Of all the blunt truths learnt by Chelsea’s new owners since they took control of the club 16 busy months ago, here’s the sure-fire one: cast off an expensive striker and he will immediately find top form wherever he goes.
Far less certain is that Chelsea’s extravagant recruiters will improve the squad with their choice of replacement goalscorer.
It took Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang two minutes of his first home start for Olympique Marseille, OM, to score his first goal for the latest of his many clubs, in last week’s Uefa Champions League qualifier against Panathinaikos.
Aubameyang signed for Chelsea from Barcelona on transfer deadline day last summer. He had left for the South of France within 11 months. He already has twice as many goals – two – as an OM player as he managed in an entire Premier League campaign at Chelsea.
Aubameyang cost around €12 million. He left for free. Christian Pulisic this summer joined AC Milan in July for some €20 million, less than a third of the price Chelsea paid Borussia Dortmund for the American in 2019. True to routine, Pulisic netted a spectacular goal 21 minutes into his Milan debut, at Bologna last weekend.
These are not one-offs. Rewind 12 months and Romelu Lukaku, who had just started a loan spell from Chelsea back at his former club, Inter Milan, was scoring within two minutes of his second Inter debut; the same weekend, Timo Werner, sold back – at a €25 million loss – by Chelsea to RB Leipzig was re-debuting in Germany with a goal.
A year on, Lukaku finds himself impatient to see if he can again be part of this long catalogue of instantly renewed ex-Blues.
His loan at Inter over, he is still on the staff at Chelsea, who paid €113 million for him two summers ago, but keen to find a fresh home. His high salary, and Chelsea’s need for a fee are obstacles for potential buyers, but there is little enthusiasm in the executive hierarchy at Stamford Bridge to retain him.
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Besides, high turnover is now a habit. The parade of forwards into the club has been hectic in the last three transfer windows, running from Aubameyang to David Datro Fofana, now moved on to Union Berlin, and through to the combined €300 million spent on Raheem Sterling, Mykhailo Mudryk, Noni Madueke, Christopher Nkunku and Nicolas Jackson.
Yet impotence in attack is a persistent issue. Chelsea finished the last Premier League campaign with a mere 38 goals, at an average of one per game.
So far this season, new manager Mauricio Pochettino has yet to raise that standard, and after a 1-1 draw with Liverpool, and a 3-1 defeat to West Ham, he takes on newly-promoted Luton Town on Friday seeking his first competitive victory in charge.
The goals so far on Pochettino’s watch have come from a defender, Axel Disasi and the midfielder Carney Chukwuemeka, whose name has been swiftly added to the long medical bulletin the manager was obliged to list yesterday.
Just as reliable as ex-Chelsea strikers making an immediate impact elsewhere in Europe is that those earmarked to replace them are bound to be struck by injury.
“For sure it is bad luck,” said Pochettino, listing the cases of Chukwuemeka – out for “weeks” said the manager – and various attacking players.
Nkunku represents the biggest single blow, the knee injury he sustained in pre-season, following his €60m signing from Leipzig, requiring months of recuperation.
Armando Broja, the promising club-reared striker, out since December, is, reports the manager, “close but the last step after injury is difficult.” Nor, Pochettino confirmed, is Mudryk fit for the Luton game.
“We need a little bit of help now,” admitted Pochettino, while praising Sterling and backing Jackson, the 22-year-old Senegal international for whom Chelsea paid Villarreal close to €40 million. And, yes, admitted Pochettino the big-spenders of West London are scouring the market for yet another striker.
“We are trying to find the right profile, talking about one offensive player, but not just to bring in players [who would] stop the evolution [development] of young guys. If you bring in a player that needs to adapt, you are going to create a mess in the squad.”
As it is, there is a mess to resolve in Lukaku’s limbo. He and Pochettino are not in dialogue about any role he might yet have in filling the striker gap or making up the goalscoring deficit. The club’s owners would like to move him on and Lukaku wants to spend the season elsewhere.
“With Romelu, the situation was really clear – the wish between player and club was to find a solution,” said Pochettino. “The situation has not changed.”