Perhaps the biggest pitfall of signing players is that a club doesn’t really know what they look like. Yes, it can analyze data, perform various medical tests, watch video after video, but who are they really? Will they adapt to a new life in a new city? Will they get along with their teammates and the technical staff? Will their skills fit into the system? No matter how much research a club does, there is always some unknown. All of this makes it even stranger that two of the biggest moves of this summer transfer window will involve players leaving the clubs they returned to for a second go-around, as Romelu Lukaku prepares to leave. chelsea loaned to return to Inter Milan and Paul Pogba leaves Manchester United at Juventus, also for the second time.
When Lukaku was signed last season – having left in 2014 aged 21 after a lonely start to the league, despite impressive loan spells at West Brom and Everton – for what remains the second-highest fee in Premier League history, $125 million, he seemed like exactly what Chelsea needed. After Thomas Tuchel’s arrival the previous January, Chelsea had been well organized and good enough in possession to win the Champions League title, but it felt a bit fruitless at times.
Here is a player who had scored 47 goals in the previous two seasons in Serie A. He is big and powerful, offering an extra aerial threat, he had shown under Antonio Conte how good he was at pressing, and had shown great positional intelligence for Belgium, often shooting wide to the right to create space for Kevin De Bruyne. It all seemed ideal. He could lead the line as a hybrid of a target man and a false nine, both winning headers and links to Mason Mount and Kai Havertz. Chelsea for a time appeared to become a third party in the Manchester City-Liverpool title fight.
But Lukaku, after looking promising on his debut against Arsenal, never quite looked at home. There were four goals in his first four games at Chelsea, but then 10 games without a goal. As he lost confidence, his first contact became heavier. Then injuries forced Chelsea into a change of form and the supply of wingers came to a halt. Frustrated, Lukaku gave an indiscreet interview to Sky Italy in December, and his relationship with Tuchel never really recovered. Last season he started just 16 league games, scoring just eight goals in that time, his disaffection evident.
Other players had a poor first season after a big money transfer and continued to thrive, but that was never likely for Lukaku once Tuchel made it clear he no longer wanted to work with him. Petr Čech, Chelsea’s technical and performance adviser, reportedly wanted the two to try and work out their differences, but as he left the club this week as part of the new backroom staff overhaul owner Todd Boehly, Tuchel’s authority over the staff is essentially unchallenged.
Scroll to continue
At least with Lukaku, the failed transfer can be attributed to a personality clash and then a change in management. It’s obviously not ideal for a big new signing to leave so soon, but if Chelsea are given $10m to loan him to Inter for the season, while offloading at least some of his wages, that’s not is not such a waste as it could have been.
But there is very little mitigation regarding Pogba’s second departure from Manchester United. He first left in 2012 aged 19 who had made just three substitute appearances for the club in the league, a move which infuriated then manager Sir Alex Ferguson. who felt that the player had been persuaded to think only of the money. his agent, the late Mino Raiola.
Pogba had a good four years at Juventus before returning for what was then a world record, since then he has cost United a huge amount of money in wages but has only played on and off. The World Cup in 2018 showed what a player he can be, but he rarely reached that level at Old Trafford. At times the problem has seemed tactical: he prefers the ball in front of him and is therefore not suited to a modern attacking central midfield role, but using it deep seems to be a waste of his talents, and he quickly seems become frustrated.
It probably didn’t help that the club was in such a state of drift, with managers coming and going, none able to impose their vision given the lack of leadership at the top of the club. Losing Pogba essentially for free once was bad enough; to do it unequivocally again, 10 years later, smacks of institutional failure.
More football coverage: