Romelu Lukaku’s loan move to Everton was the stunner in a rather uneventful transfer deadline day for Chelsea Football Club. Many fans may feel aggrieved at his move at the dying embers of the transfer window. It was undoubtedly contentious, given that Mourinho had reportedly promised the Belgian starlet a starting spot this season following his impressive performances on loan at West Brom last season.
For Chelsea fans worldwide, the loss of Lukaku only goes to show the stark prospect of youth players on their ascension to the first team. Notable failures in recent years would include Michael Mancienne , Jacopo Sala and Nemanja Matic, although the later of the three performed well even after he left the club for the Portuguese league. As critics will argue, it has become clear that even despite Roman Abramovich’s focus on youth, Mourinho has deferred to old ways, bringing in Samuel Eto’o (a player well past his prime) instead of pinning his hopes on younger but more capricious talents like Lukaku.
At a glance, it is not hard to see why many believe Lukaku to be a better option to retain at the bridge. Compared to Fernando Torres and Demba Ba, the Belgian starlet is a cross between the two strikers. He possesses the physicality of Ba and the deft finishing touch of Torres. All those attributes meld with his fearsome pace to form an all rounded striker capable of reaching even greater heights than Didier Drogba, one of the best strikers to ever play at Stamford Bridge. Hence with such sterling attributes, why would Mourinho sanction a move for Lukaku away from the Bridge?
Many might point out that a lack of experience playing at the highest level would seem to be the most likely reason. While Lukaku excelled at West Brom in the premier league, he has yet to rack up enough experience playing against tougher opponents across English shores in the champion’s league/Europa league. However, this author believes that experience is not the main reason.
While experience is necessary for a team to succeed, Mourinho’s use of young attackers like Eden Hazard, Oscar and Andre Schurrle in his starting line-up proves that he has confidence in the ability of his young charges to perform in attack. This belief has also even lead to the unfortunate displacement of Juan Mata from the starting line-up. Thus this begets the question; Even with a young attacking midfield line up, why can’t Lukaku then, be given an opportunity to play as well? The key lies in his synergy with the side’s creative players.
In Chelsea preseason, we have seen Lukaku’s best performances come when fellow Belgian compatriot Kevin De Bruyne was playing behind him. However, with the injection of new arrival Willian into the team, the amount of new creative outlets have swelled to a large number of personnel capable of playing in any of the three attacking midfield slots behind the striker. Here is a brief roundup for those who are unfamiliar. Currently Chelsea has six players vying for three positions. They are Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Oscar, Andre Schurrle, Willian and Kevin De Bruyne. Of those six, Juan Mata, Oscar and Kevin De Bruyne play primarily in the center. Eden Hazard and Willian on the left and Andre Schurrle on the right (although Schurrle plays better on the left, he has been used primarily on the right for most of the games so far). Furthermore, all of these players have shown the ability to play on any of the other positions, giving Mourinho a staggering 20 different combinations of players to use just for creative purposes.
Now back to Lukaku’s situation, Lukaku is known as a strong powerful forward in the mould of Drogba who plays with his back towards goal. Like Drogba, fashioning chances using his strength and pace is key to the forward’s game. For him to fully utilise his strength, space is needed. The stark differences between Lukaku’s performances at West Brom and that at Chelsea was the willingness of West Brom to give their strikers Shane Long and Romelu Lukaku (both players known for their powerful style of play) space to exploit. Last season, West Brom’s tactics showed as Lukaku and Long were able to exploit vast amounts of spaces to fashion chances for themselves with their direct running and strength. Lukaku also excelled with such freedom, earning 17 goals in 35 appearances under the West Brom system. However, this will not be the case at Chelsea, where the emphasis is on ball playing midfielders rather than long passers and hard runners.
It is obvious from Chelsea’s attacking midfield players that the days of tactics which include only “passing to Drogba” has passed away into oblivion. With the players they have now, only Kevin De Bruyne has shown inclination for long passes to strikers. Other players like (Hazard, Oscar etc.) strive on direct dribbling in tight spaces, passing triangles and one twos. Hence, the ability of a striker who is skilled technically enough to play in sync with such midfielders is crucial. Lukaku is not that striker.
Lukaku excels running onto long passes in pockets of space. When ball playing midfielders like Hazard dribble onto goal, that space narrows and Lukaku is left out of place. From other observations, even though Lukaku is a proficient dribbler, he lacks the footballing awareness and understanding to play intricate passes and make use of his teammates properly. Hence, this is probably the reason why strikers like Wayne Rooney and Samuel Eto’o have been targeted, the latter was brought in after key target Rooney opted to stay.
Apart from Rooney, Samuel Eto’o will be the next best option to fit into the Chelsea style of play. Samuel Eto is the only out and out striker thus far who has excelled in Barcelona’s intensive Tiki Taka play style, and his ability to make use of Chelsea’s assortment of similar players could make his move a shrewd singing by Mourinho. Should Eto fail however, Torres is a reliable substitute, a player who has spent three years playing and improving with the sides creative players.
Now back to our Belgian starlet. With Lukaku being sent on loan to Everton cause of his inability to play well at Chelsea, what will a loan move do for his future and his development? On the top of our minds, Lukaku must surely be feeling hard done by Mourinho. After all, the Portuguese did promise him ample opportunities to shine at Chelsea, only to ship him out at the last minute. Such circumstances could only be deleterious to the player’s mindset and commitment to the club. With only two years left in his contract after the loan, will Lukaku perhaps consider a move away from Chelsea in a bid for more game time?
While it is hard to find the answer to that pertinent question. I can only say that Chelsea’s move to send Lukaku to Everton could be one that would see Lukaku develop to be a better striker overall. Transfer market observers may have heard that West Brom also tabled a bid to bring Lukaku over for a second year, a move which was rejected swiftly by Chelsea for a move to an Everton side lead by Roberto Martinez instead.
This development would seem to show that Mourinho will be more keen allowing Lukaku to hone his striking game at Everton than at West Brom. Why? Well Roberto Martinez played a similar attractive brand of football with Wigan last season and has brought the same mentality to Everton. Under Martinez’s guidance, Lukaku stands to improve technically and build greater football awareness, helping him develop a side of his game which has been underutilized at West Brom last season. The benefits of such a move is obvious, Lukaku becomes a better rounded striker rather than one who depends more on physical attributes of strength and pace. Such strikers are arguably a dying breed in football at the moment. If his loan pans out, Chelsea will get a player who is more rounded and more bedded into the premiership. Should Lukaku excel at his loan move, Mourinho will know he can finally trust the 20 year old with bigger responsibilities next season.
While Mourinho has incurred the wrath of many with the loan of Lukaku, fans should trust his decisions and await the results of the current season before judging. For Lukaku, even if he has failed once again to break into the Chelsea first team, this loan move will give him much needed experience and game time playing at a better club than that of last season. The loan will also give Lukaku a priceless opportunity to hone and refine his game, success of which will see him fit more seamlessly in the Chelsea team next season.