Romelu Lukaku scored 17 Premier League goals for West Bromwich Albion last season. He started 20 games and came on as substitute in another 17. It is a phenomenal scoring record for a 20-year-old in his first full season, not to mention at a temporary club with aspirations largely to stay in the division.
The problem with borrowing people's good stuff is that they have the right to ask for it back.
Lukaku is Chelsea's and they took their emerging talent home.
That leaves West Bromwich Albion and Steve Clarke with an almighty gap to fill. Only five players scored more goals in the Premier League last season than the Belgian international; Robin van Persie, Luis Suarez, Gareth Bale, Christian Benteke and Michu. That places his achievements in some form of context. West Bromwich Albion's second top goalscorer was Shane Long with eight. Clarke's job in his second season as a manager looks a lot more difficult.
The solution for West Brom has been to shop once more in the bargain basement of the summer transfer window. Last season came goals for free so the remit is the same; get goals, pay nothing.
Enter Nicolas Anelka, back for a sixth time in English football, at the age of 34.
"We are missing a bit of firepower from last year, and to kick off with the signing of Nicolas at the start of the summer is a great boost for everyone at the club," said Clarke. "The more quality players you can bring to the club the better, and no-one can question Nicolas' quality."
That is true. Real Madrid, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool sit on Anelka's CV. He knows the English game inside out. Anelka has scored more than 100 Premier League goals. His name alone ensures defenders switch on.
But, and it is a big but, not since the 2008-2009 season has there been anything to match the output of Lukaku. Back then, Anelka scored 19 Premier League goals from 34 starts and three appearances as a substitute. That is more than four years ago. The season after came 11 Premier League goals, a still decent return but since then there has been a decline; six goals in 2010-11, one in half a season in 2011, an unsuccessful spell with Shanghai Shenhua (three league goals) and nothing came at Juventus.
West Bromwich Albion have taken a major gamble but there is nothing new in that statement; more that the desire for another bargain may have blinded them to look with great scrutiny at Anelka's recent career.
Greater scrutiny shows a decline in West Bromwich Albion's own form towards the end of the season. In the final nine Premier League games they won once. In the preceding eight games to that freakish five-all draw with already crowned Manchester United, they had scored just eight goals. To that they have lost their best player and signed a 34-year-old with no form.
Anelka has the whiff of a bit-part player, someone to emerge as an impact substitute, or to pass on his knowledge to younger players at the club. Asking any more, and failing to replace Lukaku properly, could spell trouble.
- More about:
- Chelsea F.c.
- Gareth Bale
- Liverpool FC
- Nicolas Anelka
- Premier League
- Real Madrid
- West Bromwich Albion