There’s a rumour going around that says Chelsea are prepared to offer Romelu Lukaku to Atletico Madrid as a makeweight in their attempt to buy Diego Costa. Although still a rumour at this stage, it’s a plausible move for Chelsea to make in light of their treatment of Lukaku in particular, and the young talent they’ve acquired in general. From Lukaku, to Daniel Sturridge, to Kevin de Bruyne, to Josh McEachran, Chelsea Football Club has started to resemble a limbo where promising careers go to stall.
If you have a lot of money, and want to maintain an elite club, then snapping up the best young talents in world football seems like a smart thing to do. A quality player already in the prime of his career is a purchase a club would hope delivers an instant return. The price of such immediate success is (besides a higher transfer fee) that the player has a shorter shelf life. Depending on the player’s position, the peak of a career may last only a handful of years. And as a player’s price is never higher than during their peak years, buying just this type of player would be a very cost-ineffective way of maintaining a squad (not that wasting money has ever stopped Roman Abramovich from spending). So when Chelsea bought Kevin de Bruyne from Genk in 2012, or when they secured Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois and Oriol Romeu in 2011, or Victor Moses and Marko Marin the next year, it looked like they were simply fortifying the future of the club.
De Bruyne, a true talent who showed his worth on loan at Werder Bremen in the 12/13 season, played 3 matches for Chelsea, before he was sold in January of this year to Wolfsburg. Chelsea made a profit of an estimated £11 million. It seems crazy. Clubs will often loan out recently acquired youngsters to give them playing time, but also to test their mettle, to see whether they can excel at another team regularly (often in as difficult a league) before giving them a chance at the club. De Bruyne passed this test. He proved himself in the Bundesliga, his ten goals and nine assists in 33 games is an excellent return for a 21 year old, playing in a new league. The loan system had worked; Chelsea could now see that they had a proven asset on their books. But after half of the 13/14 season wasted, an extended transfer saga showed that Chelsea were more interested in a tidy profit than their attacking midfielder.
Why was Mark Schwarzer at Stamford Bridge this season? The Australian veteran was brought in on a free transfer by Mourinho to cover for Cech. He actually played four games for Chelsea, a few of them big ones, thanks to a late season injury to Cech. Thibaut Cortois, maybe the best goalkeeper playing in La Liga, was loaned to Atletico Madrid for yet another season. Why not take the Belgian back as backup to Cech, and begin to integrate him into the squad this season? Courtois is very happy in Madrid, and Atleti are very happy to have him. But will his future be at Chelsea? Or will the club try to sell him at a profit like they did with de Bruyne.
Courtois and de Bruyne’s stories are not unique. Success for Lukaku and Sturridge, despite succeeding wildly at other clubs, has not materialised for either at Chelsea. How many seasons has Josh McEachran been this close to breaking into the Chelsea first team, the first academy product since John Terry. His future looks bleak if he remains stuck in the loan limbo that Chelsea continue to perpetuate for him.
Diego Costa is a good player, and at 25 still has 5 or so years at his very best. He has been unrelenting this season, scoring 27 goals and energising the entire club with his brash, physical play. He even earned a maiden call up to the Spain squad, and is in their preliminary team for the World Cup. But last season he only scored 10 goals. He has only ever played in Spain or Portugal, and is therefore unproven in the decidedly more competitive Premier League. Lukaku is 21, and has scored more than 15 goals in the last two seasons in England, playing in teams worse than Chelsea. Chelsea still may have to fork over some cash for Costa as well, even with Lukaku on the table. Lukaku desperately wants to play for Chelsea, Didier Drogba is his hero.
Why would Chelsea cast him off as a trade-in? Because that’s what Chelsea do.