Constructing a squad is always a gamble of sorts. Who to keep, who to loan out or sell? Nobody gets it right all of the time, but some do so more often than others. Jose Mourinho probably fits as comfortably into the latter category as any others some may wish to suggest, but the striker dilemma at Chelsea may have tried his abilities to an extreme degree, and the remainder of the season – and the one after that, as I will illustrate - will probably show if he got it right.
Arriving at the club, Mourinho will have not taken long to establish that the striker situation from last year – a rotation of Torres and Ba under Rafa Benitez, could not be left for the new season. It could be argued, that the Portuguese would ideally have shipped both out, and started again, but with Torres the favoured player of club owner Roman Abramovich, that was never really an option.
The arrival of young Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku after a stellar season on loan at West Bromwich Albion offered an intriguing alternative to the established two, but it seems that for Mourinho this wasn’t the combination he sought. The financial collapse of Anzhi in Russia offered the chance of a reunion with one of his favoured sons, and triple Champions League winner Samuel Eto’o. Mourinho was quick to tie up the deal.
The addition however meant that there was now a surfeit of strikers, and someone would have to go. With Torres locked in, the choice was between Ba and Lukaku. As the transfer window drew to a close, there was talk of Ba being linked with a loan return to Newcastle, and also a move to Leicester, and at the very end with Arsenal. For various reasons however these fell through, and Ba was therefore retained in the squad. This left Lukaku.
Following his successes last season, there was much interest in the player, not least from the Hawthorns, where the club, and fans, would have welcomed him back with open arms. The deal went through with Everton however, and Lukaku will spend the season at Goodison Park, under the tutelage of Roberto Martinez.
I’ve seen it argued that the test as to whether Mourinho has got it right will be who scores more goals – Eto’o or Lukaku – as the seaon goes on. The truth however is far less straightforward. Firstly, there will inevitably be a difference in the number of games that each plays, and the role in which they are deployed. Secondly, and this is perhaps the key, the odds are that if Lukaku had been retained at Stamford Bridge, he would probably have not played anything like the number of games he did last season, or will do in this one at Everton. At this stage of his career, game time is key and Mourinho will be aware of that.
Come the end of the season, Lukaku will be more the polished, finished article than he is now, and Eto’o’s one year deal will be through. Chelsea may then take the striker back and dependent on the success, or otherwise, of Torres, the Belgian could play a pivotal role in the 2014-2015 season for the Blues. If that turns out to be a successful one, Mourinho’s decision will have been vindicated.
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