LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 20: Andre Villas-Boas the Chelsea manager looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge on August 20, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
So with the Luka Modric question rather unresolved, we've been looking at some alternatives to the Croatian midfielder, should Chelsea (and Modric) fail to persuade Tottenham Hotspur to sell. On Tuesday, Steve ran through a number of possible players Michael Emenalo and company could pursue, but he didn't cover everyone, and there are a few players left over I'd like to talk about.
One is especially dear to my heart. He hasn't really made a name for himself yet, but he's immensely talented and if given the chance could easily develop into the creative force Chelsea need to run their midfield for the foreseeable future. His vision is comparable to Modric's and his passing execution isn't far off either. Some have questioned whether anyone of his build could succeed playing in the centre for a Premier League team, but Modric isn't particularly big either and he learned to tackle just fine. And the best part of our mystery man is the price. Compared to many of the other names out there, he'd cost next to nothing.Because, of course, Josh McEachran is already on the team.
No, I'm not going to say he's as good as Luka Modric. He's not even close - with Cesc Fabregas gone and Michael Essien apparently permanently borked it's not too much of a stretch to argue that Modric is the single best central midfielder in the Premier League. I'm not even going to say McEachran is ready for a starting role at Chelsea, because I haven't seen enough of him to know. Andre Villas-Boas has, and he's not starting.
What McEachran represents then isn't really a like-for-like alternative to Modric but rather a Modric analogue in a different plan entirely. While developing into the calibre of player the Croatian is represents the very best-case scenario for McEachran, turning into 90% of Modric probably isn't too far beyond him. Obviously, that will take some time (unless he goes all Jack Wilshere on us), but it's not so unlikely as to simply discard the idea.
So what's this business about an alternative plan, then?
It's simple. There are two options for a team in Chelsea's position, generally speaking. You can chase the stars of today or the ones of tomorrow. Fernando Torres and Luka Modric are clear embodiments of the former, while Juan Mata, Oriol Romeu and Romelu Lukaku quite nicely fit into the latter group.
If Chelsea want to cut their costs, they'll have to stop buying megastars in their prime. Sure, they won't get the immediate shot in the arm of buying Modric if they chase a lesser talent, but the element of (financial) risk is so much greater with an established player it's almost unreal, because you're paying for past performance, and the guys we're looking at have performed at a very high level for years.
You can argue (quite happily, in fact) that the Blues should try to save money in some spots so that they can overpay elsewhere, and that's fair enough. If they wanted to find cheap, undervalued talent and then blow huge money on, say, Lionel Messi, that's a reasonable way of building a squad. But with that said, Chelsea are already spending the big money on their established players, and the current youth movement has more of the debt-paying feel than a getting-ready-to-spend-silly one.
That's not to say that Chelsea can't afford Modric or anything like that - quite clearly they can - but that if they truly are committed to this young players and building from within thing, it makes a good deal more sense to run with a cheaper stopgap while McEachran develops than spending huge money on a superstar.