The summer is fast approaching and this can only mean one thing: transfer speculation is about to begin. In fact, it already sucker-punched us like a kick to the privates during the international break. A host of clubs was linked with a host of players, Arsenal was among these clubs. We were linked with a left-back from Lorient, Granit Xhaka (who later denied being contacted by Arsenal representatives), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (don’t make me type that again) and Alvaro Morata.
As you can notice, Morata is the only striker in this group and I wouldn’t exactly call him world-class. Last season I wrote an article in defense of Olivier Giroud, where I examined his possible replacements. I didn’t even give a second glance to Morata, mostly because his stats in Serie A were atrocious. He scored just 8 goals in 29 league games, with a conversion rate of 16%.
And you know what? This year he’s gone backwards. At the moment of me writing this, he’s played exactly 29 games, scoring just 6 goals from 42 attempts! That’s 14% conversion rate. In other words, I wouldn’t advocate buying him even if a third-party (i.e. not Real or Juventus) could do that. Real can exercise their buy-back clause for around €30 million, but then Juve have a buy-back clause on this buy-back clause and I would be stunned if they don’t have a priority right. All of that means buying Morata would be a questionable investment of an undoubtedly hefty sum (It has to be said, though, that his 29 games amount to ~1300 minutes, which is the equivalent of 15 full games).
Of course there is no knowing how a player would perform in a different league, even in a different team of the same league. You can point at Henry who had a pretty dire spell at the same Juve but then blossomed at Arsenal. Then again Morata is young (only 23) and he looks a big-game player. Most Arsenal fans jumped on his bandwagon after Alvaro performed admirably in the semi-finals and the final of the Champions League last season.
However, few Arsenal fans were, or indeed are, pumped up about the possibility of Morata joining. That’s because they are busy hyping up another striker. His name is Romelu Lukaku.
Now, I’ve seen our fanbase drool over some really average players, like Martinez, for instance. Usually the obsession kicks in with regards to a foreign player. And by foreign I mean playing in a league other than the Premier League. I guess that’s because very few of our fans (me included) watch the players in question week in, week out, and as a consequence harbour under the illusion that a certain footballer is the answer. A bit like when our own players go down with an injury and by the time they come back our fanbase elevates them to saviour status.
However the fixation on Lukaku is most bizarre. We can (and most do) watch him every week. So how some can say with a cool head that Lukaku is worth any sum of money asked for him is beyond me.
I mean, what’s he good at? What makes him worth all this money (a fee of around £50 million is thrown about)? Let’s take a look at what most say when directly asked why they deem it prudent to pay such money.
“He’s a proven scorer”
Lukaku completed 4 full seasons in the Premier League and is on course to complete his 5th. In his 5 seasons, 3 he stayed with Everton (one of them on loan), 1 with West Bromwich (also loan) and 1 with his parent club, Chelsea. In these 5 years, Lukaku made 142 appearances, scoring 60 goals (league only). That’s a ratio of 0.43 goals-per-game, which is decent. It’s almost one goal in two games, a rate widely considered a very good one, regardless of the league you play in.
However, while this is not fatal, I would still like to point out Lukaku made only 10 of his Prem appearances for Chelsea, failing to score once. He wasn’t even considered by Mourinho as decent backup to Costa and was sold straight away after his loan spell with Everton. Remy was preferred to him (which in itself says a lot). Granted, Mourinho isn’t your pick at blooding youngsters, but still. We can say Lukaku hasn’t made it a big club and that provides further food for thought for his potential suitors.
Let’s return to the goalscoring part. A rate of 0.43 goals per game is accompanied by a 15% conversion rate in 13/14, an atrocious 10% in 14/15 and an 18% rate this season. If you want some perspective, Olivier Giroud scored 42 goals in his last three seasons (league only) in 76 league games. That’s a rate of 0.55 goals-per-game, with conversion rates at 14%, 20% and 14% respectively. Olivier Giroud cost us £12 million and would be worth around €27 million (according to Transfermarkt). The same Transfermarkt values Lukaku at €35 million, by the way.
Guess that implies he has room for improvement and development. That paying 50 mil or so we invest in the future. That the guy will definitely reach his full potential and that full potential is scary.
A player comes to mind. A young Englishman who went for around 40 million last summer. Goes by the name of Raheem Sterling. Did he play up the hype, did he, as of yet, realise his potential? No. Will he? Maybe. Was it a good investment? Time will tell, but for now it was not. I know one thing: if we bought Raheem Sterling for the money he went for and he performed the way he dies now, I’d be fuming. The only thing which would prevent me from calling for Arsene’s head would be my infinite trust in his abilities to nurture young talent.
There are so many factors which are important for player development. The right manager is only one of them. The right environment, the right team, the right playing style (cause unless you are Mesut Ozil no one will reshape their team around you). I’m not prepared to take a gamble on a player coming good for such a sum, given our resources aren’t the bottomless pit and we can’t really allow for such an investment to be for nothing.
That’s my favourite argument for splashing out 50 mil on the Belgian *heavy sarcasm klaxon*.
An argument as ridiculous as it gets. While being homegrown heavily affects the price regardless, in itself it isn’t something worth paying for. Not for us, at least. We don’t have a shortage of homegrown players. Might as well keep Walcott if we need a homegrown player. Much cheaper too.
The last word
That’s as many arguments as I have been able to squeeze out of “Lukaku to Arsenal” advocates. And these arguments simply aren’t good enough for me.
You see, Lukaku isn’t particularly good at anything. Nothing to make your jaw drop. Nothing worth paying a premium price for.
Is he fast? In flashes, but sometimes I wonder just how slow can he get when I see him run with the ball. Is he a good target man? I wouldn’t say that. Good target men are good at winning aerial duels and scoring headed goals, Lukaku is good at neither.
All of that isn’t to say he is a bad player. He’s just not, as of yet, a particularly good or consistent one. Not worth 50 million certainly. I don’t think it’s wise to take a gamble of this magnitude on a player who had just one good season.
On top of that, having a good season with Everton doesn’t mean he’ll have a good spell with us. You need to look no further than Bony and Benteke to realise how a transfer to a big club isn’t necessarily a good thing.
That’s it from me for now. Back in a couple of days with the preview of our West Ham clash.