12 May 2014

Luke Shaw, Diego Costa, and...Eyenga-Lokilo?

It's been long-suspected and not yet confirmed, but to all outward appearances, Diego Costa is set to sign with Chelsea in a deal reported to be close to £32 million. Costa's agent Jorge Mendes also represents Jose Mourinho, so there's little to be shocked at there unless you dislike the smell of collusion. Elsewhere, Man U are said to be chasing Southampton's Luke Shaw, with a £27 million bid in the works. For as promising as he is at 18 years old, that's a princely sum that reflects potential almost than performance. However, I'm not here to suss out the relative wisdom or worth in these bids; I'm more concerned with how they reflect so poorly on us. We've long-known that Arsène is prudent to the point of madness, but if a fourth place finish is to mean anything, we should be spending money. Failing to do so would make a mockery of the fourth place finish.

Um, no offense, but do you shave yet?
On one hand, I understand part of the strategy. In a buyer's market, you can wait and wait, forcing the seller's price down and getting a bargain. For all we know, this is what happened with Özil. Perhaps Real Madrid, having splurged close to £100m for Bale, were nervous to sell anyone, be it Özil, Higuain, or Di Maria, for less than £50m. To have then gotten one of the world's best and most creative midfielders for £42m might be a steal (let this be the last time I refer to a seven-figure price-tag as a "steal"). However,on the other hand, the news out of Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford suggest that there's no need to wait. If Diego Costa, one of the most in-demand strikers on the market, can be had for £32m (even if there's some chicanery there), then surely we can conduct a bit of business early on in the window as well?

If there's any silver lining to the Costa bid, it's that it likely removes Chelsea as a competitor for other targets. They've started to show uncharacteristic signs of restraint. Whether that arises from concerns around FFP or Abramovich's portfolio (which has taken a beating if Forbes is to be believed) is anyone's guess. Still, the parallel between us and them is all the more salient: like Chelsea, we've qualified for the Champions League. Even if we have to get through a playoff to get to the group-stage, it's a virtual certainty that we'll advance—and signing a Cavani or a Pogba early solidifies that certainty (and removes the issue of being cup-tied as well). If Chelsea can sew up an early deal, four weeks before the summer-window even opens, then surely we can too.

At the other end of the spectrum is Man U. I don't know what to make of their reported bid for Luke Shaw. He's a fine young player, it's true, but left-back just doesn't strike me as high enough on their list of needs to warrant the bid, not with Vidic and Ferdinand all but gone. The larger point, though, is that Man U, shorn of any international competitions whatsoever, are throwing £27m at a young defender anyway. If nothing else, this gives the lie to the idea that a club needs Champions League football as an enticement to lure talented players. No, Shaw is not a squad-saving player, but he's apparently better than Gibbs if World Cup selections are any barometer.

Meanwhile, the closest we've come to showing any ambition is to offer a trial to a young Belgian attacker. Suffice it to say that your correspondent ceased salivating when he learned that the young Belgian in question was not Romelu Lukaku but Jason Eyenga-Lokilo. He may outstrip Lukaku in the cool-sounding name department, but that's about all. Still, if Chelsea's move for Costa makes Lukaku available, and us having a larger Belgian contingent makes us more attractive to Lukaku, then I'm all in for this Eyenga-Lokilo. As for the idea that Chelsea wouldn't sell to a direct rival, remember that they did sell Mata to Man U and were apparently close to selling Ba to us before the Özil deal. In other words, it's not as far-fetched as it may sound.

Still, in the end, all we're left with is a familiar feeling. We've come through a grueling campaign, sipping from but spilling the Prem trophy, only to finish fourth yet again on the promise that such a finish is vital to the club's dealings in the transfer-window. It's an all-too-familiar script. I don't think we should have to wait until August to see the climax.

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