Was it a wise decision to loan out Lukaku?

Blog by: Amogh

On the last day of the transfer window, a handful of players enjoyed a large share of the limelight  – Juan Mata, Mesut Ozil, and Marouane Fellaini, to name a few. But one big shock was still in store for those eagerly following this player’s progress – the news of a season long loan deal for Romelu Lukaku.

Initially, the reaction was of surprise because Jose Mourinho had assured him of playing regularly. Why this loan deal then, one might have thought. It just seemed to defy all logic.

Here was a player who had been bought for about 18 million and forced to play in the reserves in his first season. A player, who refused to even touch the Champions League trophy because he felt he had not contributed to it. This was a Chelsea fan since childhood who couldn’t believe (initially) that he was in Stamford Bridge. This was a player who confessed his childhood dream was to play for Chelsea alongside Didier Drogba. Such a level of commitment for a footballer, at this age, is difficult to get. In the past, this showed whenever he was asked questions regarding his Chelsea future. His aim was clear – do whatever it takes to establish himself in the first team.

Hence, one felt, Chelsea were playing a dangerous game with the player ever since they bought him. When he signed for West Brom, it was the perfect opportunity to show his employers what he was capable of. His success has been well documented so far – a hat-trick against Manchester United on the final day the icing on the cake. From a nobody in 2012 to a future ‘Didier Drogba’ in 2013, the transformation was complete within a year.

The stage was set for Lukaku. If current form was to be the basis for selection, he would be an automatic starter. But, there was the small issue of a 50 million striker at hand. Fernando Torres would still be first choice ahead of him, owing to the enormous price tag and pressure from external sources. Demba Ba could be displaced easily from second choice to third choice, but taking Torres’ position would have been a big ask for Lukaku. In addition to this, inexplicably, Chelsea were already in the market for another striker – a big name, big money striker, all of whom, slipped away (unfortunately or fortunately).

This chase for another striker left me thinking what wrong had Lukaku done to not be trusted with the responsibility of being a key striker. He had exceeded expectations in his loan spell, so why shouldn’t the manager give him the chance to shine after two years of toil? As history suggests, there is a jinx – big money strikers just haven’t worked at Chelsea. So why were they chasing one inspite of having a player ready to fill the role, only if given his well-deserved chance?

And then, Samuel Eto’o arrived out of nowhere, for peanuts. A big name no doubt, but what extra could the 32 year old striker bring into the team apart from experience? This was a signing completely against the club’s recent policy of buying young and quick players. It seemed like a huge roadblock in front of the duo of Ba and Lukaku. How would they fit in now?

Was this one of the owner’s fancy signings? Or was Mourinho acting on a well laid plan which nobody could comprehend initially?

Thoughts go back to pre-season, where Lukaku featured and scored in almost every game. The manager had declared that he will have a huge part to play, and specifically, not be loaned out again this season. What could have prompted such a sudden change of heart?

This club have carried out some crazy activities over the years – selling Sturridge when he would have been a perfect fit now, selling Raul Meireles when he was the conductor from deep which they so desperately require now, signing one playmaker after another with no idea of how to accommodate them (Willian for example, was he someone the team really needed?), and loaning out players like Chalobah, McEachran and Piazon with no idea of when they will actually become regulars at this club.

There are a couple of fresh entries to the list now – loaning the experienced (in this league) Victor Moses to accommodate the new signing (Willian); keeping Lukaku ready for action, only to buy a 32 year old striker new to the league and send the Belgian out on loan at the last minute yet again.

Somehow, it doesn’t feel right. What is Mourinho thinking? Is he running a reunion party here, signing players he has worked with in the past?

The answers to these doubts lie far away from West London. The reason for Lukaku finding himself at Everton now is because another Belgian striker made it big in the league just like him. An impact so big, that Lukaku’s spot in the Belgian national team was by no means guaranteed despite his West Brom heroics.

Some might have thought of Christian Benteke as a one-season wonder. Three games into the new season, and he is making them eat their words. Benteke has been scoring for fun. Currently, he is only behind Ronaldo and Messi all over Europe in terms of league goals in 2013. Aston Villa are no Barcelona or Real Madrid, which makes Benteke’s contribution an extraordinary achievement.

Comparing game by game now, Benteke started and scored twice at Arsenal, while Lukaku was a late substitute in game-week 1. Benteke started at Stamford Bridge, while Lukaku was again a late substitute. Benteke started against Liverpool and troubled them all day, while Lukaku was an unused substitute at Old Trafford. Summary – Benteke has 3 goals from 3 appearances, while Lukaku has none from 2. Clearly, Benteke is winning the battle here.

I admit these stats are too short in duration for an extrapolation of the numbers, but a pattern is clearly visible. Benteke, if fit, starts. Lukaku needs to keep fit, get ahead of Torres, Ba and Eto’o, and score as regularly as his counterpart to stay on even ground. Assuming that both stayed clear of injuries all season and continued their scoring pattern, had Lukaku stayed at Chelsea, he would have got lesser game time (and lesser goals) than Benteke. This would make Benteke the automatic first choice for Belgium if they qualify for the World Cup.

This was the dilemma for Chelsea. Keeping Lukaku would have been beneficial to his club career, while at the same time, detrimental to his international career. Their decision, which looked baffling at first, now seems to make sense. The club have been spot on ethically – they are strengthening his chances of playing for his country on the biggest stage of all while at the club level, they have compromised his immediate integration into his parent club in favour of his international future.

So, why did they choose Everton despite reports of bids from elsewhere? A glance towards their list of strikers and the number of goals scored provides the answer – 2 goals (both scored on the opening day) in 3 games with one goal each from a full back and a playmaker. Their strikers are just not able to score. Though Kone was signed from Wigan to replace Nikica Jelavic, who has scored just once in 23 hours (and counting) of league football, a top class forward was still needed.

They needed a big presence up front (as an upgrade on Anichebe), a proven goal-scorer, one desperate to start every game. Lukaku fits the bill in all respects. Now, Everton’s forward line has been blessed with a sudden burst of pace, a lethal shot taker, a goal poacher, and a target man to aim at – all in one package.  The midfielders simply need to serve him now, rather than find a way to score themselves.

Unlike West Brom, where he faced competition from Odemwingie and Long, Everton provide Lukaku with the assurance that he is their first choice striker. This immediately puts Lukaku on a level playing field with Benteke. The competition was partly skewed in favour of Benteke before, but with similar midfields to feed them now, it is more even. It is all about the numbers now, the goals and assists, which will provide Belgium the answer.

What do Chelsea gain here? If they are serious about Lukaku playing for them in future, this move to give him further experience in the league gives an impression of stagnation. However, as mentioned earlier, it is morally correct. This explains the reason for the purchase of Eto’o. There was a method behind the decision after all, rather than just a reunion party as I was thinking earlier. While Lukaku went out on loan, a temporary fix was required. A Champions League winning striker who has consistently scored goals wherever he has played was available on the cheap – this was not a chance to pass up on.

When one looks at the larger picture, it seems Eto’o has been bought to assist Lukaku, though, on the face of it, it looks like hampering his progress. Eto’o directly takes Lukaku’s place in the squad and will rotate with Torres and Ba. This won’t hurt his international chances would it, considering he has already quit international football?

Does it make sense? Yes, it does, for Eto’o; it does, for Lukaku’ international prospects, but it doesn’t for his chances of playing for Chelsea this season.

Is the price right? A Champions League winner arrives for free and it is a chance for the club’s best young prospect to gain further experience on loan and become first-choice for his country, all for free.

Lukaku has been patient so far, and he needs to hold it for one more year. Hopefully, he understands this decision and does what he does best while wearing the blue of Everton. Hopefully, his time to do the same will come while wearing the blue of Chelsea.

Here’s wishing Lukaku good luck for his Merseyside spell and possibly for the World Cup, and hoping that it is his last loan spell. Your time will come soon.

Just to keep the debate going, do you agree this was this the ‘real’ reason for loaning Lukaku?

If it is so, Mourinho is one hard-hearted manager!

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