This transfer window had seen a youth exodus from Chelsea, with Michael Mancienne, Jacopo Sala, Gokhan Tore (all Hamburg), and Jack Cork (Southampton) leave Stamford Bridge in search of greener pastures. There was widespread discontent among the fan-base, especially when Frank Arnesen was allowed to take left winger Tore and right winger Sala with him to Germany, considering the first team and youth ranks were already short on quality wide players and greater things were expected from the duo.
Perhaps, the scouts, youth/reserve team coaches, management didn’t think that the players were good enough to represent Chelsea now or in the near future and decided to cash in on them. That’s a practical way in which all the top clubs work – not everyone from the academy is expected to play for the first team, very few players make that grade. The management has offered long-term contracts to those whom they consider are capable enough to play at the highest level – Joshua McEachran, Gael Kakuta, Ryan Bertrand, and Patrick van Aanholt fall into this category.
One month into the transfer window, with Chelsea doing negligible business and the rivals dipped into the market to strengthen their squads, the fans feared for the worst. Today, those fears have been alleviated. Chelsea have signed Thibaut Courtois, Oriol Romeu, Romelu Lukaku and Juan Mata.
As it stands, the club has incurred a net expenditure of £26m in bringing about a youth revolution at Stamford Bridge. Here’s a look at each player, individually, in decreasing order of impact they are expected to make this season.
Whichever way one looks at it, the deal to bring 23-year old Spanish International Juan Manuel Mata to Stamford Bridge is a master-stroke by Chelsea. After burning their hands by bringing in superstars at the peak of their careers at exorbitant fees/wages, the club has realigned its priorities. After Ramires and David Luiz, Chelsea have now signed the third player, who at 23 is ready to make the first big move of his career, and has everything to play for in order to establish himself as one of the top players in the world.
AC Milan and Liverpool got the best out of Andriy Shevchenko and Fernando Torres respectively, as for each player, their career depended on this very move. They were already top players when they were signed at 23, and developed even further in the next few years, reaching their peak, before Chelsea came calling and were made to pay through their noses for acquiring their services. Now, it’s too early to brand Fernando Torres a failure at Chelsea, with him gradually improving, but the best one can expect is for him to recapture the form of his Liverpool days, not improve on it. The risk factor is anyway huge.
For Juan Mata, a move from Valencia to Chelsea is the biggest in his career thus far. For Mata, Chelsea will be what Liverpool was for Torres or Milan was for Shevchenko. Yes, he is a player who is talented, who was the star-performer for Valencia for three and a half years, but he is still improving, still evolving, and his best years are certainly in front of him. Also, if he has to establish himself in the supremely talented Spanish team, he has no choice but to keep on performing. Inflation is at its peak in the transfer market, with insane amount of money being paid all around. In such a scenario, Chelsea acquired Mata for £24m on roughly £60,000 per week – a shrewd piece of business indeed. And, with time, his market value will only increase, not decrease as has been the case with most signings at Chelsea FC.
What Mata brings to the table is something unseen at Stamford Bridge for a long, long time – unpredictability, in a good way. Now, here’s a player who has played in three different positions on the pitch for Valencia. When David Silva was at his peak, Mata played on the right wing, which was not his natural position. He did not set the right flank on fire, but was reasonably good. In the following season, Silva started playing centrally, so Mata moved to the left wing and his performance improved. Subsequently, after Silva was transferred to Eastlands, Juan Mata took his place in the center of the pitch in a free-role, scoring 8 goals and assisting another 12, as Valencia finished at a respectable third in La Liga. Needless to say, he is versatile, two-footed (although stronger with his left), and will fill a gaping void in the Chelsea first team – that of creativity.
The Chelsea attack is expected to be sharper, incisive, with Mata replacing Malouda as a first-choice left winger, and the team is expected to be more tactically flexible. For example, even if Mata begins on the left wing, Andre Villas-Boas will always have an option to bring Malouda on as a left winger, move Mata centrally, just behind the striker (s), thus inverting the midfield triangle.
The purchase of Juan Mata, ahead of Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool, is a marquee signing for Chelsea, make no mistake about it. He may have come cheap, but there’s no shortage of talent whatsoever. The excitement within the club’s ranks is absolutely justified.
Michael Essien’s injury has disrupted Chelsea’s transfer plans momentarily; however, rather than going for a short-term solution such as Scot Parker or Daniele De Rossi, the club backed the manager to sign a youngster, who was Villas-Boas’ target during his Porto days, for a fee believed to be in the region of £4m from Barcelona. Although the Catalans have a buy-back option for the first two years, this deal still has the potential to go down as one of the most astute buys for Chelsea.
In the words of Marti Perarnau, one of the most reputed followers of Barcelona’s youth setup, “Oriol is solidario. He never abandons his team-mates. He reaches every corner and covers every gap. He gives balance in the middle, allowing the rest to construct with freedom, and he goes into challenges strongly and decisively. He enjoys winning the ball back and pressuring the opposition. Sometimes, though, he is hasty in the transition of the ball. ” Romeu, who will serve as a back-up to Mikel in the first team, appears to be different than the Nigerian in two aspects primarily – firstly, his work-rate is at an higher level than that of Mikel, which allows him to cover more ground and rarely be out of position; secondly, Mikel is a better long-range passer than Romeu, which is a good weapon to have, even for a defensive midfielder, whose main role is to shield the defense. Mikel and Romeu, at 24 and 19 respectively, are both young are are yet to reach their peak years, but the promise is certainly there that Chelsea may not have to look for a player of this genre for years to come.
What do you do when there’s a player out there, who has grown up supporting the club, who idolizes one of the iconic players at the club, who is so precociously talented that most of the European giants are after his signature and whose exploits at a tender age of 18 clearly portray his enormous potential? You bring him home. That’s what Chelsea did when they signed 18-year old Belgian center-forward Romelu Lukaku from Anderlecht.
In all fairness, Chelsea did not need him now, considering the players already present for his position. However, had they not signed him, someone else would have and this risk was too grave to take. This signing is similar to Manchester United’s purchase of highly-rated center-back Phil Jones from Blackburn Rovers. As United already had Vidic, Ferdinand, Evans and Smalling, they could have waited before bringing Jones to Old Trafford. However, with Liverpool and Arsenal circling around, Ferguson signed him immediately.
Lukaku is a self-confessed Chelsea fan, having supported Chelsea ever since Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink scored that volley at Old Trafford in September, 2000. Even at a tender age of 18, he is physically intimidating, capable of bullying defenders into submission with his raw power and hold-up play, he is deceptively fast considering his enormous frame, he is equally comfortable with either foot, and is a keen learner of the game, humble enough to stay grounded and keep improving.
The fee paid for bringing Lukaku to Stamford bridge is believed to be around £13m, which can rise upto £18m. It’s a premium price to pay for an 18-year old, but with other clubs ready to match the price or go even higher, Chelsea have done the right thing by signing him, thus allowing him to live his dream. Such players are rare, players who are primarily fans; these players give their all and more on the pitch whenever they put on the shirt – one can expect Romelu to fight for Chelsea till his very last breath.
This season, the Belgian will be the third choice center-forward, behind Torres and Drogba, and can be expected to feature for the first team in less important league games and in the cups, while continuing to learn from his idol, Drogba, and other senior players in the team. Drogba and Anelka will eventually depart, in a season or two; by then Lukaku would be expected to be completely ready to serve the club for the foreseeable future.
When a club signs a 19-year old goalkeeper for £7m, despite the fact that first team keeper Petr Cech is still only 29 and can easily serve Chelsea for at least five more years, there must be something special about him. Thibaut Courtois, who was voted Racing Genk’s player of the season in the title-winning campaign, was Chelsea’s first signing of the summer. He was immediately sent on loan to Atletico Madrid, who were also in the hunt to sign player in the first place, as a replacement for United-bound De Gea.
At 6′ 6″, he is very tall, and although he played a key role in Genk’s title-winning last season, he still needs to continue developing, as long as Cech is Chelsea’s number 1. If the young Belgian keeper can manage to get game time in Spain, it would be very crucial in his formative years, especially considering the fact that he would come face-to-face with few of the world’s best attacking talents in la Liga. Courtois is a good shot-blocker, a quality he displayed throughout his Genk days, but he, expectedly, needs experience to improve his ball-distribution and organisational skills.
This signing highlights the fact that Chelsea were not satisfied with the talent already at their disposal in the form of Rhys Taylor, Sam Walker, Jamal Blackman and Matej Delac. Courtois recently said, “Chelsea see me as the successor to Petr Cech. It won’t happen in one or two years, but in three, four or five years. I can therefore work on my development in peace.” At least, he knows what lies ahead of him and appears to be patient.
After a youth exodus at Chelsea had left the fans disappointed, an influx of talent has lifted the spirits and reduced the average age of the first team squad considerably. Right from the manager to the young center-forward, there’s palpable youthful presence everywhere, as the club prepares for the second Blue Revolution.