It’s like Chelsea are addicted to having problems at the striker position.
With the end of the summer transfer period, one would think the Blues would have done everything in their power to improve at the spot. But after the dust settled on Sunday, Chelsea looks a little worse off than they did even heading into the preseason.
The recent acquisition at striker was Samuel Eto’o, who was signed on Thursday from Anzhi Makhachkala in a one-year, £7 million deal. But signing the 32-year-old Eto’o seemed to have made the Sunday one-year loan of Romelu Lukaku to Everton a possibly wrongly perceived necessity.
After having problems at the position dating back a couple of years, it looked like Chelsea were finally making a move to get a big-name player to join Fernando Torres and Demba Ba this calendar year. Names like Radamel Falcao, Edinson Cavani and Wayne Rooney were all linked to Stamford Bridge at some point in time.
When it became obvious to the Blues last week that the Rooney deal was nothing but wishful thinking and that Manchester United wanted to hold on to the 27-year-old Englishman, Chelsea turned their attention to Eto’o, a four-time African Footballer of the Year.
And then the Europa League champions signed the veteran Cameroonian. It seemed the Blues were finally set at the position with either Torres/Lukaku/Eto’o or Ba/Lukaku/Eto’o rotations to be employed by manager José Mourinho.
But no, that’s not what’s going to happen. Of course not.
Mourinho and management decided again to send Lukaku out on a one-year loan, and Chelsea will now head into the rest of their season and UEFA Champions League play with Torres, Ba and Eto’o.
Why could this matter so much? Let’s take a look before the werewolves of London get here.
Although he’s used André Schürrle twice already in a striker spot of sorts, it’s hard to imagine that Mourinho envisioned Schürrle as one of his main strikers in West London when he thought about coming back and winning trophies.
But the acquisition of Eto’o means that Schürrle will likely see more time up top, with Torres and Ba the only other pure strikers on the roster now after Lukaku was loaned out.
One brilliant feature of Schürrle’s game while being deployed up high has been his magnificent crossing passes into the box. Who knows, maybe his play early on was one of the reasons the Blues thought they could put Lukaku out on loan once again.
Mourinho obviously is showing confidence in his selection of Schürrle. If the 22-year-old German continues to thrive where the "Special One" has recently played him, maybe the Chelsea manager knows more about who has clicked with whom in practice.
But should the young Schürrle prove not worthy of time in a semi-striker role and Eto’o eventually turns out to be a bust, then the Blues' commitment to landing a solid striker can once again be questioned.
Eto’o became the highest-paid soccer player in the world when he signed with Anzhi in 2011. But after 53 games and 25 goals in the Russian Premier League for the Eagles, it’s hard to say he was worth the money. He hardly lived up to the £350,000-a-week hype.
Mourinho is familiar with Eto’o from their days together at Inter Milan. After it was obvious the Blues' thoughts of getting Rooney were simply just that—thoughts—Chelsea and Mourinho went with what they though was the next-best striker available.
Now Eto’o could be re-energized under Mourinho at Chelsea and shock the English Premier League and score 10 goals or more—but who has seen him play lately? And how will he do against defenses much tougher than he’s faced in Russia?
For me, Eto’o is a very big question mark, especially considering Chelsea was considering letting both Torres and Ba go—not exactly a vote of confidence to the guys you have to count on from now until at least the winter transfer period.
With Petr Čech (31), Ashley Cole (32) and captain John Terry (32) all back and still doing their thing for the Blues in goal or on defense, it’s easy to deem Chelsea’s defense as old.
But with the addition of Eto’o (32) at striker, the team just got considerably older up top too.
With Lukaku (20), Ba (28) and Torres (29), Chelsea strikers averaged just 26 years of age. But Sunday’s loaning out of Lukaku—who had 17 goals while out on loan last season at West Bromwich Albion—left the Blues with three players averaging almost 30 years of age.
Being old or having veterans is not a bad thing in professional sports. But catering to older, more well-known players like Chelsea did with Torres years ago means that talents like Nicolas Anelka, Didier Drogba and Daniel Sturridge may end up going elsewhere to fit in with management’s current plans.
Time will tell with Eto’o, but no doubt he’s lost a step. He will really have his work cut out for him to make some noise in the rough-and-tumble Premier League.
Also worth mentioning: By shipping out the strapping 6'3", 221-pound (100 kg.) Lukaku in favor of the 5'11", 174-pound (79 kg.) Eto’o, Chelsea also sacrificed a great deal of size and strength at the position.
When you’re the highest-paid person at any endeavor, it’s probably easy to get full of yourself. Maybe Eto’o did just that at Anzhi.
According to a recent story in the Daily Mirror, Eto’o and Anzhi teammate Igor “The Terrible” Denisov had issues that were detrimental to the club. Another part of the piece talks about Eto’o losing his temper over his desire for a soft drink and not a sports drink while the team was training for a Europa League match.
Under Mourinho, Eto’o will have to be on his best behavior. But who knows now in the Age of the Prima Donna Athlete?
And should Eto’o somehow end up being a big baby and Ba perpetually continues to be offside and Torres starts to slump and pout again, Blues fans will lose their collective minds.
Chelsea were open about saying they were looking for a striker before and during the summer transfer period. But after collecting and bringing up a number of midfielders, the club finally decided to go after a striker—only after their Rooney bubble was burst and, at that point, way late in the transfer window.
Getting Eto’o is much better than doing nothing, but still, having both Torres and Ba on the roster and losing Lukaku seems like a deflating way for the Blues to end the transfer period.
Lukaku wasn’t totally thrilled at having to play for the Baggies last season. But the gifted Belgian blossomed as a scorer, and now he will have to, like many young Chelsea prospects, wait in the wings somewhere else for another year.
Eto’o still has skills. But how many minutes can he play? At 20, Lukaku could have served both starting and reserve roles for the Blues' first team and provided size on a somewhat smallish attack.
But a combination of moves (and non-moves) by management and a move they thought they had to make—signing a striker—may have made Chelsea’s pursuit of a Premier League championship or a Champions League even harder with Eto’o’s addition.
It seems the best-case scenario of a Rooney-Torres-Lukaku depth chart at striker for Chelsea was but a momentary illusion and that the Torres-Eto’o-Lukaku vision didn’t end up carrying much weight either.
In the end, it looks as if signing Eto’o meant one of the three had to go. Never wanting to sell players, the Blues simply loaned Lukaku out again, this time to the Toffees.
Besides still owning Lukaku, Chelsea can take solace in the fact that the Eto’o deal is for just one season and that Schürrle has looked really good so far up top.
As always for the Blues, it’s a good thing the midfield, defense and goalkeeper are so solid, because the striker spot seems to be a perennial problem.
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