Do Blues need to re-evaluate their transfer policy?
At the end of a thrilling encounter in the World Cup, all the plaudits went to the USA and goalkeeper Tim Howard, rightly so, as they showed tremendous quality and spirit to hold off this immensely talented generation of Belgian players for so long in a narrow extra-time defeat.
However, it is of course worth noting that the crucial moments of class and quality came from the European nation, who are themselves building something very exciting for the future with this superb crop of attacking players.
The decisive touches of brilliance came from Kevin De Bruyne, who scored the opener with a well-taken finish after working his way into a pocket of space in the box, and Romelu Lukaku, who raced onto a well-measured De Bruyne through-ball to finish with aplomb for 2-0 in the first half of the additional 30 minutes.
In a World Cup containing the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar, these two young Belgian attackers did the business when it mattered, and the question must now go to Chelsea – why do neither of them have a future at Stamford Bridge?
De Bruyne, 23, was shipped off to Wolfsburg in January after failing to break into Jose Mourinho’s plans at all in the first half of the 2013/14 season. In the previous campaign, the young playmaker had spent a year on loan in the Bundesliga with Werder Bremen, establishing himself as one of the most effective attacking players in the country with a fine record of 10 goals and 11 assists to his name. And yet, when it came to returning to Chelsea, there was little indication that he would be brought into the side at all in the near future, with further millions spent on players such as Willian and Andre Schurrle, who have not exactly justified their huge transfer fees.
Their arrivals also signalled the end for the Blues’ best player for the previous two seasons, Juan Mata, who will now be lining up for rivals Manchester United next season, who, make no mistake, will be a force again under Louis van Gaal as he brings in other exciting new signings to make the necessary improvements to the squad at Old Trafford.
Chelsea, meanwhile, continue to buy for the sake of it. Like De Bruyne, other highly promising young players will be farmed out on loan again this season, possibly with the only aim of raising their value and selling them on. Among them could be Belgium’s other goalscoring hero Romelu Lukaku, who is undoubtedly one of the best young strikers in the world at the moment. Despite his form for his country and for loan clubs West Bromwich Albion and Everton, he looks no closer to being a starter for Jose Mourinho’s side, even with their lack of options upfront. Promote a young player? No chance. Sign Diego Costa for £32m instead. Throw money at the problem – after all, it worked so well with £50m man Fernando Torres, didn’t it?
Yet another rising Belgian star, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, sees his future up in the air after an incredible three years on loan with Atletico Madrid, having never kicked a ball for Chelsea. This decision already backfired on the Blues this season as the 22-year-old played a hand in denying the club a place in the Champions League final as his Atletico side triumphed at Stamford Bridge.
As well as Lukaku, one of the best strikers in the Premier League last season was Liverpool star Daniel Sturridge. Once again, a talented young player was never truly given a chance in the side on a regular basis, or in his favoured position, and has gone on to shine for Chelsea’s rivals. This short-term thinking and inclination to spend their way out of trouble simply isn’t working for the Blues, who even moved to bring back one of their former youngsters in Nemanja Matic this January, after Benfica had done all the work developing him. The Serbian playmaker wasn’t given an opportunity in his first spell at Stamford Bridge and was used in an exchange deal for David Luiz… who just left the club because while immensely talented, could not coax the mistakes out of his game.
Can Chelsea continue to get away with this approach? They probably have the resources to do so, and their recent trophy haul isn’t exactly one to be mocked, but as Belgium showed the other night, they may just be missing something by not investing in youth and building a team with more identity and character.
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