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Old, Nuts & Average – Chelsea’s Striker Problem

Last week, footage was released of Jose Mourinho having what he thought was a private conversation, during which he stated that Chelsea “lack a scorer. I have one [Eto’o] but he’s 32. Maybe 35, who knows?” He went on to imply interest in Radamel Falcao, disparaging Monaco in the process: “Who wants to play in front of 3000 supporters?”

mourinho_2751175bThere was much made of these comments in the English press.  “Chelsea boss caught criticizing Torres and questioning Eto’o’s age”, shouted the Daily Mail. “Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho mocks Samuel Eto’o in unguarded TV comments”, roared the Telegraph.

A little perspective here, please. I am no fan of Mourinho. I think he sucks a lot of the joy out of football, and I find his endless spiked comments extremely tiresome, but there was nothing controversial in what he said. Pundits and fans alike have been saying all season that Chelsea lack a top class striker. That Fernando Torres is not the player he once was is nothing new. That Demba Ba is decent but not quite Champions League quality is hardly a secret. That there have been many instances in which African players have lied about their age is a running joke in football circles. Nwanko Kanu and Taribo West allegedly being 10-15 years older than their stated age is something that has brought us all great joy, in the past. It’s really quite amusing to think of the game’s top managers also being able to laugh about it, too.

So let’s not pretend to get worked up by Mourinho’s comments, but let’s take the implications seriously. chelseastrikersChelsea currently sit top of the league table. Their current top scorer is Eden Hazard with 13, followed by Oscar (9), Eto’o (8) and Torres (8). It might be a good sign that they aren’t overly reliant on any one player – having a superstar striker can often lead to that – but between them, Eto’o, Torres and Ba have certainly missed a lot of chances that a better striker would have converted.

If Eto’o is old/temporary, Torres is a basket-case and Ba is average, how have Chelsea allowed this situation to develop?

  • Buying an injury-prone and mentally broken Fernando Torres for £50m was the club’s first mistake. Even at the time his best days were clearly behind him and the price tag has pressured successive managers into playing a striker who consistently underperforms.
  •  Next, they sold Daniel Sturridge to Liverpool for a measly £10m. While Sturridge has always been mistrusted by some, his potential has long been evident. During a loan move to Bolton in 2011 he scored eight in 11 appearances. Under Andre Villas Boas who played Sturridge consistently, the young forward scored nine in 19. Now he is the most consistent goal-scorer in Europe, and Chelsea must feel gutted.
  • Or do they? They also chose to loan out Romelu Lukaku again. The Belgian striker scored 17 for West Bromwich Albion last season, proving himself more than ready for the Premiership, and he has largely continued that form with Everton this season. He would have been a better option for Chelsea than Torres or Ba.

So how will Mourinho fix this?

  • Demba Ba will go at the end of the season.
  •  You would think that in order to sign a world class striker, Chelsea would have to move Torres on, too (final fling/renaissance at Atletico Madrid, anyone?). That leaves Eto’o and Lukaku.
  • Lukaku has made it clear that regular football is important to him, but he has also stated that he needs to be playing in the Champions League. That means he’d likely put up with being second choice at Chelsea.
  • Eto’o, at his age (WHATEVER THAT MIGHT BE), should be willing to be a squad player, leaving room for one stellar attacking signing to come in and lead the line.

Whether that man is Diego Costa, Edison Cavani, Radamel Falcao or Nwanko Kanu (he’s still playing, right?), one thing is for sure. Chelsea created this mess, and Mourinho is going to fix it.

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