Swapping deck chairs at quarter to midnight
Posted on January 31, 2018
THE transfer window has been its usual game of cat and mouse, but there’s also been a degree of interconnectivity, with the move of one player depending on another rubber-stamped transaction that relies on a third deal: Chelsea – Arsenal – Dortmund – Giroud, Aubameyang – Batshuayi.
Arsenal’s acquisition of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang raises questions about the future of the club’s last high profile signing, Alexandre Lacazette. Indeed, Arsenal fans were willing the club to offload the Frenchman to Dortmund rather than let Olivier Giroud go. Lacazette has played the full 90 minutes in just six of his 24 appearances in the Premier, suggesting he lacks the stamina for the English league. But he’s scored nine goals, which is not a disaster, but for £ 52 million, Arsenal probably expected they had signed a prolific striker. Much was expected of the former Lyon forward and he’s looked very good technically, but the Gunners needed a 25-goal man, especially after losing Alexis Sanchez.
Aubameyang is 28, so it was now or never for the Dortmund striker. His record is almost identical to Lacazette’s 98 league goals in five seasons to the Arsenal man’s 100. Outside the obvious names, these two players were among the most sought-after forwards across Europe. And now, Arsenal have both of them. How will they make it work? Can it work? Clearly, it will be hard to keep both happy, if indeed that is the intention. You cannot see the sort of situation developing that Chelsea have repeatedly created in the past 15 years – focus on one striker and keep changing the supporting cast. Lacazette is a £50m forward, after all.
Chelsea have been courting any half decent striker with a bit of height – Andy Carroll, Edin Dzeko, Fernando Llorente and Ashley Barnes. Yet just how attractive is a move to Chelsea, inflated wages aside?
Chelsea’s track record with forwards is not good, in fact is pretty disastrous. Consider the number of big-name signings since 2003-04 and only two have been truly and consistently successful: Didier Drogba and Diego Costa. Alvaro Morata should be added to that short list, but the jury is still out.
There have been times when Chelsea’s eyes have been bigger than their stomach. Paying £ 30m for Andriy Shevchenko and £ 50m for Fernando Torres – both indulgences from the club owner – didn’t really deliver value for money. Others, such as Mutu, Kezman, bought with potential in mind, were not really the right men. And then there was Nicolas Anelka, who despite his lack of popularity, actually did quite well, with a better goals per game ratio than most Chelsea strikers. Too often, though, front men have been signed to bolster the squad, failing to satisfy short-term requirements and then getting moved on.
When Drogba and Costa were in-form, Chelsea were at their most successful – the first three title wins under Abramovich saw Drogba come to the fore, while the last two were fired by Costa’s goals. To support Chelsea’s main front man, the club has repeatedly hired stop-gap cover – Samuel Eto’o, Demba Ba, Loic Remy and, most recently, Michy Batshuayi.
Frankly, players like Batshuayi and Remy never had a chance as they would always be second choice and when they did get a run-out, it was a 20-minute stint in league games or a cup tie. Batshuayi’s goalscoring record was not that bad (better than both Torres and Schevchenko in league games), but it was clear that he was not highly rated. At the age of 24, he needs regular football and now he’s going to get it at Borussia Dortmund where he starts the first loan period before running his contract down at Chelsea.
At the same time, the club’s record around disposals is really quite embarrassing. Three players currently playing for Premier League clubs really sum it up – Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Mo Salah (Liverpool) and Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United. According to CIES Football Observatory, this trio is now worth almost £ 500m.
Equally frustrating is the club’s ability to ignore young talent developed from its very expensive academy. Chelsea are scraping around trying to sign an expensive add-on when there is 20 year-old Tammy Abraham, already an England international, playing for Swansea on loan. Surely, there is value in giving the youngster an extended run to blood him in Chelsea colours?
As it stands, they will sign another bench-warmer striker to give them the sort of immediacy they demand. It looks like Giroud will be that man, a 31 year-old with 73 Premier League goals in 180 appearances for Arsenal. He will have to impress each time he rolls out of the dugout, otherwise he will be sent out on loan in a year’s time to make way for another signing. He will also have to win over the Chelsea fans, given his time at Arsenal.
Short-termism is clearly the name of the game at Chelsea, but it is a strategy that has been successful, in spite of the constant state of flux. While the money is there, they can afford to shrug their shoulders and bring in quick-fixes as and when they need them. At some point, though, they really need to look at themselves and ask if they are doing right by the young players waiting in the wings for the call that will never happen.