I hear some grumblings in the Chelsea fandom over the Romelu Lukaku loan to Everton and Victor Moses’s loan to Liverpool. I’ve even read one or two calling for the sacking of Michael Emenalo and some saying Lukaku was shipped out because he missed a penalty and so on. Nothing can be further from the truth. Loaning out players to teams at the same level in the same league is not a deadline day decision. These are deals that have been discussed for weeks now and they are very much in order. Both clubs are top Premier League teams and the experience would be good for the young lads, rather than having them hanging around the Bridge with little or no playing time.
We also have to understand that loaning out players is a way of meeting the requirements of the UEFA Financial Fair Play Regulations, building relationships with other teams and keeping opportunities for developing the team without this being too much of a risk. Our loaned out players can’t play against us while they’d have the opportunity of impressing us by performing well against teams directly competing with us at the top. I know there are many who think Lukaku at least is ready to spearhead Chelsea’s attack; but, frankly, that is not true. Despite his hat-trick against Manchester United last season and his 17 goals overall (including penalties), he’s still a little rough at the edges, not yet the finished article and certainly not Didier Drogba. He’s just 20, so a loan move will only make him better, especially as his place in the Belgian national team isn’t jeopardised by being sent to Everton. The move can only help the remaining strikers at the Bridge focus better on the road ahead.
For those who believe Demba Ba ought to be the one to go out on loan, I say you have to give the Chelsea management the benefit of the doubt, because one thing is for sure, Jose Mourinho did not become the best manager of his generation by throwing away gold. If anything, his career has proved that he’s been highly professional in dealing with issues of this nature and in doing so, he has always put the interest of the players first, because he recognises them as the most important assets of the club, as far as they’re signed to the club. At Porto, eyebrows were raised when he picked up the third choice centre-back, Ricardo Carvalho and installed him first choice, after the player had been frustratingly out on loan with various clubs for four years. But, he stuck to his guns, because he knew the player was ready. Carvalho went on from there to win his first national cap, the UEFA Cup, the Champions League and got voted UEFA Best Defender of the Year 2004 on the back of Porto Footballer of the Year and Portuguese League Player of the Year awards in 2003. He’s never looked back since.
We certainly cannot afford to look at Lukaku and Ba with the starry-eyed perspective of their goal returns for only last year. We have to consider their entire history, circumstances and the potential, including what is best for each player at the moment. Lukaku was successful last season mainly because he was settled in a small team managed by someone who knew how to use him to the greatest effect. If we look at all West Bromwich Albion’s games that he scored in open play, the plays were usually overwhelmingly directed to him; everyone more or less played for him to score. He is not the Drogba type that will track back, be a nuisance to the opponent’s back four, intercept a pass or even take players on. Lukaku is strong and direct, but very limited. All said and done, whatever he achieved was in one season.
But look at Ba. Let’s not forget the depth of where he’s coming from. This was a guy who failed a medical at Stoke on the basis of a knee injury and who was signed on by West Ham on a pay as you play basis, because of the failed medical. But he was able to surmount all questions about his fitness by ending up top scorer at West Ham in 2011 with seven goals in 12 appearances. Then he moved to Newcastle where he spent one and half seasons scoring an impressive 29 times in 54 appearances. It was the performance that earned him a move to the Bridge. But, let’s be honest, he came with too much unnecessary pressure. Torres was not firing and we all thought he was the man to do it; yet they are two different types of players. In the end, he wasn’t given much playing time and his horrific nose injury at St James’s Park in February disrupted his development badly. So, really, he is yet to show what he can do in our colours.
Now, the point I’m making is that he’s more experienced than Lukaku and has achieved more in football and the Premier League than the Belgian. Mourinho would have looked at both of them and their history, looked at their age and the relative positions of their national teams (with Lukaku almost likely going to the World Cup and therefore needing playing time) and decided that he’s better off giving Ba a chance at Chelsea, because he is the older one with less time, the one more likely to be focused on club football now. This is because the Teranga Lions aren’t likely to qualify for the World Cup on their current form and it does not look like the impatient Alain Giresse, the Senegal national team manager has too much time for Ba. He has overlooked him for the last two matches, including not recalling him for the upcoming qualifier against Uganda, even at a time when Papiss Cisse is suspended. In fact, the manager has seemingly sealed Ba’s fate by calling up the young Henri Saivet of Bordeaux to take his place in the national team.
Mourinho is more patient with players like Ba. He would have thought that he’s the one to watch closely and medically and the one with a better pedigree and experience. He would have noted that Ba had performed well at every club he’s been in France, Belgium, Germany and England and would have reasoned that the reason he hasn’t performed as expected at Chelsea so far is most probably not because he isn’t good. Mourinho would love the challenge to get him firing again. He would have reasoned that though Lukaku performed well in one year at West Brom under Steve Clarke, he needs to see how he’d perform under a manager like Roberto Martinez who emphasises more play with the ball. In fact, I actually believe Martinez is a better coach than Moyes and that he will achieve better things with Everton than Moyes did and that can only help to boost the confidence of Lukaku who is easily going to be his number one striker. I also believe that while Lukaku can be a handful at times, he does not yet have the resilience to lead a team of Chelsea’s calibre at home and in Europe for a full season. I understand some of our fans’ worries about Samuel Eto’o and his age, but the veteran striker has kept himself fit and can still do a job. He certainly isn’t the force he was a few years ago, but he’s played recently under Mourinho, successfully winning the treble with him in Italy, so I don’t think it will take him time to understand what he needs to do here under Mourinho’s guidance. If he could adapt easily to Italian football from La Liga and from Serie A to the Russian league, I see no reason why he cannot adapt to the Premier League.
As for Torres, his salary and contract is such a huge one that only a top-level team in the Premier League or Europe can afford to take him, even on loan. Also, Mourinho has explained what he intends to do with him in terms of how to play him to get the best from him. Like all great managers, there’s that missionary streak in Mourinho, something telling him he can resurrect a player that everyone has given up on. But even then, I think he’s looked at Torres as a player well suited for our European campaigns and someone with more experience in that area than Lukaku with no experience at all. I’m thinking Mourinho is experimenting with this team till January. Depending on how they do, we may see a major overhaul thereafter. But I trust his judgement.
Even if we accept the worries expressed now by some fans as genuine, fact is we can only have a certain number of first team players and experience must count before anything. To invest the future of our season on a 20-year-old with only one good season in the Premier League playing for a mid-level team to me would be riskier than depending on the experience we have now to see us through. And while we are at it, spare a thought for 21-year-old Christian Atsu. The fellow had been at Porto since he was 17, had been sent on loan to Rio Ave during the 2011/12 season where he performed excellently, returned to Porto to finally claim a place in the team where he has again been outstanding only to be bought by Chelsea yesterday, signed to a five-year deal and then sent straight on loan to Vitesse Arnhem. We are talking an established international. So, compared to Atsu who is presently celebrating the opportunity to prove he can play for Chelsea, Lukaku is a lucky kid. If he passes the test at Everton, he’d be okay for his national team, go to the World Cup and return to be the new Drogba for our team. At that time too, the real Drogba would hopefully be back at Chelsea as a strikers’ coach and Lukaku at 21 can then begin to develop his own reputation as a Chelsea legend under the guidance of the great man or even on his own with bags of experience behind him. Ba is 28 with barely two or three more years left in him at this level, thus sending him on loan now would have been a waste for Chelsea.
So, really, this is the best decision. Of course, Lukaku may not be happy now; but he will be happy if he keeps his head down and listens to Martinez who can refine him as a striker. Remember that the raw Drogba from Marseille was already 26 before he signed for Chelsea. But Lukaku is just 20 and a year more on loan will make him 21 before he begins to play the kind of role Drogba played for us. We therefore need to be patient. Mourinho and the Chelsea coaches know what they are doing by not putting the pressure of carrying our season on his young shoulders. He needs to go to a club better than West Brom and with a manager with a different philosophy and playing style and that is Martinez at Everton. It’s the same principle that governed Moses’s loan to Liverpool. Mourinho trusts Brendan Rodgers not only to give him enough playing time for the sake of his World Cup place in the Super Eagles of Nigeria, but also to give him competition in a team comparable to Chelsea. They can only come back to us better. Mourinho has already defined his job on his Second Coming. He’s told anyone listening that he’s here to grow this young team into world-beaters. His actions with the loan deals indicate that he isn’t desperate. He’s done it to give the boys the best in the circumstances.
In fact, I believe all this hue and cry about strikers’ deficiency in the Chelsea team will prove to be merely alarmist at the end of the season. I think our play this season will be very robust, depending a lot on the creative and attacking midfielders to put in a great share of the goals, which is why all Mourinho’s talk about outcomes has been how to make people like Eden Hazard score more goals. Mourinho knows that managers and coaches find it difficult preparing against an average team where goals come from all areas of the field. One can only imagine their dread when that team is above average, like Chelsea. I believe once the season gets fully under way, we will show that we are a highly mobile team using experience and guile in attack and midfield to overcome teams. Anyone watching can see that the wily Mourinho is starting another football revolution, but people will only begin to take this seriously when he begins to win things. I’m very confident.
At any rate, let’s see how things go for a bit before we begin to press the panic button. I’m not saying we need to be happy with every decision by the Chelsea board or Chelsea management; but in matters like this, we have to give them the benefit of doubt and see how the team performs until January when we can recall any of the loaned out stars or strengthen the team more in vital areas if necessary. Chelsea have the biggest pool of young talent at the top level of the game in Europe, including having the most loaned out players. All Chelsea fans have to do is imagine the more than 23 boys out there on loan and how our team will look in say two or three years’ time when the best of some of these guys who’ve proved themselves on loan come back to lead the Chelsea campaign. This is the best way to invest in the future under the new UEFA Financial Fair Play rules. We buy a lot of players today, send those not in our immediate plans out on loan to good teams, get back the best of them later to people our team and sell the rest for profit when necessary. The club’s board and management are merely thinking ahead.
The future is bright. Let’s relax and enjoy this season. I’m supremely confident we’ll be the team to beat in the Premier League and I’m also confident we will go places in Europe.