.
Courtois’ name has been bandied around a lot as a potential pawn in the deal for Ramadel Falcao and this is not a story that inspires me at all, I for one would certainly rather Chelsea take their chances with Lukaku and Ba as forwards and offload Torres in the summer, than throw a player who has every bit of potential to be the greatest goalkeeper of this era away for another big name striker yet to prove his worth in the Premier League.
Here’s hoping that Mr Abramovich takes a good hard look at his options and see’s that he has no reason to blow £50 million in search of a colombian diamond to spearhead his new age team, when he’s already got his very own Belgian diamond mine.