Chelsea have found their pursuit of a world class striker frustrating so far. Numerous names have been bandied around for eye-watering sums of money. There is Morata, the current third choice striker at Real Madrid, at a cost of close to €90m. Andrea Belotti, an Italian with 9 caps and a solitary season of scoring 20+ goals is also admired by Conte. His cost – €100m. Of course Chelsea’s first choice was always Romelu Lukaku. He joined Manchester United for a fee rising to a potential £90m and has scored over 100 Premier League goals and yet still has critics that deride his first touch and say his hold up play and overall contribution leaves a lot to be desired. What does £100m even get you these days?
After the disappointment of losing out on Lukaku, Chelsea are in the market for a ‘marquee signing’. The general feeling is that most of the strikers out there fail to meet this billing. It’s an indication of just how rare a breed the thoroughbred striker has become. You compare the pool of players now to the undeniable heyday of the elite level striker – the late 90’s. The late 90’s/early 2000’s was a time where the complete forward terrorised defenders, embarrassed goalkeepers and strutted around the final third like lions on the Savanna; a blur of sinewy grace and (mostly) flowing mane. They were in such abundance that clubs outside the top tier of the footballing elite could still boast talent such as Gabriel Batistuta (Fiorentina) and Alan Shearer (Newcastle). The list of names is endless: Marcelo Salas, Christian Vieri, Ronaldo, Henrik Larsson, Davor Suker; all players who combined elegance and power to deadly effect. The point is Chelsea could once go out and recruit a proven and accomplished striker in the ilk of Hernan Crespo or Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink; today’s pickings are a lot slimmer.
Chairmen can place a premium on their cherished goal scorers in the knowledge that any buying club has a very limited pool of players to choose from. This leaves Chelsea in a very peculiar position. They have a full blooded and undeniable headliner on their books already in Diego Costa. Trouble goes hand in hand with the Brazilian born forward but so do goals, intricate link up play, pace and presence. It’s an understandable but risky play to have cast him aside, there are not many like-for-like replacements around. When Costa surely re-signs for Atletico Madrid, they will have a bargain on their hands in the current climate, as they look to negotiate down Chelsea’s valuation of £40m. Chelsea now have the unenviable task of finding a replacement for Costa that fits the billing as a genuine, bona-fide goal getter.
Morata is reportedly the first choice option, however the search for value in the market is also on the board’s mind and Madrid’s persistence in their stance to uphold their valuation is proving a sticking point. Belotti likewise proves a similar conundrum for a player who is even less seasoned than Morata and has never played outside of Italy. Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was heavily linked in the last week, but that move now seems dead in the water after Dortmund insisted he will not be sold. Chelsea’s hesitance to bid for the Gabonese is evidence of doubts that the 28 year-old would represent good value at an outlay of £70m, or even fit the profile of a centre forward able to lead the line in the bullish, physical manner of Diego Costa. More left field suggestions have arrived in the form of Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez and Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero. Both are players of undoubted quality, but quality their clubs would loathe to see in the shirt of a divisional rival.
Chelsea must pine for by gone days where proven goal scorers were not just more prolific, but more attainable. The club must now work hard to ensure that Conte’s decision to show Costa the door was not a premature one.