Falcao link poses questions about Chelsea academy
By Oliver Wilson
Hours after Chelsea smashed six past Wolverhampton Wanderers in the League Cup, a source close the club revealed that Roman Abramovich is lining up a £45 million bid for Atletico Madrid’s stellar centre forward Falcao.
The Columbian put a hat-trick past Petr Cech in the European Super Cup last month as Atletico won 4-1 in Monaco, and has been touted for the past six months as the best finisher in Europe.
The interest in Falcao indicates that Chelsea’s Russian billionaire owner has given up hope that Fernando Torres - who scored against Wolves in mid-week - can come good at Stamford Bridge. The Spaniard has struggled to rekindle the form that made him a fan’s favorite at Liverpool and at Atletico, scoring just once in the first five league games of the season. Abramovic's patience appears to have run out for the winner of the Golden Boot at Euro 2012.
While Chelsea’s interest in Falcao is no surprise (there has been a revolving-door policy for players and manager since Abramovich arrived in 2003), it may be a source of frustration to all those behind Torres in the pecking order at Stamford Bridge. Itching to replace Torres is Daniel Sturridge, who has impressed both during his time on loan with Bolton Wanderers 18 months ago, and on the wing for Chelsea last season.
Sturridge has made it common knowledge that he wants to play in the centre of the Blues attack and sees himself as a natural centre forward. You can understand why after the 23-year-old bagged eight league goals for Wanderers in just 12 league appearances, while his return to his parent club has brought fewer goals but no less quality to his performances.
The Englishman, though, was forced to play out on the flanks for the majority of his time last season, a position where his quality in front of goal is wasted, and where the youngster was expected to play the provider role for Torres or Drogba, as was the case last year. Even if Sturridge wasn’t waiting patiently for his opportunity to oust El Nino from Roberto Di Matteo’s starting lineup, the Italian coach has other options available to him in his squad.
Romelu Lukaku is on loan with West Bromwich Albion, to gather the same level of experience and confidence that Sturridge acquired while with Bolton, but Chelsea have the option to bring the Belgiaum international back in the January transfer window if necessary.
“Lets see how things pan out,” Chelsea assistant manager Eddie Newton said in response to questions about the possibility of Lukaku returning to Stamford Bridge early. “He’s doing well, he’s doing a good job, and that’s what we expect of him. He’s a magnificent prospect and we feel that he needed games and he’s starting to get games. It’s fantastic for us and fantastic for West Brom.”
Fantastic, though, doesn’t come close to describing the impact Lukaku has had on the Baggies season fo far. Two goals in four league appearances (three from the substitutes' bench) are solid statistics for any youngster. But the way has has galvanized the Albion team with his pace, power and touch has meant a good start to the season, despite facing Liverpool, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur in their first five matches of the season.
Lukaku has reiterated his desire to go back to Chelsea, although the 19-year-old prodigy is settled at The Hawthorns and is enjoying his football in the Midlands.
With either of these two options available to Di Matteo in January, plus the possibility that Torres might still come good, splashing out £45 million to ensure that Falcao arrives in January seems like either a rash move from an impatient owner or typical Abramovich.
Then there is Chelsea’s Academy at Cobham. Ludicrously unsafe for a person’s valuables, the state-of-the-art training centre was meant to be building the backbone of an almost self-sustainable side.
Its aim, as stated on a billboard in the facilities grounds, is to help Chelsea become recognized as the greatest football club in the world by 2014. Cobham, Chelsea hope, will eventually be on a par with La Masia, the youth training centre at Barcelona that gave the world Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, among others.
To its credit, the facility on the outskirts of London has produced a number of players who have gone on to carve out successful careers in the Premier League, including Carlton Cole, John Terry and Robert Huth. Few of its graduates, though, have matched up to those who have come through the Catalan giant’s facility.
Even compared to the Academies of Manchester United and Arsenal, Cobham is a world behind its rivals, with both clubs bringing through stars such as Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Ashley Cole and Tony Adams, from the youth setup and into their starting line-ups.
The development of the academy is a much debated subject in south London but the process of building a youth system that can compete with rivals’ established academies will be a long and costly process. Players such as Tuesday night’s wonderkid Lucas Piazon will give the fans and the manager hope that the system can produce some world-class prospects, but the creations built at Cobham are still playing second fiddle to the big money buys of Eden Hazard, Marko Marin, Oscar and Lukaku, and will continue to do so if the spending persists.
So what is the appeal for a young player at Chelsea who is looking to break through the youth system and into the youth team? Patience, it seems, is non-existent at a club where only money can guarantee immediate gratification through silverware.
The interest in Falcao shows that Chelsea have learnt nothing from Torres’ tepid spell in London, and the youth academy shows few signs being given the time to breed the sort of talent that Chelsea will allow to populate its first-team squad while hefty sums of cash are still available.
If Falcao arrives and flops at Stamford Bridge, many will ask the question, what could £95 million have brought through the doors of Cobham?